Monday, December 15, 2008

Going to the Dogs

San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer filed the following last night:

Pinched by recession, Christmas shoppers will skimp on people, sure. But never a dog.

"Oh, no. Not for our babies. Are you kidding?" said San Francisco resident Donald Steelman, whose bichon-Yorkie, Milo, has his own closet with 21 coats in it. Milo gets to pick what to wear every afternoon to the Doggie Christmas Tree in Lafayette Park in Pacific Heights, where his laminated picture hangs high on a bough, alongside pictures of all the other regulars, dead or alive.

"As long as they're being fed and clothed well, everything is OK," said Steelman, who goes by his own pet name, Bonjo.

In a survey released last week by the American Kennel Club, 81 percent of respondents said they would buy holiday gifts for their dogs, and 69 percent would sooner tighten their belts on friends and extended family than tighten the collars on their dogs. And 65 percent would rather eat ramen noodles than make their dogs eat on the cheap.

The buck stops somewhere beyond the dish.

"We'll cut back on our own food first," said Ming Chapin, owner of Kelsi, a white bich-poo (bichon-poodle mix) who was dashing around the Lafayette Park tree while trying out a new pink rain slicker, a hand-me-down from Milo.

"It's her color," Chapin said. The raincoat is a necessity, not a gift, she said, and so is the monthly visit to the salon, $50 plus tip. "She's on all the furniture," Chapin said, "so she needs to be kept clean."

I have to wonder whether Chapin, with her semantics of "necessity," is aware of the One Warm Coat movement here in San Francisco, not to mention whether she makes a point of participating every year (as my wife and I have tried to do). Those who know San Francisco geography can appreciate that the view from Lafayette Park is a bit more "refined," compared to what I see when I look to the east beyond Van Ness Avenue. Still, my wife and I learned about One Warm Coat just from watching the local news on television; so it is hard for me to imagine Chapin hiding behind ignorance as an excuse. I certainly appreciate the value of caring for pets; but, given the impact that current economic conditions have on charitable organizations, it seems to me that the "spirit of the season" has more to do with how we treat our fellow humans (whether or not we are personally acquainted with them) than with warping the meaning of "necessity" in the interest of our pets.

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