In the September issue of Marie Claire magazine, designer and Project Runway judge Michael Kors suggests that the latest must-have accessory isn’t a satchel bag or posh pumps but a four-legged companion. “Add a sleek pet greyhound as accessory, and the look says fast and rich,” he enthuses, discussing his fall collection. I think this self-confessed sun worshiper has stayed out in the heat a little too long, because the idea that dogs are fashion “accessories” is so wrong.
Let me tell you, ladies, if all you want is something to complement your outfit, you’re better off with a new pair of boots. Because unlike a purse or belt that you can toss in the closet when you grow tired of it, dogs are living, feeling beings who require a lifetime of feeding, walking, playtime, veterinary care and love. Are you ready to make that commitment?
Until recently, I was the guardian of one of last season’s so-called “accessories”—remember all those photos of Paris and Britney with their little teacup dogs? I adopted Oliver, a 5-pound Yorkie, from a local shelter because I wanted a friend, not because I wanted a ball of fluff that I could tote around in my purse. But I often think about the girls who just had to have a Chihuahua or a Yorkie because they saw their favorite celebrity with one, and I wonder what became of their little dogs.
Oliver was 14 years old when I adopted him and he was my wonderful companion for two years. He passed away earlier this year and I miss him dearly. As with all older animals in shelters, Oliver’s chances of finding a new home weren’t great. The odds are even worse when careless people buy animals from breeders or pet shops on a passing whim, rather than adopt an animal patiently waiting on death row in a shelter. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, a mere 10 percent of dogs in homes are adopted from shelters.
Although I knew that caring for an older animal would be challenging, I was glad to be able to provide at least one with that rare gift: a second chance at life. But I wasn’t completely prepared for how much extra care and attention Oliver would need—not because of his age, but because of his size.
Ollie couldn’t get on the couch or the bed unless I picked him up. He couldn’t get off again unless I set him down. Once, Ollie jumped off the couch before I could catch him, and he sprained his leg.
When I took Ollie for walks or brought him into the office with me, I had to watch his every step. Otherwise, his feet might fall through storm drains or get caught in the small openings in elevator floors. I couldn’t even let him jump off a curb, or he would skin his chin.
How many misguided fashionistas were prepared for this level of commitment when they rushed out to buy their purse-sized pooches? It’s easy for designers and celebutantes who see animals as nothing more than “material” for coats or bags to tout them as “accessories” as well. What they don’t tell their fans is that animals cannot be ignored just because you’re tired or busy—or because they’re no longer “trendy.” They need and deserve companionship and love every day for the rest of their lives.
For those in the fickle world of fashion—where “one day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out,” as they say on Project Runway—this might be too much to ask. At the very least, designers and celebs should do us—and the dogs—a favor by saying “auf Wiedersehen” to the tired notion that animals are little more than ornaments, interchangeable with the latest “It” bag.
Colleen O’Brien is the director of communications for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.HelpingAnimals.com.