No surprise there. Half of the 47,000 people surveyed for the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (2007 Edition) consider their pets to be family members. Given that there are 72 million pet dogs in the U.S. and nearly 82 million pet cats, that's a lot of nurturing going around -- and unconditional affection coming back (with no college tuition bills to boot).
A story in Time this week demonstrates how clever marketers can be in turning hard stats and gut feelings into actionable programs. It seems hotels around the world are adding dogs (and the occasional cat or goldfish) to their staffs to add to the homey ambiance.
For example, a black lab named Catie Copley at the Fairmont Copley Plaza gets booked via email for walks around Boston, reports Kristine Hansen. And guests can take Batchelor, a yellow lab at the Ritz-Carlton in Beaver Creek, Colo., hiking or snowshoeing.
The Ritz-Carlton's dogs come from shelters and guests are asked to make a donation to a local animal shelter. "We feel like we're giving back," PR director Parool Shah tells Hansen. "We want to ensure that we give them a great life and a great purpose."
While we're discussing greater purpose, another story in Time this week looks at trained dogs who are helping war veterans cope with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And dogs now patrol the floor at some military hospitals in an effort to help calm patients. "He has changed my life," says one vet about his Australian cattle dog mix. Previously, he was afraid to leave his apartment after three combat tours and an IED blast that broke his spine, Mark Thompson reports.
Training the dogs can be a special experience, too. Boys who reside at Children's Village in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., a facility that offers assistance to at-risk children and their families, collaborate with East Coast Assistance Dogs to train dogs, many of whom are later placed with vets. "This program gives the troubled youngsters who live at CV the opportunity to experience the unconditional love of a dog and at the same time to help others who are less fortunate than themselves," the CV website says.
There are, of course, many ways that working dogs are helping people in need, from the mixed breed who "reads" with kids at our local library to dogs that form special bonds with autistic children. One of the most touching ceremonies I ever saw was the day two puppies born to a Guiding Eyes for the Blind brood golden lab we harbored "graduated" after a couple of intense weeks of work with their new owners. That followed their being raised for more than a year by other volunteers.
If you're considering adding a puppy to your household this holiday season, you might consider raising one for a cause such as this. A Google search will turn up suitable organizations, or you can check the list at Assistance Dogs International, which accredits organizations that train guide and service dogs.
The cost of training each dog is in the five figures and all of the programs could use some financial support from corporations and businesses, too, of course.