Now I will be the first to admit that I am pretty crazy about my cats. The difficulties of having a pet in Tokyo prevented me from having any for a long time, but as soon as I was able, I adopted Ryoto and Memina from a local shelter called ARK. If you live in Japan and are looking for a furry friend, I highly recommend them because they do great work not only as a rescue organization, but also with community outreach.
Having been without pets for so long, I am sometimes wont to spoil them a bit. Even though Ryoto is on a diet, I still cave and give him a treat now and then, and I’ll sit on the couch doing nothing even when I have stuff to do if Memi happens to be napping in my lap. They have their fair share of toys, scratching posts and kitty beds. Mostly, though, the affection I have for them is shown through the time I spend with them and the care I give them.
My point is that I understand the desire to buy things for your pets and that pet owners can be a little nutty about their animals, but recently I’m starting to wonder about pet culture in Japan. The answer to how much do you love your pet seems to be measured more and more in yen than in time spent petting or playing.
For instance, today on the Japan Times Web site, there were three articles on the front page dealing with luxury items for pets. Or perhaps I should say things that I consider luxury items.
In one article, the writer covered a restaurant where the menu includes additive-free organic meals for canine dining companions. Of course, much like the entrees intended for humans, they’ll cost you 1800 yen a pop. And you can top off the meal with a custom-designed, dog-friendly cake if you are willing to shell out another 2000 plus for it. A nearby bar offers pet-lovers the chance to enjoy a beer with their favorite four-legged buddy. Of course, Fido’s drink isn’t actually beer. It’s a non-alcoholic concoction made from beef extract, bottled and labeled to look like a brewski. But the topper for me was a company that offers pets oxygen therapy in a mini hyperbaric chamber alongside mom or dad’s full-size chamber.
It just strikes me that all this stuff, along with the pet strollers and cutesy clothes and designer carriers that are so common in Japan, are more about treating the owner than the pet. I mean, I don’t think the average dog cares if they get fed filet mignon and organic vegetable puree or a decent can of dog food. But for an owner to think that they are doing something really special for their pet, now THAT is something you can market to.
My first reaction on seeing stuff like this is to think “don’t you have anything better to spend your money on?” I mean think about how much worthy charitable organizations could do with the money pet owners spend annually on unnecessary pet products. And I don’t mean that in the “humans first, animals second” way. ARK, for instance, would be happy to take the 5000 yen you were planning to spend on your pet’s oxygen therapy and use it to feed several animals for a week or more.
Of course, people are not required to give to charity and my second reaction is to think that everyone has a right to spend their money as they please. We all have different definitions of what “disposable” income is. But if you really want to spend that money on your pet, why not spend it on something that will really do them some good? Make sure they get their yearly check-up at the vet and all their vaccinations. Get their teeth cleaned next time you go. Invest in some health insurance for your pet. Build a pet-friendly enclosure on your home to let them get a bit more sunlight and fresh air. I guarantee they will like it more than a Louis Vuitton collar and will be healthier and live longer as well.