owners are less likely than dog owners to have never
attended college, but more likely to hold an advanced
degree. (Source: US Pet Ownership and Demographics
Sourcebook, American Veterinary Medical Association)
Cedar Mill vet Rick White (above) fashioned a wheelchair
(below) for his paraplegic dog Bubba.
"She's my daughter," says Powell , who has no human
children. "I would do anything for her."
1998, America's dog population was estimated at
58 million. (Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers
Association, National Pet Owners Survey)
Devotion to dogs is by no means confined to urban
professionals. Jerry Smith (above), a burly 41-year-old
homeless man, would rather sleep outside than part
with his 6-month-old Rottweiler puppy, Bert. "I
wouldn't give him up for nothing," says Smith, who
survives on day labor and recycling cans and bottles.
"If I can't find a place to take both of us, I'll
stay out here until I can." Smith is clearly devoted
to his hound: Bert is neutered and up to date on
all his shots and, when Smith can afford it, dines
on Pedigree dog food. "It tastes pretty good," Smith
says. "I eat some myself once in a while."
Take Your Dog
To Work Day.
Animal Cemetery on Northeast Columbia Boulevard,
to the Oregon Humane Society's shelter, is reckoned
to be about 100 years old--reputedly the
oldest on the
are increasingly lying down with their dogs. In
1998, 38 percent of dogs usually slept in a person's
bed at night, up from 29 percent in 1992. (Source:
American Pet Products Manufacturers Association,
National Pet Owners Survey)
Shaggy Dog Stories
Ursa wants a yellow duck. Walter plays hide-and-seek
around the jungle gym. Charlotte, her mischievous eyes
flashing, keeps rolling a rubber ball across the floor,
hoping the day-care worker will fetch it back, while Buddy,
still panting after a set of laps around a makeshift obstacle
course, takes a break in the time-out zone.
From the yelps and the whining to the toys on the floor,
it's your typical day-care center. Except that all the
children are dogs.
Welcome to Urban Fauna--a new day-care facility in Old
Town catering exclusively to canines.
On any given weekday, about 20 "parents"--mostly urban
professionals--pay between $16 and $20 to drop off their
dogs here before they go to work. Like a conventional
day care, Urban Fauna provides structured activities for
its kids, including agility training, walks and snack
time. Day-care workers even use music to help set the
dogs' mood--ocean sounds during nap time, Gregorian chants
Five years ago, doggie day care did not exist in Portland.
Today there are five such centers--complete with entrance
requirements and waiting lists.
"There's a lot of people who have decided not to have
children," says Suzanne Losh, a former veterinary technician
who started Urban Fauna six months ago. "So their dogs
become their children."
Sci-fi writers in back in the '50s used to imagine love
affairs between humans and other species, but none of
them ever predicted day care for dogs. Nor could any futurist
have foreseen sports drinks for dogs, Prozac for dogs,
Muzak for dogs, health food for dogs, homeopathy for dogs,
hydrotherapy for dogs, aromatherapy for dogs, acupuncture
for dogs, or all-natural organic shampoo for dogs--with
Doggie reiki. Doggie root canals. Doggie hip replacement.
Doggie health insurance. Doggie horoscopes. Doggie therapists.
Doggie dermatologists. Doggie surgeons. Doggie orthopedic surgeons.
In 1998, the amount of money Americans spent on dog food
totaled $5.9 billion, equivalent to the gross domestic
product of Mongolia. America's hottest new publication?
The Bark, a sort of Atlantic Monthly for
dog owners. Companies from Taco Bell to the Helmsley Hotel
chain have adopted hounds as their mascots, while Judge
Wapner, who once presided over The People's Court,
now metes out justice on Judge Wapner's Animal Court.
Perhaps the most outrageous example of our evolving attitudes
toward dogs are "neuticles"--rubber testicles, designed
to look and feel like the real thing, which are inserted
into Fido's scrotum after the Big Snip, ensuring that
neither he nor his owner will endure any locker-room snickering.
Dog has been man's (and woman's) best friend since before
the dawn of recorded history, and people have always included
dogs in their families. But in recent years, urban Americans--especially
Portlanders--have begun to take a certain kind of four-legged
logic to its logical, if somewhat surreal, extreme. If
Elvis sang "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog" today,
it would likely be taken as a compliment. It's as if two
parallel universes, the human universe and the dog universe,
are somehow converging: Dog owners are increasingly treating
their dogs as they would their children. Dogs aren't just
part of the family any more--in some cases, they
have become the family.
Any list of Portland's movers and shakers would include
Paige Powell. Formerly the associate publisher of Interview magazine, she hung out with Andy Warhol and held showings
by Jean-Michel Basquiat in her New York apartment. As
the executive director of the Pearl Arts Foundation, she
is bringing artists such as Kenny Scharf to install totem
poles in Jamison Park, discussing murals with filmmaker
Gus Van Sant and playgrounds with artist Maya Lin.
Rubbing shoulders with the big dogs of the art world
is all very well, but Powell's eyes really light up when
she talks about Sherlock, a black-and-tan coon-hound-shepherd
mix (don't say "mutt") whom she rescued from the streets
of Queens 10 years ago. "She's my daughter," says Powell,
who has no human children. "I would do anything for her."
Each morning, Powell takes Sherlock for a walk in the
park, then feeds her a gourmet meal of organic brown rice,
peas, broccoli, edamame and organic chicken breasts from
Strohecker's (Powell herself is vegan, but does not impose
her views on her beloved carnivore). Powell has installed
a cage in her Volvo so she can safely transport Sherlock
wherever she goes. She has commissioned five different
paintings of Sherlock, including one of her reading a
biography of Anthony Trollope, and another where she poses
before a Scottish castle clad in a jeweled collar.
"I'm just giving her the attention all canine children
deserve," says Powell, who is currently holding discussions
with artist William Wegman about installing a public drinking
fountain--strictly for dogs, of course--in the Pearl District.
Another bastion of dog power in the Pearl is ad firm
Wieden & Kennedy, which recently gave employee Jeff
Selis a four-month leave of absence to produce Dog
Bless America, a coffeetable book profiling dogs from
every state in the union. Selis, whose first book (Cat
Spelled Backwards Doesn't Spell God) focused on Portland
hounds, admits that his 4-year-old Staffordshire bull
terrier, Otis, sneaks into bed with him every night. "If
that's considered spoiled, then so be it," he says. "And
if spoiling Otis is wrong, then I don't want to be right."
It is tempting to dismiss the Paige Powells and Jeff
Selises of the world as eccentrics. But truth be told,
their attitude is increasingly common.
"People are different about their pets than they used
to be," says Laurie Morton, the editor and publisher of
Dog Nose News, a local newspaper she describes
as a Just Out for dogs, which debuts next month.
"Dogs have come to play a bigger role in families, especially
in the city. It's wonderful and it's silly. We now have
Paradoxically, doggy-mania has taken over America at
a time when the dog population is relatively stable, or
even falling, depending on which set of statistics you
use. Ten years ago, 42 percent of all households in Oregon
owned a dog, making the state's canine population 720,000,
according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
By 1996, the most recent year for which statistics were
available, that figure had shrunk to 33 percent, making
for a dog population of 700,000.
During roughly the same time, however, the number of
people in the Portland metro area employed in veterinary
services jumped 41 percent. In other words, more vets
are looking after fewer dogs--and providing services hitherto
At the ripe old age of 14, Mac qualifies as a senior
citizen in the canine world, and like many seniors, he's
been acting a little strange recently. His doctor worries
that he may have a brain tumor. Five years ago, even one
year ago, his father might have opted for euthanasia.
But today the black Lab is trotting into the waiting room
of the Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging and Cytopathology
Clinic in Clackamas, with its white walls and unfamiliar
smells, for a $745 MRI scan. The clinic, which opened
in April, boasts a brand-new million-dollar MRI scanner,
a state-of-the-art Philips Gyroscan T5-NT that would be
the envy of any local hospital.
As the techs inject Mac with an anesthetic and his breathing
slows to a steady rhythm, the gigantic electromagnets
begin to pulse. In the hallway, Mac's father--who prefers
to remain anonymous--paces back and forth. "I'm sorry,
I'm a little emotional right now," he says. "He's my baby."
Our growing attachment to our dogs--and our willingness
to spend money on them--has unleashed a virtual revolution
in the animal health-care industry. Pharmaceutical giant
Pfizer has developed the first lifestyle drug for dogs,
Anipryl, which, for $175 a month, will combat Cushing's
Disease, a common ailment among older hounds that causes
lethargy, muscle weakness and excessive panting. Older
dogs, particularly dachshunds, are prone to degenerative
disk disease, which local vets can now treat with an operation
known as fenestration ($800-$900). And the list goes on:
surgery for hip dysplasia ($3,500-$4,000);
radiation therapy for leukemia ($3,000-$3,500); chemotherapy
for lymphoma ($5,000).
And then there are the neuticles, synthetic testicle
implants developed by the CTI Corporation of Buckner,
Mo., to ease "post-neutering trauma." Ranging in cost
from $90 to $140, the prosth-testes come in three models
(plastic, solid silicone and "marshmallow soft" silicone)
and five sizes to give Fido the appropriate degree of
swagger, be he a Chihuahua or a Great Dane.
"Most pets are not only in pain after being neutered
but are depressed because they are missing a familiar
body part," explains a company fact sheet. "A pet neutered
with neuticles does not know he's been altered because
he looks and feels exactly the same."
Laugh all you want--CTI claims that more than 39,000
neuticled animals are now walking among us. "You know,
if it's going to get people to neuter their dogs who otherwise
would not neuter them, it's worthwhile," says Dr. Tracy
Waechter of the Barbur Boulevard Veterinary Hospital,
who has installed one pair of synthetic balls in a Boston
terrier and has fielded several other inquiries.
Some local vets consider the concept of cosmetic testicles
silly, to say the least. Dr. Rick White, a Cedar Mill
vet, has never attached a pair and doesn't intend to.
But White is familiar with the increasing tendency on
the part of owners to identify with their dogs. Over the
years he has watched his clientele shift from farmers
who view animals as an economic resource to suburbanites
who regard them as members of the family.
"Twenty years ago I was driving out to the farmer, pulling
calves and fishing wild horses out of barbed-wire fences,"
he says. "Now I've got all small animals. I've seen the
evolution from sows with ear tags to poodles with rhinestone-encrusted
White is hardly immune to the trend. Two years ago, a
forgetful delivery man left three doors open in the clinic.
White's dog, a lab-springer puppy named Bubba, scampered
out onto Cornell Road and was hit by a truck. The accident
severed his spinal cord at the third lumbar and left him
paralyzed below the waist. After several surgeries, Bubba
now wanders through the clinic on his forepaws, nonchalantly
dragging his back legs behind him, a paraplegic pup with
an almost total disregard for his disability. White has
even fashioned a wheelchair for Bubba so he can go jogging
and play soccer with the family. "When this dog looks
at me, it's absolute love and devotion," says White. "He
The shift in attitudes toward dogs, however, strays beyond
the medical field. A new breed of lawyers are beginning
to argue that dogs should no longer be treated as chattel,
but as companions whose worth far exceeds their price
Last July, brother and sister Seth Jensen and Stormi
Speer brought their dachshund, Charlie, to the Tualatin
Animal Clinic after he swallowed an unspecified "foreign
object." According to a lawsuit they filed against the
clinic, their vet, Dr. Anne Horne, said Charlie was fine
and sent them home. A few days later, they brought Charlie
back to the clinic, shaking and vomiting. This time, Horne
performed surgery to remove the object, which was blocking
Charlie's intestinal tract. Charlie continued to vomit,
however, and was unable to move or eat. A week later Jensen
and Speer decided to put him down, and filed a medical
malpractice suit against Horne.
Malpractice suits are unusual in the animal world, in
part because the monetary value of a pet seldom exceeds
a few hundred dollars. But Jensen and Speer's attorney,
Geordie Duckler, argued in court papers that Charlie maintained
"a special and sentimental position and value to the plaintiffs
similar to that of a human family member or relation,"
and sued for $20,000 in damages. The case was settled
out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Duckler has not yet had a chance to stand before a jury
and argue that losing a pet carries an emotional cost
that should be compensated in dollars and cents--but he
says he would jump at the chance. "People have told me
I'm going to look like a fool," says the legal beagle.
"That's OK. I'll never feel embarrassed to argue that."
No one knows whether local jurors would slap their thighs
or break out their handkerchiefs. But there is a growing
recognition, within the dog world at least, that losing
a pet can be a wrenching experience for adults as well
"When you lose a loved one, you grieve their loss," says
grief counselor Enid Traisman, who facilitates a regular
pet-loss support group at the Dove-Lewis Emergency Animal
Hospital in Northwest Portland. "It doesn't matter if
they're four-legged or whatever."
Losing a pet can be so traumatic, in fact, that the Oregon
Humane Society has installed a "grieving room" in its
new shelter on Northeast Columbia Boulevard to give bereaved
owners a chance to grapple with their grief before climbing
into their cars. Shelter employees say it is not uncommon
to observe parking lot fender-benders involving teary
survivors who have just watched Fido close his eyes for
the last time.
To cope with their loss, dog owners are now seeking closure
by creating memorial services for their dearly departed.
In the past two years, Moments in Time, a Milwaukie production
company that specializes in memorial videos for funeral
services, has created roughly 100 videos for dead dogs
(and some cats). The videos feature photographs of the
deceased companion superimposed over ocean scenery or
forest landscape, set to classical music. Typically, the
last shot is of the dog ascending into the clouds, followed
by a final message from their grieving owner. "People
are really attached to their animals," says producer Tom
Fowler, who charges $75 per video. "Sometimes more than
to their own siblings."
There's no denying the profound sense of companionship
people derive from their dogs (don't even get us started
on cats). For those at society's margins--abused children,
homeless people, the elderly--having a dog can mean the
difference between life and death. So strong is the bond
between dog and master that Dove-Lewis has just started
a Pet Fostering Network for abused women, citing a study
that found seven out of 10 victims of domestic violence
will remain in their abusive situation rather than leave
their pet behind.
At the same time, there is something vaguely troubling
about this collective case of Doggy Fever.
Last month, when aMcMinnville woman named Brandy Stroeder
was denied a potentially life-saving lung-liver transplant
by the Oregon Health Plan, Gov. John Kitzhaber received
several hundred calls, faxes and emails.
Three years ago, when a dog named Nadas was sentenced
to death for chasing a horse, Kitzhaber received more
than 10,000 requests for clemency.
It's great that Portlanders now have access to an MRI
scanner for their dogs. But 16 counties in rural Oregon
have no MRI scanner at all--for dogs or people.
What explains our proclivity to sympathize with dogs
at the expense of people? One theory is that our fellow
human beings have a well-documented habit of letting us
down, whereas the cardinal virtue of dogs is loyalty.
"Every time you get up, they're there, gazing at you adoringly,
despite your bed-head and bad breath," says Traisman,
the grief counselor. "It's a relationship that is very
stable. It's uncomplicated, unconditional love."
Many dog owners say that in an increasingly hectic, stressful,
and distrustful society, their canine companions provide
a sort of emotional safe harbor. "I do find my personal
relationships more difficult than my relationships with
dogs," agrees Selis, the author of Dog Bless America.
"Dogs are just so simple and pure. They are the essence
of what I aspire to be."
"People are becoming more distant from each other," says
Dr. White of Cedar Mill. "Dogs fulfill a role in our society
that the human-to-human bond does not fulfill, for one
reason or another. So we look to our animals. Because
in the end, they are honest. They are honest. The most
your dog will work you for is a biscuit or a pat on the
Dogs do not disappoint us--and unlike our children, our
spouses and our friends, they are never disappointed in
us. At the end of the day, dogs are there for us, the
ideal companion for a society that is once bitten, twice
--WW reporter Chris Lydgate was a cat in a
former life. Intern Kelly Clarke sniffed out several key
facts and quotes for this report.
By Chris Lydgate
April 1993 Clatsop County authorities discover
self-professed "animal collector" Vikki Kittles living
in an old school bus with 115 dogs, four cats and two
roosters. After firing nine court-appointed attorneys
and challenging six judges, Kittles is sentenced to 15
months in jail for animal abuse. "Kittles is in my opinion
one of the most dangerous, evil people I have ever encountered,"
says prosecutor Josh Marquis.
March 1995 Reed College installs dog drinking
April 1995 Pookie Atkins, a 4-year-old Rottweiler
from Gresham, reaches through a chain link fence and sinks
her teeth into the tender flesh of 2-year-old Alicia Phillips,
who is playing in the yard next door. Pookie spends the
next seven months--four dog years--on death row at Multnomah
County Animal Control, despite howls of protest from local
dog lovers and an anonymous handwritten death threat.
After a dogged series of hearings, Lake Oswego lawyer
Robert Babcock wins Pookie's freedom, and she winds up
on the cover of WW ("Death Row Dog," WW,
Oct. 25, 1995).
September 1996 A 3-year-old collie-malamute mix
named Nadas is sentenced to death for chasing a horse
in Jackson County. Thousands of outraged dog lovers--some
from as far away as England--hound Gov. John Kitzhaber,
asking him to commute the sentence (which he has no legal
authority to do). The case goes to the Oregon Supreme
Court, which grants Nadas a reprieve. Overall, the governor
will have received more calls about the Nadas episode
than about any other single issue of his six-year tenure.
"There's an extraordinary level of compassion for dogs,"
says press secretary Bob Applegate. "When something doggy
happens, we hear about it."
December 1997 Jogging down a neighborhood street
in Hillsboro, off-duty Portland Police Officer John Hurlman
encounters a 3-year-old, 100-pound yellow Labrador retriever
named George. Thinking the dog is about to attack him,
he pulls a 38-caliber revolver from his fanny pack and
shoots and kills the dog. George's family's attorney compares
the incident to "shooting and killing a small child."
DA drops the case after Hurlman agrees to pay the family
$10,000 and perform 32 hours of community service.
June 1999 Berbati's holds a benefit for local
rockhound Tres Shannon, whose dog needs a $2,000 knee
Summer 1999 Multnomah County Chairwoman Bev Stein
proposes a 5 percent tax on all pet food sold in the county
to pay for animal control. After a chorus of yelps from
animal lovers, pet stores and the pet-food industry, Stein
is brought to heel and retreats with her tail between
January 2001 The Dog Genome Project, an ambitious
effort to map the genetic paw-print of the canine species,
is finally complete, isolating for the first time the
genes for whining, drooling and chasing one's tail.
April 2010 Following a nationwide campaign of
chaining themselves to courthouses, dogs finally win the
right to vote.
June 2036 Promising a fire hydrant in every garage
and a rabbit in every pot, Wisconsin multimillionaire
Spuds Mackenzie XXXII becomes the first dog to be elected
president. His running mate is a cocker spaniel named
April 1, 2100 Dogs rule the world. The first order
of business is to beef up flea and tick research, slash
funding for the U.S. Postal Service and quadruple world
production of Milk-Bone treats.