Do We Really Need an Airline for Our Pets?

I am not insane in general. Nor am I usually selfish. I am, however, both of those things in spades when it comes to my dog. In the three months I've had him, I've spent $1,452.50 of my very modest salary on vet bills and doggy day care. I go only to restaurants and bars that are dog-friendly, which is not only challenging, but irritating for whoever's with me. Also irritating? My expectation that friends and co-workers are just as interested in George's bowel movements, eating habits, and adorable eccentricities as I am. I never thought I'd get so carried away, but here I am, spending most of my money and time on a nine-pound creature who likes to eat garbage, lick himself at inappropriate times, and sully the most heavily trafficked part of the sidewalk he can find. (Article continued below...)

How did I get here? For starters, George was a rescue, and his story is so pathetic—someone left him tied to a tree in a park, and he had what was later diagnosed as "raging hepatitis"—that there's a certain tragic quality that got me. But it's bigger than that. If I had to pinpoint the moment when I dived off the deep end, it would be June 16, when I e-mailed George's vet asking for a prescription for Prozac. Yes, Prozac. Or, rather, Reconcile, identical to the antidepressant given to humans but for the fact that it's meat-flavored. Also, it's $50 a month. And George is not covered by NEWSWEEK's otherwise quite generous health plan.

In my defense, I am not alone. Far from it. Pharmaceuticals for "companion animals" are a $49 billion industry. There are drugs for doggy anxiety, doggy cognitive dysfunction, even doggy obesity. Pet products are the fastest-growing retail segment in the United States after consumer electronics. So given what we're all willing to spend, and given the lengths we'll go to for our dogs, that there would also be an airline for them makes perfect sense. Welcome to Pet Airways, a new airline that serves pets only, or "pawsengers," to use the preferred terminology.

Last month I visited the Pet Airways terminal on Long Island, where a dog named Poppy was on her way from Afghanistan to California, to be reunited with a Marine who had adopted her during his tour. Poppy was exhausted. She had gone from Afghanistan to Istanbul to Karachi to New York. She had been quarantined for weeks along the way. She was painfully skinny, and about to catch yet another flight, one that would take her to D.C., then Chicago, Denver, and, finally, L.A.

There is something incredibly sweet about this story. But watching poor Poppy attempt to squeeze in a nap on the gravel in Long Island, I also couldn't help but think: Is this really for her sake? Is it really better for Poppy to go through months of quarantine and a multiday plane ride? Is it really worth the hours of work, the perhaps dozens of various volunteers, and the likely hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars that it took to make all this happen? I don't really think so. This isn't for her, it's for the Marine.

I would put money on the fact that Poppy doesn't even really know whether she's in Afghanistan or Los Angeles. And George doesn't care whether his Prozac tastes like meat. I have to wrap it in cheese to get him to eat it anyway. We project ourselves onto our pets. They're going to love us just the same whether we send them to expensive day-care facilities or leave them tied to a tree in the park. They are beautifully simple that way. And ultimately, we're doing all of this to make ourselves feel good, not them.

Maybe having a dog is a fundamentally selfish act. Who cares if it is? What difference does it make? The world is hard. Life, especially these days, isn't easy (and, in fact, I share custody of George with my very recent ex). My nine-pound pup spazzes out with excitement when I come to pick him up at the end of the day. And it makes me really, really happy. I'm doing it for me, and I'm fine with that.

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