And so, the more we love and cherish our dogs, and the more we carve out special, dog-friendly real estate, the more constrained and dependent their lives actually become. Yet, the dog park isn’t the only illustration of a modern-day paradox. In a city where non-service dogs are now allowed in many hotels, office buildings, and restaurants, it’s strange to think of a dog’s life as being more limited than it used to be. People may take their pets with them absolutely everywhere, but like a child wandering among the forest of legs at a swanky cocktail party, it’s not always clear what an energetic canine is supposed to do in these human spaces.
"Dogs have always straddled the divide between humans and animals." -James Serpell, Director of The Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society
The increasing humanization of dogs in the United States is resulting in a corresponding increase in what Serpell describes as “frustrated, hyper-reactive dogs.” We then have to take such behaviorally challenged dogs, he notes, “to expensive veterinarians to fix a problem that is of our own doing.” A harsh analysis to be sure, yet one that’s validated by reports describing a litany of woes, including rising rates of dog obesity and diabetes, as well as extreme separation anxiety triggered by overdependence—a condition that’s often treated with Reconcile, the canine version of Prozac.
Serpell’s critique helps put the trend toward the humanization of dogs in broader perspective. If people are treating dogs more like people, what that really means is that they’re treating dogs more like children. And as any parent knows, myself included, the prevalent child-rearing trend of the 21st century is “helicopter” parenting—a kind of overprotective hovering that has produced, at least according to the mass media, a generation of much-loved yet overscheduled, dependent, and anxiety-ridden kids. But just as today’s parent is beginning to question this hypervigilant approach to raising kids, so too might we ask: would our dogs be better off with a little less of our love? The question may be expanded to our growing affection for nonhuman species. Urban pet owners are among the primary donors to animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Contemporary attitudes toward the animals we choose as companions, then, are inextricably connected to a larger social movement, in which a growing number of us think we should treat all animals more like ourselves.