The XX Factor

In Defense of Dog Strollers

The most interesting part of the ” dog politics” piece Lauren mentions is, I think, the suggestion that supporters of mandatory neutering laws are unknowingly promoting a dysgenic breeding program. “The thing about mandatory spay-neuter,” an animal-welfare expert tells John Homans, “is that those who are most willing to have their dogs spayed or neutered tend to be responsible people. And often, their dogs also happen to be nice animals in temperament. So what you’re doing essentially is taking those dogs out of the breeding population.” Another expert calls this potentially “catastrophic,” suggesting that as we waste our time debating “homeland security” a super-race of feral pit bulls will quietly rise against us. Thanks, Humane Society.

Also interesting is how Homans’ piece reflects the deep intuitions he sets about critiquing. There is the persistent question of what a dog is “worth” and whether it is unseemly to spend many thousands on the care and feeding of a pup. We are told that a friend spent $14,000 on a sick dog that couldn’t be saved. When his own dog goes down, Homans notes that it is in “a hospital they’d be happy to have in Darfur.”

People tend to get moralistic about the pampering of pets. I don’t mean to pick on Homans; I share his intuitions. But there is something odd about the way the mind veers suddenly from a poodle’s MRI toward Darfur’s poor. Money is fungible. Countless purchases middle class Americans make start to look bad when you compare their value to helping starving Africans. Do you need that organic produce? That Netflix subscription? Think of Darfur! The same money that buys a game system can buy clean water for people going without, but we leave the Wii without comment while looking with scorn at people who bring their terriers to day spas. I suspect the reason for our moralism is something very close to what Homans is worrying over-dogs are in some sense substitute humans, not quite deserving of human status, and easily assumed to be hogging human resources. The innocent doggy stroller is taken to be responsible for all the strollerless babies out there.

Anyway, this was mostly an excuse to link to the classic ” Your Dog Wants a Massage ,” starring Henry Wrinkler.

Photograph of dog in stroller by Chris McGrath/Getty Images.