Carl Schurz Park is at the end of my street. There are two dog parks within: one for small dogs (dogs that weigh less than 22 pounds, and are shorter than 16 inches) and one for larger. I take daily walks there, and often find myself perusing the animals. It's like walking up Madison Avenue; every single pet is a purebred wearing some kind of designer piece: shoes, coat, collar ...
Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a man at the big dog park. James is the owner of a Lowchen, which is a breed of dog that once had the distinction of being the rarest dog in the world. Even today, the breed generally has fewer than a few hundred new registrations each year worldwide. Ergo he paid thousands (he didn't specify how many thousands) for his puppy.
I was curious what the current rarest dog today is.
"Probably the Tibetan mastiff," he said. He explained that it's a very large dog that originated in the mountains of Central Asia alongside the nomadic tribes who carved out a life there. They were traditionally used to protect homes, farms and flocks and could fight or scare off larger predators like leopards. In 2011, an 11-month-old red Tibetan mastiff sold for $1.5 million.
I was speechless. I was also surprised to learn that purebred cats are just as expensive.
The three most pricey cat breeds in America are the Bengal (coveted for their wild markings and rarity), the Khao Manee (a breed that wasn't available outside of Thailand until 1999, that's known for its white coat and typically different-colored eyes), and the Savannah cat (a hybrid between a domestic cat and a serval, whose kittens sell up to $5,000 a piece).
My friend Celeste owns a "bootleg" Yorkshire terrier. She "only paid $800 for Fi Fi," because she bought her from a pet store in Brooklyn - a small price in comparison. Yet Fi Fi owns so many Juicy Couture outfits that the dog has her own closet.
According to the American Pet Product Association, about 62 percent of all households in the United States have a pet - 78.2 million dogs and about 86.4 million cats. Last year, Americans spent an estimated $52 billion on these animals. That's more than people spend on coffee and bottled water combined. Most of that money went to food and medicine. But $6.2 billion went to grooming and treats, which is more money than Facebook made in advertising revenue last year.
These statistics don't even take into account the amount people spend on purebreds.
About five million to seven million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately three million to four million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). It is impossible to determine how many stray dogs and cats live in the United States. But estimates for cats alone range up to 70 million.
It's sad to think about how much Americans spoil their pets when there are so many animals that don't even have homes.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com