A few years ago, J and I decided it was time to expand our family. We went to the local animal shelter “just to look.” Yeah right. An hour later, we were signing the papers to adopt our new puppy. She was about 10 weeks old, an adorable mutt with little brown eyebrows that wiggle when she looks at you. We had to leave her at the shelter overnight so that they could spay her and put in a microchip. They won’t let anyone take an animal until all of that is done, which is good, but it was tough to leave her there until the next day! That afternoon, we went to the Salvation Army and found a perfect dog crate for $10 (we saw them at the pet store for about $70), and some dog dishes. We also bought some stuffed toys from the clearance rack at the pet store.
We brought Lukky home in her new crate the next day, and gave her the stuffed toys. We quickly learned that as far as Lukky is concerned, the only pleasure to be had with a stuffed toy is to tear all of the stuffing out as quickly as possible and spread it all over the floor. She looks so proud of herself once this is accomplished. We soon decided that buying stuffed toys might not be the best investment, given that they last about 5 minutes. Lukky has two hard rubber chew toys that she has had for about 2 years, both of which she still chews on several times a week. They cost about $5 each. We don’t buy her any other toys. J has a frisbee that he throws for her every day – this is one of her favorite activities, and she’ll chase that frisbee until he’s tired of throwing it (which takes a long time). I take her for runs several times a week. Because she gets lots of exercise, she’s never bored or descructive, and doesn’t need a lot of indoor entertainment. She loves old socks, and she sits by the back door and watches squirrels for long periods of time. All in all, she has a pretty great life, and I don’t think it would be any better if we bought lots of expensive toys for her. I think most dogs would prefer a walk in the park (free) to being stuck inside with a toy anyway.
A year after we got Lukky, J got a kitten as a suprise for me while I was away one weekend (he knew I had been wanting a cat for years). I fell in love with Larry as soon as I met her. Her name is Larry because the animal shelter told J she was a boy (she was just a little kitten at the time). When we took her back to the vet, he determined that she was a girl, but by then the name had stuck. We found a never-used carpet covered cat tower at a thrift store for $3 (about $40 for the same model at the pet store), and invested in some ping pong balls for Larry to play with. Larry is an indoor cat, so she doesn’t get the kind of exercise that Lukky gets (not that she’d want it anyway…) We do feel that toys are more important for her, since she’s in the house all day. But we don’t buy cat toys at the pet store.
Larry loves boxes. Any size, any shape, as long as she can fit inside them. Whenever we go to Costco, Larry is delighted by all the boxes that end up on the kitchen floor while we unload groceries. We have boxes stashed around the house for her to jump on/in/under/around whenever she wants. She chews on them, hides in them (the perfect fort from which to pounce on Lukky), rolls around in them, loves them. Larry also loves scraps of paper. When we empty the paper shredder, she’s thrilled if a couple strips of paper fall on the ground. It doesn’t take much to entertain her.
The pet marketing industry is a big operation. It knows how much people love their pets, and plays on those emotions to try to convince us that we must spend lots of money to buy just the right stuff for our pets. Take a walk through your local pet store and notice how many items have nothing to do with the actual well-being of your animal. Don’t get me wrong, we adore our pets. We buy top-quality food for them, and get their shots every year, and spend tons of time with them. But if a dog is just as happy with an old sock as with a $9 toy, it seems that buying the toy is really to satisfy the owner, rather than the pet. Does spending lots of money on pet toys make people feel like they love their pets more than someone who gives them old socks instead? Hmmm. I think this concept can be carried over into child-rearing, although J and I have not expanded the family that far yet, so that post will have to come later…