Rachel's Democracy & Health News #838
January 19, 2006


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

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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.