One Nation Under Dog — Great New Book on Contemporary Canine Culture

May 16, 2009

one_nation_under_dogMichael Schaffer’s new book One Nation Under Dog: Adventures inthe New World of Prozac-Popping Puppies, Dog-Park Politics and Organic Pet Food should find a place beside Jon Katz’ 2004 classic The New Work of Dogs for anyone wishing to bring themselves up to speed on the recent cultural changes involving Man’s Best Friend. Click image for larger size.

It’s an enjoyable romp through a dense array of topics; a tribute to Schaffer’s skill at packing these pages with a wealth of information. No other book I’m aware of covers so much territory in just 257 pages. This is up-to-the-minute reporting delivered with style and humor.

Of course, a good portion of the material deals with the extreme high-end of the canine services market as his first chapter “The $43 Billion Dollar Fur Baby” indicates. Collectively, Americans are spending more on their dogs and pets than ever before, notwithstanding the current economic crisis that’s lead to the rise of over-whelmed shelters and the new category of “foreclosure dogs.”

A case can be made that part of this spending is derived from the decade-long credit binge Americans have been on and this trend may moderate over the next few years. And the truth is that the over-whelming majority of dog owners are not now, nor ever will shell out $28 for 8.45 oz. of Isle of Dogs’ formula number 12, Veterinary Grade Evening Primrose Oil Shampoo as part of their “Canine Grooming System.” There’s always a high-end in any market and their extravagance always make good copy. [A personal disclosure: I buy Suave shampoo, $1.99 for 22.5 oz. at Walgreen’s, as part of my Primate Grooming System].

Where Schaffer makes his most telling points are in chapters devoted to breeding — including the well-documented horrors of Pennsylvania puppy mills, advances in canine health care and nutrition, the on-going battles for public space between dog lovers and the rest of society, pet funerals and breavement counciling, the myth of the $100,000 a year dog walker, and the exploding market for ever-new and improved dog toys.

I also got to catch up with Sue Sternberg, author of Successful Pet Adoption and learn about her recent work with Jane Kopelman creating the Training Wheels Program where they bring their Lug Nuts weight-pull events to inner city neighborhoods in an attempt to replace illegal dog-fighting. The weight-pulls allow men and boys to exhult in the competition of powerful breeds like Pit Bulls without combat or bloodshed. Sternberg operates the Rondout Valley Kennels/Animals for Adoption, a shelter in upstate New York and was the subject of a controversial 2003 documentary, Shelter Dogs by Cynthia Wade.

Near the end of Schaffer’s book he goes into a topic that I’ve spent a lot time pondering: how do we justify the fact that Americans dogs have a better standard of living than millions of humans sharing the same planet? There are no pat or easy answers here. He compares the person who spends $3,000 on a flat screen TV to the person who spends an equal amount for a year’s worth of organic dog food and suggests that in neither case would this individual be likely to claim that — if not for this purchase — they would be sending an equal amount to a human food bank.

“If we’re going to start enumerating immoral consumer choices, I’d argue that spending money to care for a pet would rank near the bottom of the list,” Schaffer writes. Peter Singer, however, might argue that point. Still, you could make far worse consumer spending decisions than buying One Nation Under Dog. Those whose ethics are more advanced can check it out from their local library.


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