Rachel's Democracy & Health News #838 January 19, 2006 ARE CHILDREN DOGS WITHOUT FUR? Rachel's summary: The super-rich are using their tax breaks to buy their dogs bottled water, organically-grown beef, fake-mink beds, braces for their teeth, and Prozac for the nerves while "Increasing numbers of young American children are showing signs of serious malnourishment, fueled by a greater prevalence of hunger in the United States..." By Peter Montague Americans think of themselves as a generous and caring people, and when it comes to the family pet there's no doubt that it's true. Nearly 2/3rds (69 million) of all families own a pet (90 million cats and 77 million dogs), and we give them $35.9 billion worth of pet supplies and services each year. Pets in turn soothe us, console us, amuse us, teach us responsibility, compassion and trust, connect us to the non-human world, and in some cases even prolong the lives of their elderly owners. No doubt, our pets benefit us greatly and we owe them a lot. Among the super-well-off, however, many pets now enjoy a life as rich with indulgences and activities as any suburban child's. "Pets provide unconditional love," says Sherril Stone, an expert in animal-human relations. "In lots of households, they're like surrogate children," she says. Particularly in upper-crust locales -- like Westchester County, N.Y., Fairfield County, Connecticut, parts of northern California, the Hamptons on Long Island, and parts of the Jersey shore -- pets are benefiting from the hard-earned tax breaks that their owners have received again and again from the Bush administration and our gold- plated K-Street Congress. As the New York Times reported in April last year, "Beyond standard offerings like dog parks and running areas, there are also baby sitters, day-care and play groups available to enhance the life of the Westchester canine. High-end clothing, special food and catered parties are not uncommon. Medical care rivals what is available for humans, in both variety and cost." A dog's birthday cake can be had for $79.00 (the dog gets a cake, a treat bag, a hat and a birthday bandanna); for $770 you receive similar get-ups for your dog and 40 canine guests. A fake mink dog bed sells for $199. E&E Hallstrom Haute Couture will make your dog a unique dress, coat, bathrobe or Halloween costume by hand, custom-fitted for $90 to $160. Presently they are dry-clean only, but the firm is working on a wash-and-wear line, according to Eva Hallstrom, who runs the company with her sister. Unlike dogs, most cats refuse to keep their clothes on, but Ms. Hallstrom says a cat looks elegant "with a simple strand of pearls." Amanda Jones has made a name for herself as a pet photographer. For $850 she will reveal your dog's inner soul in a unique portrait. There are now pet psychics, pet chiropracters and pet psychiatrists. You can now get your cat psychoanalyzed for $450 per session. "They're not just pets anymore," says LuAnn Gevaza, 49, who left her 23-year job with Goldman Sachs for a pet boutique and gift shop in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J. "They're fulfilling psychological needs in people, and therefore becoming more important in people's lives. People referring to themselves as their pet's "mommy" or "daddy" increased to 83% in 2003, compared to 55% in 1955. Signs commonly sold in pet stores say "Dogs are just children with fur." Taking care of our furry children has become a major business. In many high-end communities, there are specialized services for pets -- pet baby sitters (national average rate: $28.72/hour), pet day care, pet play groups and pet play dates. In a wealthy state like Connecticut or New Jersey, $100,000/year is said to be within reach for an enterprising dog walker. Then there are the high-end pet supplies -- leather collars imported from Switzerland ($60 to $100 each), "Char-dog-nay" wine-flavored doggie treats at $9.95 a bag, orthopedic beds with NASA-grade foam, microwavable hot water bottles (no wires to chew on), and step ladders to help older pets get up onto the furniture. Pet supplies are now one of the fastest-growing businesses in the U.S. Petco has 756 stores and 17,000 employees and opened 90 new stores in 2005. Its competitor, Petsmart, has 750 stores, and opened about 80 new ones in 2005. Pet owners in the U.S. spent $8.4 billion in 2005 on pet supplies (not including food). During 2005, more than 465 new pet products hit the market worldwide, up from 291 the year before -- shampoos, sunburn cream for dog's noses and bellies, and scented after-bath spritzes, so when your pooch crawls in bed with you, he or she will smell like a rose instead of a dog. In 2002, the New York Times reported that medical care for pets has advanced dramatically: "Expensive medical treatments that five years ago would have been reserved almost exclusively for the human species -- CT ["cat"] 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." Many pets are now routinely given Prozac, Xanax and Anafranil to improve their dispositions and ward off depression. Since 2002 the medical trend has, if anything, accelerated. Pacemakers and organ transplants are now available for aging pets. Pet-shop bulletin boards bristle with advertisements offering massages and acupuncture. A masseuse will come to your home and ease your pet's aches and pains for $70 to $100 per hour. As more and more pets (like their owners) are getting cancer, surgery followed by chemotherapy has entered the mainstream of veterinary medicine. The surgery itself costs anywhere from $6,500 to $7,500 and follow-up chemotherapy ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. Veterinarians are now offering Credit Care, a kind of instant credit card, in order to prevent what is called "financial euthanasia." In a survey taken earlier this year by the American Animal Hospital Association, 47% of pet owners said they would spend any amount of money to keep a pet alive. "I can't imagine life without a pet," says Maggie Rapp, a decorative painter from Lawrenceville, N.J. "Especially now, when people are so unsure about their careers, and money, and the way this country is going. Then you come home at night and there's this animal that just wants you," she explains. In the late 1980s, during the first Bush Presidency, dentistry for animals was the fastest-growing branch of veterinary medicine. "In a 1988 survey, 5.2 percent of pet owners said their pets had had dental work on their most recent visit to the vet. That is more than twice as many as in 1982, according to a mail survey with 30,000 respondents done by the American Veterinary Medical Association," the New York Times reported in 1990. Pets with crooked teeth can now get them straightened with braces. Orthodontia for pets is no longer very unusual. T. Keith Grove, a dentist for humans who moonlights at a veterinary office in Vero Beach, Fla. told the New York Times in 1990, "I do two or three cases of orthodontia a week" on dogs. In the U.S. in 2001, pet owners spent $19 billion on pet medical care. As you might expect, pet nourishment is big business, too. Bottled water for pets is booming. At $1.49 per liter ($2.29 for the 2-liter bottle), your 60-pound dog can drink $400 worth of water in a year's time. The latest trend in pet food is "holistic raw feeding" -- raw meat and vegetables. Holistic diets for pets include all-organically-grown free-range chickens and additive-free beef (no steroids or antibiotics) and organic vegetables. A Golden Retriever or Labrador will eat three pounds of meat per day. In the U.S., humans spend $14.2 billion per year on pet food. As a result, somewhere between 25% and 40% of all pets in the U.S. are obese (right in line with the 30% of U.S. adults who are obese). As a result, there's a new pet product on the shelves: weight-loss supplements, which work no better for pets than they do for humans. "We live in a culture, in which we take better care of our animals than each other," says Lynne Tillman, an author who sometimes writes about pets. Indeed. In June, 2005, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that, "Increasing numbers of young American children are showing signs of serious malnourishment, fueled by a greater prevalence of hunger in the United States, while, paradoxically, two-thirds of the US population is either overweight or obese." AFP went on, "In 2003, 11.2 percent of families in the United States experienced hunger, compared with 10.1 percent in 1999, according to most recent available data." In 2002, the National Association of County and City Health Officials reported that approximately one out of every six children in the U.S. (nearly 12 million children) are living in poverty, including 30% of African-American children, 28% of Hispanic children and 43% of Native American children. Chronic ailments are a serious problem among children in the U.S. One in every three American families has a child with a learning disability or mental illness. The New York Times reported recently that an epidemic of diabetes is sweeping through children in the U.S. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every three 5-year-olds in the U.S. can now expect to get diabetes as they grow older. Among Hispanics the trend is worse: one in two can expect to get diabetes. The Times explained, "Diabetes has no cure. It is progressive and often fatal, and while the patient lives, the welter of medical complications it sets off can attack every major organ. As many war veterans lost lower limbs last year to the disease as American soldiers did to combat injuries in the entire Vietnam War. Diabetes is the principal reason adults go blind." As the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized Dec. 10, 2005. "Over the last 20 years, marketing poor quality foods and beverages to children has spiked dramatically. Children eagerly consume what they see advertised. Many products are high in added sugar, fat, salt and low in essential nutrients. Because childhood food preferences often last a lifetime, poor diet is contributing to health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, at increasingly younger ages." Depression is showing up earlier in children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It reports that as many as 2.5 percent of children up to age 12 and 8.3 percent of adolescents ages 13-21 suffer from depression, an illness of the brain. The number of children and adolescents taking psychiatric drugs more than doubled from 1987 to 1996. The BBC reported in late 2004 that childhood cancers throughout the industrialized world have been steadily increasing for 30 years. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in France, examined data from 19 European countries. It found cancer rates increased by around 1% a year for children, and 1.5% a year for adolescents between the 1970s and 1990s. Some -- but not all -- of the rise might be explained by better diagnosis of the disease, and better record keeping. The increases were recorded for virtually all tumour types in children. In adolescents the major changes were seen for: Carcinomas that develop in tissues covering or lining organs of the body, such as the skin, the uterus, the lung, or the breast. Lymphomas that develop in the lymphatic system, such as Hodgkins disease. Soft tissue sarcomas that begin in the muscle, fat, fibrous tissue, blood vessels, or other supporting tissue of the body. Germ-cell cancers that develop in the testicles or ovaries. Tumours of the central nervous system. Reuters reported in July, 2005, that, "Unborn U.S. babies are soaking in a stew of chemicals, including mercury, gasoline byproducts and pesticides, according to a report to be released on Thursday. "The report by the Environmental Working Group is based on tests of 10 samples of umbilical cord blood taken by the American Red Cross. They found an average of 287 contaminants in the blood, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical PFOA." "If ever we had proof that our nation's pollution laws aren't working, it's reading the list of industrial chemicals in the bodies of babies who have not yet lived outside the womb," said U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.). Cord blood contains chemicals passed from the mother into the baby through the placenta. "Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests," the report said. Six months after this stunning report was released, the Bush administration announced that it was abolishing the Office of Children's Health Protection within U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Established in 1997, the Office of Children's Health Protection is supposed to ensure that the special vulnerability of children is safeguarded in environmental standard-setting, enforcement and prevention efforts. The EPA reorganization moved the functions of the Office of Children's Health protection into the office of Environmental Education. An organization that represents government workers, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) explained in blunt terms the meaning of the E.P.A. reorganization: "[EPA administrator] Stephen Johnson is making it clear that he does not want to hear another peep out of child health advocates within his agency," said Jeffrey Ruch, executive director of PEER, noting that putting child health under environmental education represents a serious de-emphasis. "This move is only slightly better than putting children's health in the janitor's closet, given the importance EPA assigns to environmental education." In sum, time and again in recent years we have cut taxes for the rich, which in turn has forced cuts in child-welfare programs of all kinds. Meanwhile the rich are now spending their tax-cut windfalls on unnecessary indulgences for their cats and dogs. Maybe we should start promoting our children as "dogs without fur" -- maybe then the super- rich would be willing to pay their fair share to help the nation's most vulnerable citizens -- our children -- get a minimally decent start in life.