Opinion

The Economics of Pet Products

I go to the local Petco store from time to time just to check out what's on the shelves. And do you know what I find on almost every aisle? Misdirection, misrepresentation, and sometimes outright deception. Most of the products in the cat care aisles are simply not appropriate for cats. When a well-intentioned person buys one of these products, they may be disappointed that their cat doesn't take to it at all. Or the product may help to create behavior issues that the cat will be blamed for.

Is this Petco's fault? No. Petco is a retailer. Their job is to stock the pet supplies that people want and to sell them in an attractive and convenient way. The marketing spin and poor product designs come from the companies who produce many of the products stocked there, and at Petsmart, Amazon, Chewy, Pet Food Direct, etc. The responsibility for what's stocked is ultimately in your hands and mine.

As I walk down the aisles of cat products I see many (MANY) products that simply are more appropriate for humans than they are for cats. For example, cats don't like hooded litter boxes but there are a dozen different versions of them here at Petco. Why? Because cats have no wallets. We've basically trained our pet supply vendors and retailers to appeal to us instead of to our cats and it's time we retrained them.

If you know anything about working with animals, even human animals, you know that it's much easier to train than to re-train, but that's exactly what we have to do. Every dollar we spend on pet supplies should be a conscious choice. Think, "Is this what my feline friend would choose?" or "Will this appeal to my cat's instincts?" instead of "Oooo, isn't that cute?" or "That package sure is pretty." Marketing experts have many people in the palm of their hands. We have to step back and think about our choices and how they'll affect the well-being of our cats. We need to see the products, not the packaging. Imagine them in our homes and imagine how our cats will truly respond.

Yes, that means retraining ourselves first and foremost to view pet supplies from the perspective of our furry friends. Then we need to convince other, less cat-savvy individuals to do the same. If we can do so, slowly, but surely, we'll see pet supply stores carry better and more species-appropriate products. Better for us and better for our cats. We just have to lead the way.

Review: Pet Fooled

If you pay any attention to pet food labels (and you should), you know what a mix of information and hyperbole they are. Even the most diligent consumers can quickly become overwhelmed by the maze of misinformation that's put out there by the big pet food brands. Add in the fact that most of these are owned and operated by just a handful of huge conglomerates and you have a real mess.

Pet Fooled is a documentary that challenges the status quo and tells it like it is. No matter how many pretty pictures of happy animals they put on their packages, most pet food companies are selling garbage and telling us that it's the best thing to feed our furry family members. In essence, they're lying to all of us, and it's high time they were called on it.

That's not to say that all pet food is bad. It isn't. There are some conscientious companies out there (see THIS POST for our top recommendations and links to some great resources). If there's a shortcoming to this documentary, it's that not enough good alternatives are specified. That's a minor nit, but a genuine cause for concern when you've spent the bulk of your short 70 minute running time telling us just how bad the situation is. Most consumers want to know what their best options are in spite of the misleading pet food manufacturers' claims.

The film, written and directed by Kohl Harrington, is well produced and features veterinary noteworthies Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Barbara Royal, along with activist Susan Thixton of truthaboutpetfood.com and others. They all have very important insights into the pet food industry and I feel it's important for more people to hear them. The only way commercial pet foods will change is if people change their buying habits.

Pet Fooled is a fantastic first step for many consumers. It's that first ray of light in the darkness. The second step is up to you. Do your research and pick the best foods you can afford. After all, your feline friends are depending on you!

When Shouldn't You Adopt a Cat?

Sometimes a cat is better off not being adopted.  Does that sound crazy to you?  Well, consider this:  Most cats aren't given adequate veterinary care by their caregivers.  Cats under the age of 10 should visit the vet at least once a year for a checkup.  Cats over 10 should go every six months.  And yet, most cat caregivers let the health of their feline friends slide.

These are some of the most popular reasons given by well-intentioned people, and our usual responses:

  • My cat hates it.
    • We all need things that we don't like.  Even cats.  Your cat won't hate you afterwards, but she could live in pain or die without good medical treatment.
  • I can't afford it.
    • A cat can't pay the veterinarian by herself.  She needs your help.  If you don't have the resources to provide adequate care, you shouldn't adopt.
  • My cat seems okay.
    • Cats are excellent at hiding their pain.  It's a survival instinct.  No cat wants you to know that they're sick or injured.  You need regular veterinary visits to make sure they're okay.
  • My vet charges too much.
    • There are a large variety of veterinary practices out there.  Yes, some are very expensive, but many are reasonable.  We know a good vet in Los Angeles who only charges $35 for an office visit.  There are also mobile clinics in larger metro areas that charge even less.  Do your homework.  Observe your feline friend closely and make notes about any behavior changes before bringing your cat in to save time.
    • If you can't afford reasonable veterinary care for your cat, you shouldn't have adopted.  If you have to give him up to get him the care he needs, then do so.  It sounds harsh,. but your cat's life may hang in the balance.
  • My vet's not good with cats.
    • We hear this one from time to time and it's puzzling.  We shouldn't require that our veterinarians love our cats.  We can handle that part.  We need them to provide adequate diagnostic and medical care.  If they have a gruff demeanor after a day spent dealing with difficult pet "parents", cut them some slack.  A veterinary hospital isn't a kitty day spa.
    • If your vet is truly behind the times with diagnosing cat problems, you have two choices.  1. Find another vet.  2. Help them by doing your own research into issues.  This can be a mine field online, but books like Anitra Frazier's The Natural Cat can certainly be good resources.

These are excuses, not reasons.  If you agree to adopt a cat, you also agree to look out for that cat's well being.  That includes regular vet visits and necessary medical care should the need arise.  If you don't have the resources to cover the costs of these needs, you really should not adopt a cat.  Doing so would be selfish!

The Hazards of Being a TV Cat

There are lots of famous cats, from Morris to Grumpy Cat, and they all have one thing in common - they have no desire to be famous.  They're in the public eye because their human wants them to be famous or make money off them, or both.  This is wrong for a number of reasons, but the worst is that it compromises the well-being of the cat.

I live in Los Angeles, and I've worked on a large number of big budget film and television shoots.  Everything from Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean to Alias and My Wife & Kids.  What they all have in common is extremely high-pressure environments and a serious lack of time.  If you add an animal into the mix, your exacerbate those problems.  Now the animal is expected to perform on cue for grumpy, impatient people who just want to finish the day and go home.  This isn't a situation where an animal will be well-treated.  In fact, despite the claims of the American Humane Association, most animals on set are treated quite badly.  They're transported in cramped conditions, moved into spaces they don't know and can't understand, and then expected to perform on cue.

Cats are especially susceptible to becoming distressed in this sort of situation, unlike dogs who might even thrive there.  Cats are highly territorial.  When taken to an area that lacks familiarity and their scent markings, they can become agitated.  Just how agitated really depends on the individual cat.  Some cope with change better than others, such as Maine Coons, but almost all cats dislike new places the first time they're taken there.  Regardless of personality, their reactions are either to hide from the world or to explore an area that is extremely unsafe for animals.

By the way, "American Humane Association" (AHA) and "The Humane Society of the United States" (HSUS) are different organizations.  The AHA film & TV unit makes a significant amount of money from Hollywood productions that want to have their projects certified.  Despite the AHA film tagline, "No animal was harmed", it seems that a number of animals have been harmed under the AHA's watch.  In 2001, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on the AHA film & TV unit that stated, "the group has been slow to criticize cases of animal mistreatment, yet quick to defend the big-budget studios it is supposed to police."  The article also cites specific incidents where animals were injured or killed on set with no repercussions from the AHA.  (read the entire article here)  The most recent accusations revolve around animal deaths on the set of The Hobbit

Thankfully, CGI animals are becoming more prevalent in today's productions.  I applaud the use of CGI as long as the animals portrayed aren't harmed.  Sadly, dramatizing the violent death or mistreatment of a CGI animal can give some psychotic individuals the wrong idea.

You may be asking what you can do.  Well, the first thing is to stop supporting productions that use live animals in this way.  A film that uses cats is no different that a circus that uses elephants.  Just don't buy a ticket.  If you see an online video where a cat is frightened or tormented, note your disgust in the comments.  We have to make the general public aware that animals are sentient beings and that we won't tolerate their mistreatment for human profit or pleasure.