By Michael Schaffer. Holt Paperbacks. $15.
Seasoned heavily with anecdotes, statistics and a vast array of experts’ opinions, “Nation” offers a unique lens on the diverse role of dogs in America’s economic landscape while grappling with the whys and wherefores.
A thorough primer in a business sense, it focuses on the psychological role the dog plays in our everyday lives and why Americans have made pets a $43 billion a year industry, the bulk of the growth coming in the last 50 years.
Schaffer examines pet politics, fashion, food, veterinary medicine and the emergence of start-up enterprises from dog walking to dog law and from puppy mills to dog cemeteries. It’s all there in one engrossing package of the wide-ranging scenario.
One of the most compelling observations comes from Dr. James Serpell, University of Pennsylvania veterinarian, who studies interactions between humans and animals. He argues that the explosive growth in U.S. pet ownership is linked to the crumbling of other social support structures, tracing acceleration in the pet population to the mid-1960s.
“Social networks fragmented over 40 years – there’s more living alone, more divorce, more childless people, fewer people living in close geographic range of their families and less community involvement,” Serpell says. “And there has been a dramatic increase in pets. . . . As we lose social support, as our relations become fragmented, we are using dogs to fill the gap.”
In a 2008 article, University of Chicago professor Nicholas Epley and three colleagues noted that those who were less socially connected were more likely to attribute humans’ characteristics such as thoughtfulness, consideration and sympathy, none of which are within the cane skills set – to pets. This anthropomorphizing consequently helps support those manufacturing doggie sweater and pants to birthday bashes to lavish portraits.
Schaffer will leave you laughing, puzzling and saying, “no, never, not me,” in the process. But after you’ve read the final page, you very well will be saying, “there’s a part of me in that book,” along with millions of other Americans.