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General News    H3'ed 1/24/09

From Doghouse to White House; American Dog Changes Too

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Message Martha Rosenberg
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Malia and Sasha aren't alone in thinking of their dog as part of the family.

A recent poll found a surprising number of Americans call their answering machine during the work day to talk to their dog.

Many hold birthday parties for their dogs, give them Christmas presents and let them sleep in the family bed. (It's no dirtier than sleeping with a shoe says one canine sleeper.)

P.S. Over half reported kissing their dog on the mouth "once a week or more."

In the last year dog books like Merle's Door, Marley & Me, Good Dog. Stay and Rescuing Sprite have been the rage.

But humorists have been riffing dogs for years.

Columnist Erma Bombeck used to say dogs were the last of the optimists. They rush the door when the bell rings but it's never for them. And they can't wait to go for a car ride but they never go anywhere but the vet.

(Isn't doing the same thing and expecting different results also the definition of insanity?)

US comic Gary Shandling observed that the only thing a dog likes more than getting in the car is getting out and if we opened both doors they'd pass through all day long, happily.

Of course dogs' simplified triage system--if you can't eat it or mate with it pee on it--has provoked many X rated jokes. But so has their tendency to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Comedian Buddy Hackett used to recount hearing the dog yawning at the edge of the bed while he and his wife were getting busy. "Am I boring you," he asked the dog in jest. "A little," replied his wife.

And of course Woody Allen recalls asking his mother where babies came from and she replied, thinking he'd said rabies, "dogs."

While Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller, White Fang and even Benji were brave and heroic figures, Snoopy from the cartoon Peanuts introduced the era of the sage and sardonic dog who was actually a philosopher.

Suddenly names like Rover and Fido were passe'--not to mention terms like "master" and "command"--and the dog moved from the dog house to the foot of the bed. Or better.

He wasn't a pet or companion; he was a bona fide member of the family.

You weren't his master or owner; you were his Caretaker and it was a privilege to be so.

This marked the era of mixed breed dogs named Fred from shelters not puppy mills--hello!--with bandanas around their neck and their own web site. Nor did they do "tricks" anymore.

They ate pure food, went to day care, had their teeth brushed and, increasingly, found public drinking "fountains" placed outside wherever they went.

But there's another reason for Americans' rising love affair with dogs: their falling love affair with the institutions of marriage and family.

Not only are people marrying later in life if at all--the Searching Twenties turning into the Searching Thirties and sometimes Searching Forties--when they do take the plunge, the marriages don't last because they've become so set in their ways. (See: what was I THINKING)

Marriages often don't even last as long as a dog's life anymore which explains the bitter custody suits over Jake or Max.

Plus even at their best, new spouses can't inspire a grown man or woman to get down on hands and knees in a business suit after work and beseech wildly "come to Daa-Daa."

Since it's been a whole hour since they called the answering machine.
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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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