Are you the owner of a pampered pooch? If you're the kind of person who wonders why old dog poos don’t turn white anymore...you're not alone!
I grew up with a menagerie of pets in an animal-loving household. Our pets ranged from the usual: a grey tabby cat (named Pussy, which always gives me the best stripper name in those online quizzes that require the details of your first street and first pet), a Weimaraner dog (he was a roamer, and once returned home with a string of sausages) and chickens. We also had unusual pets: peacocks (if you are thinking of buying them, I urge you to reconsider unless you love waking to blood-curdling screams at sunrise) and a lamb who loved to eat Weet-Bix.
I think that much like parenting, pet ownership was easier in the 1970s and 80s. Regulations and council controls were lax. (With the exception of our council dog catcher, who eventually started each morning parked in his van at the end of our driveway. In the 1980s men in vans could still do this without being reported to the police). Dogs ate food scraps and chop bones. Cooked chop bones. The only dogs who received training and obedience were actual working dogs on farms. Dogs were only washed if they rolled in poo, and then the cleaning occurred outside using the hose, a bar of laundry soap, and some fairly fruity language. When my father finally had our dog de-sexed, in a vain attempt to stop him wandering, random people would stop him to criticise this decision. Testicles were very important to men in the 80s. Maybe it was the fashionable male short shorts of the era.
As soon as I was in my own house, I started acquiring pets. A stray cat adopted me, and then a retired greyhound was more officially adopted. I soon realised that pet ownership wasn’t what it used to be. My childhood of pet ownership was no preparation for the modern, serious, sacred task of Pet Ownership. There are now lots of forms to fill in and lots of immunisations. I see the vet more often that I see my best friend. She writes letters to my pets, addressed directly to them, even though they don’t check the mailbox and lack the ability to open envelopes, read mail, and most importantly, pay the vet bills. These letters from the vet ask the pets to attend the surgery at six-monthly intervals. Dog toothbrushes are a real thing. People started giving me the name of mobile dog groomers. Dogs don’t eat bones anymore, and even food scraps are frowned on. Instead the vet instructs me that they must eat gourmet food, made of Australia’s finest thoroughbred racehorses. (Too soon?) If you are the kind of person who wonders why old dog poos don’t turn white anymore, and I am that kind of person too, apparently it is because dogs don’t eat bones anymore.
Australian dogs and cats in the 21st century are pampered. Dogs of my acquaintance attend doggy day care, have luxury grooming and clipping sessions and take more daily vitamins than a Byron Bay Instagram influencer. Their owners buy them hand-made organic doggie treats and they wear designer collars. Even cats are now groomed, fed gourmet foods and have happy cat sprays set up through their houses. All this luxury has not bought happiness, as my vet confides that domestic dogs and cats are increasingly being treated for depression and neuroticism.
It’s not to say things were better in the past. Aggressive dogs were common, and children were often bitten by dogs without a public outcry. Limited de-sexing meant lots of unwanted puppies and kittens. Domestic cats ravaged Australian fauna (and they continue to do so. I acknowledge that cat ownership in Australia is an ecological nightmare. My cats are adopted from the RSPCA, de-sexed and kept inside at night. I know it’s not perfect but at least it’s a start). Animal cruelty laws were lax in the 1980s. The stories of neighbourhood dogs on heat now sound like Dickensian neglect.
Pet ownership is a real, decades-long, costly responsibility. But it’s worth it. The love and the joy. It really makes it all worthwhile. Except if you really like your new couch now, the way it looks without claw marks. Except if you like being able to kick off your shoes at night and find them still in one piece in the morning. And except for endlessly picking up dog poo, and cleaning up more random vomits than a Kings Cross cleaner. And except for those days when your cat pretends she doesn’t know who you are. In fact, pets probably are just what they used to be.