There’s a story here, not just about how disasters affect our buying patterns, but also about what makes the things we make so precious so precious. The number of pets kept after the lockdown suggests that within months these animals proved their value far greater than their dollar cost, or the time and effort they had spent caring for them.
This should come as no surprise. As anyone who cares for a pet knows, the obligation to provide for their basic needs, even the gross ones, can be enough to derail the darkest thoughts. I don’t believe that an increase in the number of pets handed over to shelters represents a change in the direction of indifference or harshness. I think it’s a measure of the magnitude of the disaster that’s imminent — one of many that would be more bearable with a sweet, wordless companion around.
Not only did I want a pet, I wanted a bodyguard, one intimidating enough to ward off bad men, but sweet enough to cheer me up amid the unyielding gloom of what felt like a 30-month winter. . I wanted it to be so big that no thief in his right mind would try to drag it away. In the end I chose a Rottweiler.
Add in the apathy that comes with many mental health issues, and it’s easy to be paralyzed for days. This isn’t possible if you live with an energetic, adoring puppy who is overjoyed by every second you spend with him, and who is already strong enough to wreak havoc on your furniture if you don’t keep your reflexes sharp. And that beast doesn’t just love your ass, he also forces you out whether you feel like it or not.
If you have a dog, you will find yourself wandering the park with him at dawn, unwashed and with sleepy eyes, sharing nods of recognition with strangers. As you walk through town with an uncoordinated bear-pawed puppy, you’ll see gray men who used to lovingly work the harbor before describing the entire tacky history of the neighborhood in vivid detail.
You’ll forget for a moment the lingering rustiness of your social skills after the pandemic, and you’ll learn the names of every local terrier, Alsatian, and poodle faster than any human knowledge to date. You keep your dog’s leash extra tight every time a stranger approaches, ready to launch yourself in the path of anyone who even thinks of going out with your loved one.
This is why the reports of people being forced to part with their pets are so distressing. Pets are of course a heavy responsibility, cleaning up their mess is disgusting, and some are more maintenance (and more expensive) than others. But nothing else money can buy can match the transformations a living, moving, attention-seeking animal brings about.
Trends tell stories. This one tells of financial despair so acute that it forces people to give up living, breathing lifelines.