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Hey guys, it’s Ash. Long-time readers have probably guessed by now that I’m no Millennial. I’m in the cough-cough generation, due to being born cough-cough years ago. But the more I read about Millennials, the more I come to realize that I’m like that generation in many ways. My career choices have been more based on the meaning I get out of my job, rather than the salary and benefits. I’m interested in things like urban homesteading, and enjoy having my chickens poking around in my yard. And, I chose to have “fur babies” instead of the human variety.
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While I’m not a fan of the term “fur baby” when it comes to Janice and Leroy – they are my dogs, thank you very much – I understand why the term has come into existence. Many, many people treat their pets as sort of pseudo children, calling them their “fur babies” and treating them like some people would an actual child. What does that mean?
It means that in the last five years alone, the pet industry has become a multi-billion-dollar industry, selling everything from food to luxury spa services for dogs. Millennial pet parents are more likely to put their dogs in clothes than Baby Boomer pet owners, more likely to try out artisanal dog treats than other generations, and are more likely to research the ethics of the company where they buy their dog food. In other words, Millennials are more likely to spend as much effort and time on the care of their dogs, as many other generations do on the care of their newborn children.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, it does mean that a lot of dogs are getting a lot of high-quality food, and a lot of great attention. It has also meant that pet-friendly establishments and businesses have become much more popular, making it easier for people to bring their dogs out and experience the world together. But the rise of the “fur baby” does have its costs. For example, thinking of your dog as a human also makes you more likely to slip them some human food – which can be very bad for your dog. It can also mean that there are more chances for a dog to misbehave in public, so I would highly recommend that all Millennial dog lovers take their dog to puppy kindergarten or invest in a professional trainer if they intend to cart their dog around with them to a lot of public areas.
Now that we know what a fur baby is, and how this idea is changing the way we view our pets, let’s look at the four reasons why this generation may be choosing dogs over having children.
If you look at the statistics for Millennials who choose pets over children, the majority of what you will see is that it’s Millennial women who are following this trend, moreso than their male counterparts. One theory is that it allows the Millennial woman to deal with her “mommy issues” and have it all. Let me explain:
For the Baby Boomer generation, there was nothing more pushed on women than the idea that they needed to have careers. Unlike the generation before them, where motherhood was the be-all, end-all of success for women, Baby Boomers were suddenly judged more on what they accomplished in the professional field. The rise of nannies, after-school programs, and so on, came largely because this generation was focusing on being successful at work.
Millennial women often feel the pressure to succeed in both areas. Many feel as though they need to be successful at work, because their mothers fought hard in the movement to advance women in the workplace; while at the same time feeling as though they want to be successful as mothers, perhaps making up where they felt that their career-focused mothers failed. It’s a complicated social issue that I’m not really qualified to discuss in detail, but I’ve done a lot of reading on it, and it’s very interesting.
Now, how does that relate to dogs? Well, some people who are smarter than I am have suggested that by having a “fur baby” that they can spoil and give lots of attention to, but ultimately can be left alone during working hours, Millennial women are attempting to really have it all. They’ve got their career success that they can focus on, and they can still feel as though they are being successful as a nurturing mother figure as well.
The next reason that many Millennials choose to expand their families with pets instead of kids is purely economic. It’s no secret that the economy is in an extreme state of flux right now, and has been for about a decade. Some years it seems like things are looking up, and some years, things seem pretty tough out there. And for the Millennial generation, who are burdened with a lot more student debt than any other generation before them, it can be even harder.
So having children does not make much economic sense to this generation, and I can’t blame them for that. If you can barely afford to live in an apartment with roommates in a cheap part of the suburbs, how could you afford to raise a child? That’s what many of these young adults are facing. Even married couples in this generation don’t feel secure enough to have children, but they still want to have a family together.
Enter dogs. Dogs aren’t exactly free by any means. You do still have to buy them good dog food, take them to the vet once a year, and you’ll probably want to get them some toys so they don’t chew up your shoes. The annual cost of pet ownership according to MoneyUnder30.com is about $1,270 in the first year of a dog’s life, with all those puppy costs like getting her spayed, and then about $500 per year after that. Compare that to the annual cost of raising a child, which the Huffington Post puts at around $16,000 per year! As you can see, it’s a much safer investment to have a dog than a child.
The lower costs of having a dog extend beyond just what you have to buy the dog. Consider that a dog doesn’t need its own bedroom, so you can live in a smaller house, and you don’t have to worry about where a dog goes to school, so you can afford to rent in a cheaper neighborhood even if it doesn’t have the best schools. There are many other ways that savings are passed on to pet owners, when you compare that to what they’d have to do with a child instead.
The next reason that Millennials are choosing dogs over children is that it offers them more freedom. First, there is the obvious type of freedom: you can go out at night or on the weekends, and as long as you’ve taken your dog out for exercise and given him attention, he’ll be okay alone. In fact, a dog probably wouldn’t care or even notice much if you came home after work, spent the rest of the evening with them playing and walking, and then tucked him into his kennel to sleep and went out.
But there are other ways that Millennials need freedom that pets can provide. For example, Millennials often need the freedom to live in the city, because that’s where the jobs are. But as many parents know, raising a child in the city can be a hard decision to make. With no yard, no safe place to just head outside and play, less space indoors, and so on, many parents feel the pressure to head to the suburbs. But a dog can be perfectly happy in the city, as long as he gets a daily walk. Many of the careers available to Millennials today require flexibility when it comes to travel as well, and having a dog instead of a child lets a Millennial be free to take those jobs.
You can see the way that Millennials take advantage of the freedom that pets afford in the rise of certain pet services, like Wag – a smartphone app that lets a pet owner order an instant dog walker, like an Uber. If the owner is running late because of their work at a startup company, or decides to go out with the girls right after work, they can have their pet walked by a pro nearby. This would not work with a child, because you can’t just trust a stranger to babysit, and for many other reasons.
The final reason that many Millennials are choosing to have pets instead of children is that pets can often be used as practice till they can afford children. In fact, it’s becoming more and more popular for committed couples to follow the pattern of moving in together, getting engaged, getting a dog, getting married, and then having children. The “getting a dog” phase helps them to gauge how the other might be as a co-parent, and it’s become a hot topic in the world of relationships.
Adopting a very young puppy can actually be a great way to test how a partner would handle a baby. There will be midnight potty breaks, and there will be accidents that will have to be cleaned up. There will be potty training, dealing with a constant feeding schedule, figuring out who will take off work hours to be with the “baby”, and more. So in my mind, if you adopt a puppy, this is actually a very valid reason for waiting on the human baby while you have fun with a dog.
But the nice thing here is that if you two decide that you aren’t cut out to be parents, you aren’t stuck with a child for the next 18 years. Dogs grow out of the “child phase” pretty quickly. Just a couple of years down the road, and some quality training with a professional, and you’ll have a laid-back companion that won’t require nearly so much care as a child. So if you aren’t sure about having children together, a dog as “practice” can be a great idea. Of course puppies and babies are not the same, and my sister is probably going to kick me for this post when she reads it, but you can’t deny that some of the things you have to do with a puppy are a lot like the things you have to do when starting out with a newborn.
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So if Millennials are choosing dogs over babies, are we facing a population crisis? And shouldn’t we be seeing less stray dogs on the street than ever before? No, and no. First off, yes, the population growth has slowed down some. But there are so many people in the world, and so many still having children, that we aren’t facing any sort of population crisis any time soon. And second, the world still faces a huge problem with homeless dogs, for many reasons. Some of those reasons include puppy mills, which keep popping out puppies even if they aren’t sold, and senior dogs being abandoned due to health reasons, old owners passing away, and more.
So if any Millennials do read this post, and think that the four reasons above sound like a great reason to have a dog – consider adopting from a shelter, especially an older dog. There are many that need homes! If you do go through a breeder, be sure to choose a humane breeder that is responsible about breeding, and only produces litters that are actually in demand.
While some people out there might think you are crazy for having “fur babies”, I can’t agree. I think there are valid reasons that some people shouldn’t be parents to humans, and I think there are a lot of dogs in need of love. What better combination?