New York Times
December 1, 2002


By Julie V. Iovine

Duke was in pain. Six years of hiking, biking and jogging had taken
its toll...." Although it may sound like the warm-up promotion for a
television melodrama, this is the sales copy on a 6.25-ounce bag of
dog treats. Zuke's Hip Action, a beef-flavored dog goody shot through
with the supplement glucosamine, is intended to soothe the aching
joints of older dogs.

Meanwhile, in Chelsea, Michael Foye is one of a small but growing
number of neighborhood Florence Nightingales attending to aging cats
with special needs. Mr. Foye drops into cat owners' homes to give
injections to felines suffering from the dehydration associated with
kidney failure, a fatal disease in older cats.

"They don't like it," said Mr. Foye, a professional dog walker, who
learned how to deliver the shots just under the fur between the
shoulder blades from another dog walker. "Sometimes the cats run the
moment they see you. It's not the high point of their day."

They say there's no mistaking the moment when a pet looks at you with
weary eyes that say, "Enough." But what about the look one, two or
three years before that, when a dog or cat is starting to creak,
sprout snowy stubble around the muzzle and just plain get old? Those
years of companionship and compassion can be costly and confusing.

Like the American population, the American animal-companion population
is graying. This has led to an explosion in services, therapies,
surgical procedures and products geared to cosseting, even prolonging,
the golden years of the average golden retriever.

"Pets are less disposable than they were a generation ago," said Jim
Humphries, a veterinarian in Colorado Springs, who regularly gives pet
advice on CBS's "Early Show." "In the 70's, it was not uncommon that a
pet without bladder control was put to sleep. Now, society says:
'Let's deal with it with doggy diapers." Baby boomers are taking care
of their parents, and they're accepting responsibility for their aging
pets, too."

At the Animal Medical Center, a kind of Sloan-Kettering for pets on
the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Ann Hohenhaus, the chairman of the
department of medicine, recently treated a cat brought low by cancer
and other problems. The pet's owner was ready to put the 15-year-old
cat to sleep, when a tweak in medications brought it back to life.

"That cat keeps truckin' on," Dr. Hohenhaus said. "She's doing fine
now, and it would have been dead wrong to put her down. None of us
have a crystal ball, and if we don't try, we'll never know how
resilient pets can be."

The logo on Zuke's Hip Action treats, "Keep Your Dog Going," could be
the mantra for the fast-growing industry focused on supporting dogs
and cats through a dotage that medical professionals are only just
beginning to understand. "Vets don't know that much yet about old-dog
diseases because until recently you just put them down when they got
old," said Patrick Meiering, the owner of A Guy and His Dog, the
company that produces Hip Action.

Expensive medical treatments that five years ago would have been
reserved almost exclusively for the human species CT scans,
ultrasound, M.R.I.s and radiation therapy are now all performed on
pets. Pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer and Bayer are marketing an
ever wider selection of drugs for geriatric cats and dogs, like
Rimadyl for arthritis and Anipryl for a newly recognized condition,
cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or canine senility. Pet-shop bulletin
boards bristle with advertisements offering massages and acupuncture.

Michael Lopez, a hair stylist in the West Village, never thought much
about Hank getting old. But about six months ago, the chocolate
Labrador refused to go down the stairs, and Mr. Lopez now must carry
the 78-pound dog downstairs and up, and sometimes on the street when
Hank stages a sit-down during walks. Mr. Lopez has since put Hank, who
will turn 11 in January, on Rimadyl and Cosequin, a natural bone
supplement. Hank gets massages twice a month from a pet masseuse who
pays house calls ($70 to $100 per hour), and Mr. Lopez is thinking
about acupuncture.

"I'm taking better care of my dog than I'd ever do for my human
relatives," Mr Lopez said. "Hank gives me such unconditional love. I'd
do anything for him."

Scientific research is beginning to bear out many of the long-held
convictions of pet lovers: animals feel pain, confusion and loss much
as humans do. But along with the proliferating medical treatments come
lingering doubts. Even the most ardent anthropomorphizers of animals
sometimes wonder: Am I doing all this for my pet or for myself?

Whether unlimited indulgences translate into a longer life for pets
has yet to be measured. Many veterinarians say they believe that the
increase in sophisticated medical treatments is both a cause and a
result of pets living longer. Better nutrition and stricter leash laws
also play a part.

A recent study from the American Veterinary Medical Association showed
that 16.8 percent of the 70 million pet cats in the United States are
11 or older, up from 13.3 percent five years ago. The share of the
country's 60 million dogs over 11 has increased by a similar margin.

Large dogs enter their twilight years around 8, while smaller breeds
are considered old when they turn 11. Cats lead longer lives: 14 is
the average maximum age.

"Fifteen years ago you'd see a 10-year-old dog only occasionally; now
it's very common," said Dr. Johnny Hoskins, a veterinarian from Baton
Rouge, La., who will be addressing aging in pets at the annual
American Veterinary Medical Association meeting in July. "People are
not looking for excuses to do away with them the way they used to.
They want them to live as long as there's quality of life."

And the disposable income to maintain it.

Richard Turner didn't blink as the expenses mounted when acute kidney
failure felled Pooh Bear, his 14-year-old Maltese, over Labor Day
weekend. "I spent $2,000 in the first week" on hospitalization,
emergency hydration, barium analysis and ultrasound, said Mr. Turner,
a marketing director at a high-tech company. At death's door in
September, Pooh Bear is chasing squirrels again.

Convinced that poor nutrition was to blame for Pooh Bear's troubles,
Mr. Turner now makes the dog's food himself a mush developed by a
canine nutritionist, supplemented with a crushed One-A-Day 50 Plus (a
vitamin for older humans), Tums, Morton's salt and Pepcid AC (for
gastrointestinal problems).

Advanced medical care is becoming widely available to more pet owners.
In March, Dr. Diane Levitan plans to open an animal hospital in
Westbury, N.Y., modeled after a human medical center. Radiation
therapy, CT scans, M.R.I."s, a full-time animal dentist, orthopedic
surgery and swim therapy will all be available. It will be the first
hospital, she said, to incorporate rooms, seven of them, where people
can stay overnight while their pets undergo treatments. Doctors and
technicians will be on duty around the clock. "I see a huge number of
people willing to do anything for their pets," Dr. Levitan said, "and
they are the most normal people in the world."

Why are so many people besotted with their pets? Partly, it is
demographics. The fragmentation of the traditional family and the
swelling ranks of singles and empty nesters in cities has created a
deep longing for child substitutes and the unquestioning devotion
offered by pack animals. The attachment to pets also seems to be
intensifying in direct relation to the greater distance people travel
from firsthand experience of life on the farm, with its far more
pragmatic relation to livestock. On the farm, cats and dogs have
mundane jobs stalking rodents and guarding the house less likely to
incite deep emotional bonding. In the city, on the other hand, pets
are called upon to fill the void with wagging tales and steady purr
whenever lonelyhearts come home to an empty apartment. It is not
uncommon to hear devoted pet owners speak of how much they "owe" their
furry companions for just being there.

Veterinarians, more focused on the results than the cause, note that
only in a very prosperous society can people afford to become attached
to their animals.

Short of the emergency room, there are more and more products to cozy
the golden years of the over-the-hill pet, from hot water bottles to a
Companion Separation Balance wafer made from extracts of kavakava and
Saint-John's-wort, also known as "pet Prozac" because it is designed
to relax the uptight pet.

Last year, Orvis, the purveyor of gear for field and stream
enthusiasts, introduced its first pet product catalog, arranged to
cover the complete life cycle of the pet. "It used to be all about
puppies," said Jon Comeau, the company's product development
specialist, "but they've gotten older, and we've dramatically
increased products for the older dog."

Elevated feeding bowls on wooden stands (in tasteful mahogany or birch
with bone cutouts) to prevent neck strain, orthopedic beds with NASA-
grade foam, and microwaveable hot water bottles (no chewable electric
cords) give new meaning to dogs' having their senior moment. Coming
next year are stepladders to make it easy for Maximilian to get up
onto your favorite furniture.

Two weeks ago, Arnie Costell put up a Web site selling the Bottoms-Up
Leash, a $24.95 hind-legs halter that gently supports and cradles the
haunches of arthritic dogs. Mr. Costell, a former professional
baseball player, sewed together the first rear-end leash himself to
help his sheepdog-Lab mix, Watson, when he started to falter around
age 15. The leash attracted so much attention at Malibu Beach one dog
owner offered him $500 on the spot that Mr. Costell decided to go into

Since starting the site (, he has sold more
than 125, he said. "I invented a putting device for golfers," Mr.
Costell said, "and I sold a few. But, really, who cares if you improve
your game or not? But this, this is big. I get e-mail everyday from
people saying I've changed their lives."

Alan Kraus, an owner of Barking Zoo, a pet store in Chelsea, said,
"There's definitely a trend in the industry to cater to aging pets and
pets with special needs. People come in looking for something,
anything that will revitalize their aging animal. There's a lot of
marketing to needy people going on."

Indeed, a survey conducted this year by the American Animal Hospital
Association found that 47 percent of pet owners surveyed would spend
any amount to save a pet's life. That would hardly surprise Mr.
Turner, the owner of Pooh Bear, who estimated that in the last year he
has spent $5,000 in medical bills.

"Whatever I can do, I'll do," Mr. Turner said. "I would never put Pooh
Bear to sleep just as I wouldn't put my wife to sleep. He's our little

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