I remember vividly telling my husband Michael that within a few years the pet industry was going to be explosive. This was back in the mid-nineties. Already a small business entrepreneur and animal lover, I suggested we create some sort of pet related business. I wasn’t sure what specific product or service we might offer but I perused possible website domains, and there were dozens open to register. Not a single one of them are available today—even as a .net, .org, .ca, .tn, dot anything. Seems I was ahead of my time.
Not to break my arm patting myself on the back— after all, Michael wasn’t enthused and we didn’t jump into the now multi-billion dollar a year industry— but I’ve always had a nose for sniffing out rising trends. I had detected tiny, visible clues in the environment, and saw an emerging trend covered in fur. Michael pooh-poohed the notion when I told him with conviction that some day Hallmark, or perhaps another card company, would create lines of pet-themed greeting cards. As if gazing into a crystal ball, I explained my vision; one which included specialty stores catering to pets, and everyday retailers that would devote isles to four-legged critters. I even predicted some savvy folks in Hollywood might create television programs—heck, even an entire channel—to people and their pets. I hadn’t realized Animal Planet was under production and would roll out their first programs in October of 1996.
The pet trend I predicted over 20 years ago, and the business ideas attached to it, have all come to pass. Every one of them. If we’d started a successful pet toy or clothing business, a pet lodging, pampering or resort company, or had gotten into the publishing or media production end of the industry, we could be retired on some Caribbean island, sipping rum drinks with little umbrellas in them. Yes, the pet industry has smiled on those early entrepreneurs, the people who were on the hard, left-handed side of the innovation adoption curve.
Societal factors that helped fuel the acceptance, and then the embrace of the pet and pet lifestyle industry, were the confluence of several phenomena. The OK Boomer generation was aging. Empty nesters felt a void in their lives—especially those who were single, divorced or widowed. What better way to fill that void than another living creature to care for and love? In an effort to reduce animal overpopulation, which in some parts of the country decreased that area’s residential desirability, leash laws and spay/neuter legislation went into effect. Unfortunately, these laws aren't in place or enforced in all states, but they’ve greatly impacted many parts of the country, where stray domestic animals are now a rarity.
Finally, over the past two decades, there has been an increase in animal rescue groups, volunteers, shelters, and humane societies. Even during recessionary times, people have been willing to donate time and resources to feed and shelter homeless critters. This inevitably led to some peoples’ complaints about donations to non-humans, arguing that the two-legged are the ones deserving food and sheltering. This argument is weak, however, because it presents an either-or fallacy, and presumes individuals are incapable of having compassion and generosity for both. This attitude, which springs from a mentality of scarcity and fear, is one animal lovers encounter with depressing regularity.
The fact is, pets continue to gain importance, not only as family members, but as citizens in general. Apart from home and hearth, dogs and cats serve in therapy roles, from comforting children undergoing chemotherapy to gladdening the hearts of seniors in nursing homes and patients in dementia centers. Dogs serve alongside firemen, policemen and soldiers. They are the eyes for the blind, and they act as medic alerts for people with seizures.
As we stroll, trot or sprint into this new decade, let us consider there are probably more roles for Fido and Miss Kitty that haven’t even been imagined yet.
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