There’s a narrative here, not just about how catastrophes affect our purchasing patterns, but about what makes the things we value so precious. The number of pets kept after lockdown suggests that within months, these animals proved their worth was far greater than their cost in dollars, or the time and effort spent caring for them.
This should come as no surprise. As anyone who’s cared for a pet knows, the obligation to tend to its basic needs, even the gross ones, can be enough to derail the darkest trains of thought. I don’t believe that a swell in the number of pets being surrendered to shelters signifies a U-turn toward indifference or hardheartedness. I think it’s a measure of the scale of the disaster at hand — one of many that would be more bearable with a sweet, wordless companion close at hand.
I didn’t just want a pet, I wanted a bodyguard, one intimidating enough to ward off evil men, but also sweet enough to cheer me up amid the unyielding bleakness of what’s felt like a 30-month winter. I wanted it to be so huge that no thief in their right mind would attempt to haul it away. In the end, I chose a Rottweiler.
Throw in the apathy that goes hand in hand with many mental health issues, and it’s easy to remain paralyzed for days. This isn’t possible when you live with an energetic, adoring puppy who’s overjoyed by every second you spend with him, and already strong enough to cause your furniture serious damage if you don’t keep your reflexes sharp. And not only does that animal get you off your butt, he forces you outside, whether you feel like it or not.
Own a dog, and you’ll find yourself meandering with him through the park at dawn, unwashed and drowsy-eyed, sharing nods of recognition with strangers. Walk an uncoordinated, bear-pawed puppy in the city, and you’ll see grizzled men who used to work down at the docks coo lovingly before describing the neighborhood’s whole sticky history to you in vivid detail.
You’ll momentarily forget the lingering rustiness of your post-pandemic social skills, and you’ll learn the names of every local terrier, alsatian and poodle more rapidly than that of any human acquaintance to date. You’ll hold your dog’s leash extra tight any time a stranger comes near, ready to launch yourself in the path of anyone who so much as considers making off with your beloved.
This is why the reports that people are being compelled to part with their pets are so grievous. Of course, pets are a weighty responsibility, cleaning up their mess is revolting and some are more high-maintenance (and expensive) than others. But nothing else that you can buy with money can match the transformations a living, moving, attention-seeking animal brings about.
Trends tell stories. This one tells of financial desperation so acute it’s forcing people to part with living, breathing lifelines.