December 30, 2004, - 1:59 pm

Pets: The New People

By Debbie Schlussel
One group of people you won’t see returning holiday gifts, this week, are the animals.

Yes, judging by the extravagant gifts suggested and given to pets, this season, animals are, indeed, the new people.

Thank Hollywood for that.

Where PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) failed, Paris Hilton succeeded.  She and other mindless celebs have succeeded in getting us to think of and treat animals as equals to humans, to spend hundreds on cashmere sweaters and other largesse never before bestowed on pets with such gusto.

Their absurd new levels of pet-worship are now hip.

Take a recent issue of In Style Magazine, a People Magazine spin-off.  In its new “Pet Style” section, the magazine provides “22 wildly luxurious ways to spoil Rover rotten.”  Why buy your pooch a $1,230 set of stainless-steel dog bowls at Barneys, when you can give your dog the ultimate Jackie-O look, pearls.  “Faux pearls are a pup’s best friend,” the magazine claims, touting a $95 necklace made especially for the canine set by Chic Doggie.

Even Ralph Lauren is caught up in this idiocy, with cashmere cable-knit sweater vests for poochie–a cool $95.  “Shopping for your dog is actually more fun than shopping for yourself,” says CeCe Cord, creator of Travels with Tiger, a canine couture collection.

Ms Cord, her customers, and the rest of the pet-gift crowd need to a one-way ticket back to the real world.  Hello, these are animals, not your children.  The In Style profile lists “Booty for Boys” and “Gifts for Girls.”  These are not “boys” and “girls.”  They are animals.  Period.

But magazines, like In Style, and doggie couture fashion are exactly what PETA and other animal rights activists want.  They want us to see pet cats and dogs as our children, as boys and girls, as having the same needs as we do.  That’s where the slippery slope begins.  If we accept that animals deserve the same extravagances that we do, then ultimately, we’ll arrive at the natural conclusion that they deserve the same rights as humans, too.

A recent issue of Star Magazine features a layout of hit TV show “Desperate Housewives” hottest new star.  Not Nicolette Sheridan, but her dog, “Fatty.”  Star Magazine gushes over the arrivals of the two overly pampered stars at a photo shoot.  “Nicolette pulled up in her black BMW and then Fatty arrived separately with her handlers in an SUV . . . .  Fatty likes to make an entrance.”  Readers were treated to details of Fatty’s diet, passions, aspirations, and “doggie diva-ness.”  Puh-leeze.

If vapid fashion and celebrity style magazines alone bought into the animals-are-people ruse, that would be one thing.  But the disturbing delusion is more widespread.

It’s not just the annoying Animal Planet channel.  Last year, cable’s Oxygen Network featured, “ Meow TV,” a show for cats “and the people they tolerate. . . .  The artistic mission was to create programming you could watch with your cat,” said the show’s producer.

No wonder Oxygen—funded by Oprah—is a dog in the ratings.

Then there’s El Al, the Israeli airline known for its high level of security.  Now, the airline that’s never been hijacked, is the pet’s airline.  The Wall Street Journal reported that El Al launched a frequent-flier program for dogs, cats, and even birds.  The airline waived the $35 frequent-flier club membership fee it requires for humans.

It’s bad enough when humans do yoga.  But now, books and gyms nationwide feature yoga instruction for dogs.  Can your dog read yet?

From ionic pet massage devices to organic, gourmet restaurants for pets (New York’s “Meow Mix Café”), there’s a $30 billion dollar industry of pets-as-humans luxuries. Traveling for the holidays with your dog?  New York’s Regency Hotel makes a $25 “Lassie Latkes” meal.  Finally, Spot can celebrate Chanukah in style (complete with OPI nail Pawlish).

Many humans now spend more on their own pets than charity to needy humans.  That’s a sad commentary on the strange new respect society has afforded animals.

It’s also a sad commentary on how we mindlessly emulate celebrities.

Celebrities have long been photographed with their pets.  But now they’re photographed with pets adorned in expensive Gucci necklaces, Burberry trenchcoats, and Coach carriers they bought for them.  Britney Spears was pictured taking her pet dog to dinner at a swanky Malibu restaurant in US Magazine’s “Petite Pet Parenting.”  Martha Stewart’s “Pet Dilemma” was her agonizing plan to care for her four chow chow dogs, seven Himalayan cats, and 50 canaries, while in prison.  Oprah’s dog, Solomon, wears a $135 sterling-silver bone necklace.

Demi Moore, Charlize Theron, and other stars shop at hip LA store, “Puppies & Babies.”  The name reveals their priorities:  Puppies aren’t just equal to babies.  Puppies come first.

What celebrities do today is all the rage tomorrow, no matter how ludicrous.

With pet aromatherapy spas, pet trusts, and pet custody in divorces, tomorrow has arrived.  Is pet citizenship next?

“That line between animal and person is getting cloudy,” a veterinarian told People.

It’s time to draw the line. Otherwise, Million Paw Marches, a la Louis Farrakhan, are in our future.

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