Pet Peeves

I am a cat person.

But whenever you bring up pets, it's the dog people who bark the loudest: Man's best friend and all that dog crap.

When people heard rumblings about our pet guide, the dog lovers yipped like a pack of Chihuahuas about putting their Rudy or Elvis on the cover. I heard tales of owners who brought their pooches to work, discovered an Internet subculture where pets have their own Web site or dating page, and learned that lifeguards must be specially trained to perform CPR on a dog.

As a culture, we've become pet obsessed. Pet ownership is at a record level (more than 69 million households), according to an American Pet Products Manufacturers Association survey. Americans cohabitate ("own" is such an ugly word) with approximately 75 million dogs, 90 million cats, 139 million freshwater fish, 16 million birds and 18 million small animals.

But it's more than that, the survey reveals. Three-quarters of dog owners consider their dog like a child or family member and more than half of cat owners say the same. Eighty percent of dog owners and 63 percent of cat owners buy gifts for their pet on special occasions (and about 9 percent of dogs have their own birthday parties). The number of pets that have their own health insurance is on the rise too (about 3 percent of dogs and 1 percent of cats).

Health insurance? Are you kidding?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. My kids affectionately refer to my mother as "Grandma Kitty-cat." She has six cats, but it seems like so many more.

Somehow, my 3-year-old remembers almost all of their names (I needed a refresher): Josie, Kodie, Sarah, Simba, Boo and Talon, my mother informs me while making a mental note of each one by counting their food dishes.

"I saved them all," she insists. "I didn't ask for any of them. They all found me."

But still, I wonder, How did it come to this? Six cats?

"They know I'll take care of them," she says before I can even really ask the question.

Maybe I should have seen it coming. Back when I was a kid, we went camping and left our first cat Ã' Mittens, I think Ã' at home. When my grandmother stopped over to feed him, she found the cat unconscious in the windowsill. Apparently, he'd been startled, bashed his head on the sill and gave himself a concussion that nearly killed him.

My mother rushed home to care for poor Mittens -- and the vacation was all but over.

The cat never meowed again -- and we started sneaking our cats along with us on vacation from then on. Even now, my parents won't leave the cats home alone overnight.

At one point, my father informs me, they had 19 cats after one stray momma feline had a rather large litter.

But my mother's not alone. My aunt treats one of her cats for diabetes and has taken cats to the chiropractor for "adjustments."

How did it come to this?

I'm still not sure. But according to the survey, almost all pet owners identify companionship, love, company and affection as the No. 1 benefits to owning a pet.

This I understand. It's just the rest of it I'm still trying to sniff out.


The Cleveland Botanical Garden supplement (May 2005) incorrectly listed the works of Frank Gehry, Yoshitomo Nara, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein as being on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland. Those artists have exhibited at MOCA in the past but are not on permanent display.

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