As anybody who knows me will confirm, I am crazy about dogs — which, I always remind my husband, is a lot better than being known as “the crazy dog lady.”
Our two huge, elderly Labrador retrievers who made the trip with us from England now are supported by my adorable and much loved American-born 17-pound West Highland terrier, who thinks he is a bull mastiff and clearly is leader of the pack. He is 2 years old and healthy, but somehow I managed to persuade my husband that it is time for a new puppy.
So, as we welcome the latest canine addition to our family (a gorgeous flat-coated retriever named Georgie Girl), it made me think about the similarities and differences between pets and the attitudes toward them in the U.S. and the land of my birth.
For obvious reasons, we will consider dogs first. According to humanesociety.org, there are almost 80 million dogs in the U.S., with 39 percent of households owning at least one dog. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the number is lower but still a considerable 31 percent, according to dognews.co.uk.
In both countries, according to the U.K. Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club, the Labrador retriever is the leading choice of canine “animal companion,” as the politically correct would say. In the U.K., dogs usually are allowed to run free in parks and on beaches, whereas I was surprised to learn that this is not the case in the U.S. Many parks do not even have a dog park area where dogs can socialize and enjoy exercising off-leash (or “off the lead,” as we say in England).
There also is a more extreme element of pampered pooches in the U.S. with doggie spas, dog walkers, dog boutiques, etc. While I love my dogs, I still am too British to dress them in anything more than a collar and the occasional bandana. Of course, as with all things American, this trend is spreading to the U.K.
Things have come a long way since I was a child. I have to smile when I think about dog psychologists and celebrities like the famous dog whisperer, Cesar Millan. When I was growing up in the 1980s, dogs on TV were taught to behave by an unlikely TV star: a matronly lady in her 70s called Barbara Woodhouse, who dressed like an old-fashioned British nanny and would shout instructions at dogs, telling them to “sit” and “time for walkies” and to “give her the paw” (Americans ask their dogs to shake).
Turning to cats, my husband is not a cat lover and frequently reminds me that “dogs have owners but cats have staff.”
Other pets — such as fish, rabbits and hamsters — are much lower down the popularity scale than dogs and cats, but one scary fact that hit me when I emigrated was the prevalence of exotic pets in the U.S. I know there are different state laws (influenced by climate, geography, urbanization and tradition) regarding the ownership of exotic pets and the need for licenses, but the fact that some Americans take huge snakes, wild raccoons and various monkeys into their homes as pets still shocks me.
Anyway, getting back to lovable, furry pets, I leave you with this Ben Williams quote: “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” Now, I am going to have some therapy.
God bless America!
Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.