This book is an interesting look at pets (mainly but not exclusively dogs) in modern American culture. This book covers a great breadth of information, but the author's knowledge is not deep. This makes the book more amusing than greatly informative. A great casual read, it's fun, but you'll have to go elsewhere for a serious look.
Chapter 1 discusses how much money is spent on pets in this country, and the vast array of products available. Chapter 2 discusses social networks and dogs. Much of this chapter relates to the material in The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. Schaffer profiles one "connector" in the dog world, Ada Nieves, who hosts Chihuahua get-togethers and (for fairly significant money) dog birthday parties, among other dog-related activities. Chapter 3 discusses the conflict over leash laws and dog parks. The main case examined is the city of San Francisco, where the issue has been very hot politically. Chapter 4 discusses luxery spending on pets. Not that this hasn't been covered in the book already, and will yet be covered more (indeed, it's a major theme of the book), but this chapter focuses on it exclusively. Schaffer covers pet fashion shows and pet boutiques which sell fancy, expensive products with snob appeal. Chapter 5 covers how much money is spent on pet medical expenses. Modern veterinary medicine has opened up many options, some quite expensive, for those whose pets have medical issues. Schaffer profiles several owners spending significant amounts of money on new procedures that might buy their dogs some additional time. (Those who spend a lot of money on treatments which will likely bring about a cure are not the topic.) One bizarre example is a couple who spends about $10,000 on a 7 month old Boxer, when the treatment is not expected to buy the dog much time. The owner's statements seem more about the owner being impressed with his willingness to spend money on the dog than the owner's actual love of the dog. Is he doing this for the dog's sake or to impress himself or others? It left me wondering. Chapter 6 discusses some of the places which provide people with their new pet. Schaffer covers 4 sources -- puppy mills, show dog breeders, shelters, and designer dog breeders ($15,000 for a Jabari GD anyone?). Chapter 7 discusses legal issues involving our pets. Several cases are discussed, such as suing for the mental anguish of the owner when a pet is killed. This is now sometimes allowed, rather than just awarding the owner the "monetary value" of the pet. The melamine pet food poisonings feature prominantly in this discussion. Chapter 8 discusses the big business aspects of dog toys. The company making the Everlasting Treat Ball is profiled. (With my Lab, the "Everlasting" treats last about 5 minutes; but it is a GREAT product for some dogs.) The Kong company is also covered. This chapter also touches on latchkey dogs and why such toys are in greater demand now that many dogs are left alone for long periods. Chapter 9 discusses pet services, primarily dog walkers, kennels, and groomers. Pets with owners who are away much of the time benefit from such services. Chapter 10 is about the "war" between two different dog training philosophies -- using treats to reward desired behavior vs. "pack theory" (punishment based training). Oddly, this chapter seems more about the people who are profiled than the actual philosophies. Even if you know nothing about this issue, I doubt you will learn much, other than that is exists. However, for those who are unaware, I'm glad that the topic is brought up. Chapter 11 is about the different types of dog food and conflict over which is best. Schaffer discusses Ol' Roy, premium kibble, commercial raw diets, consumer prepared raw diets, and a hard gnawable commercial diet. This chapter isn't about how to judge which you should feed your own dog. It is about the issues involved in the debate. Interesting to me was the aspect of raw diets (either commercial or home prepared) being used as a way to claim that you care "more" for your pet. Chapter 12 is a great chapter discussing new and inovative ways to get people willing to listen to pet care advice. Major improvements have been made in this area. Near the end of the book is chapter 13, discussing the end of our pets lives. This covers euthanasia and pet cemetaries. The epilogue, titled "Our Pets, Our Selves" is another look at the main undercurrent of the entire book. Oddly, the book conflicts with itself. Much of the time is proclaims how people love their pets more now, as evidenced by how much they are willing to spend on the pet and what they are willing to provide it with. Yet other parts of the book point out the link between our behavior toward our pets and how it follows along with our behavior in general in today's culture. Really, does paying a lot of money for a blueberry facial for your dog (YES, this is covered in the book) actually demonstrate a greater love for the dog than someone who does not provide this for their dog? Or is it simply a reflection of the person and the culture of the person paying for the facial?