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The Change In Pet-Ownership Changed

The change in pet-ownership changed the ‘traditional’ concept of the (human) family. The concept of fictive kinship is not new; there are earlier examples of the practice in other cultures and societies as well. It is the extension of kinship terms to companion animals that appears to be a relatively new development.

My use of data can open up different sections of human-animal relationships. Although it has been speculated that pets are simply substitutes for human relationships, other studies show that pets fill a specific role, or many roles. There are different levels of affection and respect that people have for their pets, but the term “family members” is used quite often. Cohen explores this trend in three different ways:

(a) “Pets are like human family;

(b) pets are part of a broader social network system but not family;

(c) pets are family members only in a linguistically playful way” (Cohen, 2002, p.621).

This “psychological kinship” is defined as “feeling and behaving toward others as family, irrespective of actual genetic relatedness.” (Bailey 1988 in Cohen 2002: 624). In her research in determining feelings of family and kinship among people, she found that terms for pets were a product of their function in the household, and feelings of intimacy or “psychological kinship” were not affected by demographics such as age, living alone or with a spouse, or having children. This suggests it may be more difficult to pinpoint a pattern among people who see their animals as kin, and those who do not.

Many people form a temporary kinship bond with an animal. This is a key point. So, family and kinship terms are used loosely, and millions of dogs and cats every year are relinquished to shelters or abandoned. This is not the focus of my research, but it brings up an interesting question when discussing the meaning of pets, kinship, family, and attachment.

CHAPTER 2. Pet Industry and DINKs in the USA

2.1. American Market Overview

Now in affluent densely populated cities a pet is seen as a “child” and “status marker.” As pets take the place of kid in DINKs families, the emphasis on the look, breed and pedigree skyrocketed. As the number of DINK families grow, so is their purchasing power. Comprising 14 percent of all U.S. households, DINKS are also gaining strength in countries like Japan, China and Mexico. They are 3 times more likely to have at least one pet than a family with kids.

The Humane Society estimates there are over 78 million dogs in 39% of all American households. Two-thirds of American households have pets while only one-third have children (Gettleman, 2008). American pet owners spent almost twenty billion dollars on pet food alone last year (APPMA, 2008).

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), in the USA revenue in the pet industry is expected to be $62.75 billion in 2016, an increase of more than 4% over 2015. The average annual growth rate since 2002 is 5.4%, and revenue has been growing steadily for well over 20 years. U.S. Pet Industry expenditures topped $62 billion in 2016.

Table 1. U.S. Pet Industry expenditures (from http://businessresearcher.sagepub.com)

The Monitor Report claims that pet industry witnessed a relatively strong development lately despite the economic downturn. In 2017, Americans “spent nearly $45 billion on their pets in a “recession-resistant” pet industry” (Gettleman, 2017).

Pet-keeping is a major business. There is a new term – petishism. The USA has more pets per person in the world, as an example. Expenditures include “food, clothes, veterinary visits, kennel boarding, treats, toys, other services, cages, medication, leashes, and so on” (Melson, 2001, p.31).

Post-modernity has changed the value of pets. Haraway states: “In the past, people may have said their pet “is like a member of the family,’ but now this attitude has strengthened, at least in terms of money spent on food with quality ingredients, toys, supplies, services, and healthcare” (Haraway, 2008, p.47). The patterns of consumerism added to the relationship between pet owners and their pets make the relationship no longer about mere companionship.

Advertisement on television, radio, Internet, and in newspapers, magazines, and books, shape a certain ideology of being a good owner, such as buying healthy food made from natural ingredients, toys, clothes, and teach pet owners to train/control their animals to become a “good” boy or girl. Taking pet food as an example, humans enjoy feeding pets “people food.”

People sometimes found giving their unwanted food to their pets “under the table.” At other times, pets are allowed to “steal” food so that the act is not taken seriously. However, the delight of feeding human food is seen as an obstacle of the pet-food industry, “their advertisements must suggest that pet food is better than table scraps, while at the same time reflecting the status of the pet as a beloved companion-the rationale for the expense of purchasing their products” (Beck & Katcher, 1996, p.17). Pet-food industry use the terms of science and research to send the message that pet food is much healthier than human food.

Pet culture offers control, dominance, and modification for human purposes. Nowadays, this culture is being aggravated by post-modern consumer culture in urban cities. Researchers state, “Choosing the right type and number of companion animals is especially important in crowded urban conditions” (Beck and Katcher, 1996, p.250). Many people choose the pet and want the best heredity, quiet, clean, and beautiful.

Future owners can preselect the size, the breed, and the color. Demand for designer puppies has increased exponentially; “the American Canine Hybrid Club, the designer dog world’s answer to the American Kennel Club, says it’s registering 500 new litters a month, more than double the number in 2004” and demand for Pugles (a hybrid of a Pug and Beagle) has tripled (Gamerman, 2005, p 105).

Prices can reach several thousand dollars more than a purebred puppy because the hybrid must be a product of two different purebred parents. The average price of a designer puppy is about $2,500, but some Morkies (hybrid of a Maltese and Yorkshire Terrier) can cost $5,000; Doodleman Pinschers (a hybrid of a Poodle and Doberman Pinscher), like many other cross-breeds, have waitlists of a year or longer.

These prices show a clear example of conspicuous consumption. Pets are commodities that are bought vicariously so that they may illustrate the pure ability to afford items that are much more expensive than the rest. They are status markers of those who have the disposable wealth to buy them, have the knowledge and cultural capital to choose the “right” breed, and they are competitively displayed (highly visible). The fact that certain puppies have waitlists indicates a high demand, but more importantly, prestige over the masses because they lack access to the product.

However, the more recent hybrids are a result of pure aesthetic preference: a shinier coat, shorter legs, smaller size, color or coat pattern, curly or straight hair, “baby-like” features, or floppier ears.Other reasons include health reasons like less shedding or being hypoallergenic.

The most popular cross-breeds are the Labradoodles, Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel x Poodle), Pugles, and Yorkipoos (Yorkshire Terrier x Poodle), but the combination possibilities are endless. Most designer dogs have Poodle in them because of their relatively shed-free single coat and the fact that they come in three sizes (Toy, Mini, and Standard); other popular hybrids are as follows, in no particular order:

Alaskan Huskies (Siberian Husky x Alaskan Malamute x Lurcher)

Border Shepherd

s (Border Collie x German Shepherd)

Chihchons (Chihuahuas x Bichons Frises)

Goldendoodles (Golden Retriever x Poodle)

Peekapoos (Pekingese x Poodle)

Morkies (Maltese x Yorkshire Terrier)

Bagels (Beagle x Bassett Hound)

Bull Boxers (Beagle x Bassett Hound)

Maltipoos (Maltese x Poodle)

Bassadoodles (Basset Hound x Poodle)

Scandinavian Hounds (English Setter x German Shorthair Pointer)

Dorgis (Dachshunds x Pembroke Corgi)

Border Collie Terriers (Border Collie x Jack Russell Terrier)

Designed breeds are actively and consciously chosen by the consumer to be used as social status indicators; it is unlikely these actions are in response to habitus because this is a fairly recent phenomenon and not one that has had enough time to become established in one’s lifestyle. Secondly, the conspicuously consumed canines show a clear ability, as Veblen state, to “waste money”. Not only does the person opt out of getting a free puppy or one from the local shelter, they choose to buy a dog that is above and beyond the standard. Instead paying $1 500 for a purebred puppy, they choose to pay several thousands of dollars for the exclusive breed.

Additionally, they purchase a puppy that is in limited supply and high demand, which suggests they have the knowledge of which specific breeds and methods will provide differentiation from others in their membership group or acceptance in an aspirant group. Finally, these breeds are unique and draw attention, such as the fluffy Poodle. They are paraded in public, ostentatiously displayed at every opportunity, and draw attention to whenever the owner brags about the hot new commodity they just bought.

the Yorkipoo

Even without the efforts to draw attention from the owner, the puppies are noticed for having highly recognizable traits from two distinct breeds. This helps the status seeker attempt gain prestige because it is increasing the likelihood of visibility. While some might argue that they serve no function except one of fashion, this is not true.

Designer dogs abide by the rules of commodity duality because while they are clearly ostentatious, they also serve the function of a pet or companion animal. Pets are not limited to merely one function, but the clever status seekers discovered a new use for these pets (in addition to being companion animals) is one that can help gain them access to an aspirant group or prestige and clout in a membership group. “The history of any breeds is that of a specific objective, to be used for working, hunting, or herding. These breeds are being created largely as a fashion, a response to eccentric needs” (Tremayne, 2005, p. 32). These hybrids are bred based on highly visibly aesthetic characteristics; crossbreeds based on utility do not follow the rule of commodity duality and therefore are not successful as status symbols.

Buying a $2,500 Yorkipoo and publicly parading it around town in a $1,700 Parklane carrier is an example of commodified pets as status symbols. Pets are fetishized commodities with a perfect balance of utility and ostentation; their accessories are conspicuously consumed, competitively displayed, and carefully chosen. The dogs are largely about the image of prestige.

2.2. Luxury Pet Products

There is hardly a better competitive display method to gain status among aspirant groups in the pet world than brandishing ostentatious luxury items and accessories. Some items show only a slight mark of distinction above the rest, while others reveal an unapologetic attempt to be accepted into the upper ranks of the social hierarchy within those groups.

The owner seeks to give gifts of accessories or luxury items to the pet as well use them to gain social prestige. In owning a designer breed and/or lavishing it in plush toys, accessories, comforts, and services, that person is sending a message to others in his membership and aspirant groups that he is not one of the masses—he is separate or above. Yes, the goods may benefit or be enjoyed by the pet, but the objective of consumption is rather to put social distance between himself and the others in his group through the highly visible method of conspicuous consumption and distinction. The consumer is making a conscious choice to separate himself from the average member and either excel in his own group or try to gain status in an aspirant group. The pet, along with all its luxuries, is now serving the function of a commodity that is a social indicator of status, wealth, and cultural capital rather than the functions of previous years.

Not only are the actual fetishized pets becoming social indicators, so are their activities and accessories. Today’s selection of pet friendly services and accommodations exceeds boarding kennels many would expect to find—they are extravagant, costly, and loaded with extraneous perks. Before, owners would have the pet stay at a veterinarian’s office, boarding facility, with a friend or family member, or have an in-home “sitter”. Now, not only are many ordinary, mainstream hotels allowing pets to stay in the rooms with the owner, but those who are willing to pay more than necessary get to enjoy showering their pets with amenities and prestigious services.

Wag Hotels offers luxury suits and two story “cat condos” with plasma televisions, high-brow art such as “paintings and classical music, and exotic fish tanks to entertain them; they provide services such as indoor swimming, evening strolls, business walks, massages and spas including blueberry facial scrubs” (Wag Hotels, 2008). “Some hotels and resorts have DVD/VCR players and an extensive video library, chandeliers, climate-controlled naps on orthopedic beds and Egyptian cotton sheets, personal trainers, rooftop parks, custom meals, and even a geriatrics area” (Coder, 2008).

These highly visible choices in consumption behavior show the ability to purchase expensive products as well know the right kind of things to gain prestige. Pet owners, especially in America, not only shower their animals with pretentious services, but they also attempt to increase social position through animal apparel, jewelry, and fashions.

For my research I found out about the 12 most expensive items that pet owners purchased. I conducted a questionnaire to see what items people would buy if they had money. My question was “What would you buy for your dog if you had money for that purpose?” 102 respondents who identified as DINKs could choose up to three items to “purchase.” I also asked them to make a comment and explain their decision to choose a certain items. The results are shown in the Table Questionnaire Results

The questionnaire shows that pet owners are more willing to buy useful things for their dogs like leashes, strollers, bowls, dog cakes. Most of customers shy away from jewelry items. They say that they would buy an expensive luxury collar if it has more than “luxury component.”

The questionnaire also shows that mostly women like an idea of buying jewelry for their pets.

There is even dog jewelry line from I Love Dogs, Inc for dogs. Their slogan is “Indulgence has been taken to new heights”, and their luxury pet items are clear examples of conspicuous consumption and status-seeking consumer behavior (Ilovedogdiamonds.com).

They use phrases such as “exotic”, “exquisite”, and “class of its own” to describe their line of diamond dog collars. The collection containing five models, titled La Collection de Bijoux, all have French names which implies highbrow culture and distinction. The three less expensive models (Cheri, L’Etoile, and Jeune Cheri) are made of ostrich and crocodile leather, and are described as “exotic”, “sparkling”, “precious”, “stylish”, “fine delicacy”, “brilliant”, “takes your breath away”, and “cat

ches attention”.

Such illustrative and suggestive adjectives reassure the consumer that yes, these items will bring you prestige and status through their sheer lavishness and price that others cannot afford.

The pet jewelry range from $280,000 to $380,000 and contain up to 600 diamonds each totaling 25 carats. A final level of superiority over others in the membership or aspirant group is that each is a limited edition piece with only eight pieces for each of the three models; this creates an image of differentiation by the idea that only a select few “special” members in a group can own those pieces.

The idea behind these diamond jewelry is the underline the most privileged and high status members of a group. These extravagant are ridiculously expensive, but they also serve a function; they possess utility in that they are still a dog collar to which the owner can attach a leash and control their pet.

The final two pieces of fine jewelry in La Collection de Bijoux offer quite an illuminating example of pet luxury items. The second most expensive piece, the Amour de la Mer, is not a limited edition item, but its cost is much higher than the previous three with its stunning price of $480,000. I Love Dogs, Inc. describes it as “unique”, “glorious”, “elegant”, and “impressive”. It is the only piece in the collection with a precious stone (an 8.5 carat sapphire pendant) and contains over 600 diamonds; the description states it is made of “exquisite ostrich leather… one of the most expensive leathers in the world… [that] brings a classic elegance to the collar” (website, 2018). These collars openly encourage conspicuous and vicarious consumption through their taglines, as well as the slogan “indulgence taken to new heights”.

The maker describes it a diamond collar “striking”, “stunning”, “amazing”, and “one-of-a-kind”. Like with the other collars in La Collection de Bijoux, it obeys the rule of commodity duality in that it contains both ostentation and utility.

Pet owners not only splurge on expensive costumes and jewelry or accessories for their pets, but they are now showing social distance through other means as well. “Puppy Purses” and dog carriers have become status symbols in the world of the wealthy and celebrities who use them as chance to sport designer labels; designer bags, of course, indicate distinction and affluence. Gucci, Prada, Coach, Vuitton and many others are adding additional lines to their collection for “pet totes”. For a pet owner who chooses to conspicuously and vicariously consume in hopes of gaining social status with a membership group or appealing to an aspirant group, the pet bag must exceed the norm and show differentiation and the right kind of extravagance.

Pet owners not only splurge on expensive costumes and jewelry or accessories for their pets, but they are now showing social distance through other means as well. “Puppy Purses” and dog carriers have become status symbols in the world of the wealthy and celebrities who use them as chance to sport designer labels; designer bags, of course, indicate distinction and affluence. Gucci, Prada, Coach, Vuitton and many others are adding additional lines to their collection for “pet totes”. For a pet owner who chooses to conspicuously and vicariously consume in hopes of gaining social status with a membership group or appealing to an aspirant group, the pet bag must exceed the norm and show differentiation and the right kind of extravagance.

For example, the Parklane Platinum Dog Carrier which is made of “ultra-soft lambskin”, is the “Ferrari of dog carriers”, and is available for $1,700. Purchasing a dog carrier so expensive and carefully crafted signifies not only the pure capacity to waste money on conspicuous commodities, but it also provides a prime opportunity to be competitively displayed.

A purebred puppy in a $1,700 designer carrier dangling from the arm of a pet owner in public presents a perfect illustration of a person seeking status through commodities— their pets. Expensive bags and accessories possess the power and ability to award status, prestige, social recognition, and even acceptance by members of an aspirant group if the attempt is successful.

Pet owners are continuously raising the standard in respect to pet furnishings. La Petite Maison (2017) offers custom luxury doghouses such as French chateaus, Swiss chalets with European architecture, and will even create a reproduction of your own house in any pet size. Doghouses come with “double-pane and bay windows to allow extra light, shutters and balconies, electricity, air conditioning and heating, custom wallpaper, custom roofs such as copper, and even your choice of flooring such as hardwood, carpet, marble, and linoleum” (Barlow, 2008).

There are companies that will create the perfect luxury doghouse to match ostentatious budgets; the most expensive model being created has a tentative price tag of $50,000, but there is no limit for a customer who wants to spend more. The houses, which come with landscaping, are meant to be positioned outside the home for public display and for all to see. Being highly visible, it is a social indicator of status, distinction, and social distance from the masses. The consumer chooses to show their ability to afford lavish goods in a grandiose manner.

Statistics shows that 69% of pet owners allow their pets to sleep in the bed (Gettleman, 2008, p. 203). Dog beds can range anywhere from $49 to $900, but for the consumer looking to gain social prestige and position, these products are not good enough. Instead, they can hire the “Dog Designer” to create a custom dog bed for $12,500.

The advertising says that you can “capture the character of your dog, your relationship and your life together in a collection of unique furniture” while at the same time vicariously consuming commodities in hopes of climbing the social ladder. If the $12,500 service is not prestigious enough, the pet owner can purchase the Queen’s Obsession Dog Bed for $18,500 or the Dog Bed for $28, 500 . Again, the decadent furniture must conform to the rule of commodity duality; it must be both expensive and functional, and it does.

2.3. Affordable Luxury for Pets

In the USA, big retailers like Target and Walmart capitalize on the trend. Instead of sporting a collar with real ruby or diamond studs, they can buy an imitation jeweled leather collars for $24 from Target or the “Circle T Diamond Stud Collar” for about $17. Petsmart sells collars with rhinestone charms and studs in the kit so the consumer can create a cheaper version of its $300,000 counterparts.

The discount retailer, Walmart offers look-a-like designer pet clothing, jeweled collars and leashes, and silver plated and custom feeders all for under ten dollars. Instead of spending several thousands of dollars on a custom designed dog house like the elite or trendsetters, Target offers a Mini-Mansion, a Chalet, and a Log Home while Petsmart offers a Country Estate, all for under $200. Even doggie furniture, once only found in wealthy homes, is becoming widely available to the masses who want to take the shortcut into aspirant groups. Dog furniture, such as the Cowboy Chaise or Flair Chair that would normally be several thousands of dollars from the Dog Designer, have comparable imitations at discount retail chains. The Cleopatra Chaise and the Fantasy Furniture line from Target are incredibly similar pieces of furniture that can help accrue prestige for the status-seeker at a bargain price of under $200. The Nap of Luxury Bed at Wal-mart and the Royal Bed line from Target can fetch the owner an ostentatious pet bed for just under $100. Essentially, products are becoming more accessible for the lower income groups who choose to conspicuously consume status gains. For a cheaper price, the can pretend to be in a particular membership group. It allows the capacity or ability aspect of the four components to

faked, while still choosing the right kind of products to visibly display.

Chapter 3. Methodology

The relationships in DINK families between pets and people are complex because they fit into different roles. Research and methodology can be useful for further study. My research studies several levels of attachments of DINK families to their pets. I also discuss and explore application of findings for marketing luxury products to DINK families. There are limitations with the size and selection of the participants. In addition, I decided to focus on the use of family terminology, linguistic meaning the owners attach to the their pets.

The limitations of my research are also related to timeline and recruitment. It took me much more longer to recruit participants. I could not check their eligibility and had to rely on their answers. I used Facebook and googleforms as recruitment and survey methods. Interviews began in November 2017, and ended in January 2018 with a total of 234 participants.

I also approached people I knew with pets who might be interested. Sometimes participants spread the information and brought in people to participate in my research. Before analysis, I asked the participants to answer a my survey and questions. I aksed them for information about their gender, age, and family, the types and number of pets, preferred purchases (See Appendix 1).

Questionnaire Survey

To find out different levels of attachment, emotional bonds, and attitudes toward pets in DINK familoes, I asked participants to take my research questions (See Appendix 1). Questionnaire Survey was my choice of study because it let the participants open up and give extended answers. Some questions were open-ended, some questions were multiple-choice. The informants participants to expressed their opinions freely and openly. Only some didn’t answer the questions about financial matters.

The informants spoke about where they got their pet, their experiences, their relationship, their finding ways to provide pet care, and about their acquaintances and friends. Interviews proved to be a useful method in my study. All interviews were anonymous and participants were assured of confidentiality.

Classifying of Data

To figure out the levels of attachment, patterns and pet-ownership themes, it was necessary to analyse the data. I classified the interviews into different patterns, I selected words (terminology) the participants use to talk about their pets. When reviewing the data, I noticed similarities and differences. I divided the participants by age and household type (family status), and the numbers and types of dogs and cats (pets). I complied data into graphs and tables. I looked for similar themes in the answers to each interview question.

I found that people use different terms, words and phrases in reference to their pets and their role in their families. They explained also how and why they choose a certain breed or to have a certain kind of pets. I collected words into three levels of closeness (close relatives, far relatives, friends). It can be seen as a fictional “relational closeness”. I used bar and pie graphs to classify and illustrate the data, employing the Microsoft Excel program to create the graphs.

Methodological Limitations

I have to acknowledge methodological limitations of my research with my resulting sample size. In the recruitment of participants, I had to rely on their being truthful. I did not have as much control over the sample size and types of people. My recruitment strategy left me with an unbalanced number of women and men. I have more women in my sample. It is also dominated by one age group (40-50 years). My research has unbalanced representation and it is not representative of a wider population.

Data Analysis

I decided to split the research analysis into two sections. The first part deals with demographics. I analyze the types, numbers, and sources of pets in DINKs families. I also construct a baseline. The second part focuses on family and friendship terminology. How the participants describe and talk about their pets. How the participants describe the roles of animals in their life. Why they decided and acquired pets. I have graphs to illustrate quantitative results. Some answers are addressed with more attention.

The socio-economic background of participants are from DINK families with both or one partner working. All participants could be generally described as lower middle class to upper middle class. The recruitment methods I used resulted in 164 women, and 70 men. The majority of people who responded were in the 30- 64 age group.

The graphs that follow illustrate the age demographics and the numbers and types of pets participants had in these two groupings; participants either had one dog, one cat, or multiple cats and dogs, or a combination of both species.

1: Figure 1: Pet Distribution By Participant Age

In my research most of the participants had more than one pet. Some of them (26) also have smaller pets such as parrots, rabbits, chickens, fish, hamsters, birds, etc. but I decided to only discuss mostly the dogs and cats in my study.

Interestingly, many participants had more than one cat (68) compared to families with multiple dogs (37). 13 participants had more than 2 (the most common number) and 4 cats, while 6 participants took care of more than one dog, and 5 of those people also had cats.

The Humane Society estimates there are over 78 million dogs in 39% of all American households (2008). Two-thirds of American households have pets while only one-third have children (Gettleman, 2008). American pet owners spent almost twenty billion dollars on pet food alone last year (APPMA, 2008), while only typically spending fourteen billion on baby food and baby formula combined (Nielsen, 2008). The function of a companion animal has evolved from hunting partner, to nuclear family component, to best friend, and now to commodity to help one accrue social status.

As for acquisition of pets, I divided into 6 categories: bought from the breeder, adopted, rescued, from newspapers and advertising. When the family bought a breed dog they were more likely to splurge on maintenance and treat the pet like a baby.

Some pets were adopted from veterinary clinics, from an animal rescues or shelters; some animals were stray, given care, and kept as pets. The most expensive animals were purchased from a puppy/cat farm, where the property or person is advertised as a purveyor of particular purebred dogs or cats, or mixtures of certain breeds.

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