Friday, August 11, 2006

My "Pet" Peeve

Allow me to rant for a moment on something that I know will make me far less popular with many people. I think that Americans are pet crazy. I look at how many people I know, many of them Christians, that own pets, many pets, and often times treat them like royalty. Allow me to give you some statistics on pets in America.

63% of US households own a pet
45% own more than one
43.5 million US homes own a dog and 37.7 million us homes own a cat
Americans spend $38.4 billion per year on pets
$15 billion on pet food
It cost approximately $1500/year to own a dog and $900/year to own a cat

* All of the above statistics come from theAPPMA Website.

I hope these statistics alarm you. When I was growing up we pretty much always had a dog as a pet. When I was about 5, my family got a dog. Later, when I was about 11, I can remember begging and crying for a dog for my birthday. My mom obliged. I say this to note that I am as much confessing and writing to myself as to anybody else. However, I think there are several alarming issues that need to be pointed out.

1. Many of the "pet lover" people treat their pets like royalty. Consider the following trend in our society:

High-end items to spoil companion animals are must-haves for pet owners that spare no expense to please their furry, feathered and finned best friends. Items include faux mink coats for cold weather outings, feathered French day beds for afternoon naps, designer bird cages, botanical fragrances and to top it all off, a rhinestone tiara!


More and more companies traditionally know for human products are going to the dogs, and cats, and reptiles. Big name companies including like Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks, Origins, Harley Davidson and Old Navy are now offering lines of pet products ranging from dog shampoo, pet attire, and name-brand toys to gourmet treats and food.

As I was driving home today, I saw a bumper sticker that said "My dog is smarter than your Honor Student" and a license plate frame that said "I Love my Dog." when watching game shows where celebrities are playing for charities, the most common trend you will see among charities chosen is that they involve saving animals, rather than stopping abuse or feeding the hungry. It seems that at times that pets are honored and loved over people. This is never said aloud, and no one would ever admit to it, but I have a friend who says that his dad has a better relationship with his 2 dogs than with his son. What message is that sending? Is it ever appropriate to spend money on lavish gifts for a dog or cat? Is that ever not a sin?

2. Second, if our world was in financial order, this would not be such a problem. But it isn't. Last I heard the average person had approximately $6,000 in credit card debt. What percentage of those with credit card debt are pet owners? I'm not suggesting their is a correlation, but if you are dumping money into a pet rather than paying of raging debt, you are not being a good steward of God's resources.

Also, do you realize that 840 million people in the world are malnourished (that is 3 times the population of the US)? 799 million of those are in the developing (third) world. 152 million of those are children under 5. And we spend $15 Billion/year on dog food, food that almost a billion people would find nourishment from were it available. We are letting the children of the world, children that Jesus honored in his ministry, starve so that we can buy our cat a sweater, or a dog a fancier pillow, or our bird a top hat. (All of the above stats come from

3. Lastly, one of the primary reasons I hear cited in defense of owning pets is that pets are good company. Are we that lonely as a society that we need animals to keep us company? Have our social skills diminished to the point of not being able to build meaningful relationships anymore?

Friends, I am not anti-animal, or even anti-pet. In addition, I understand that their are scores of areas of materialism like boats and 3 car garages that I could make similar arguments about (and perhaps I will), but let us focus on this issue for a moment. I am passionate about seeing poverty, AIDS, and hunger end in the world. I feel that pet spoiling is just one area in which we are doing an embarrassing job of being Christlike. Jesus seldom talks about judgment and Hell in his ministry, but the Bible mentions the poor over 2000 times (second only to personal redemption in scripture). When Jesus does mention judgment and Hell in Matthew 25, he connects it with justice, saying,

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

It is as if Jesus is saying that the thing that separates his people from all the others is their view and action towards injustice. And that is really what we are talking about. In the words of Bono (from U2), "This is not a charity issue; it is a justice issue."

So where do we go from here? I understand that one of the huge issues with the hunger problem worldwide is ignorance. Out of sight, out of mind. Well, let us no longer be ignorant nor should we any longer say "I don't know how to help." Here are some organizations that are great and trusted to do the very thing I am advocating. is a campaign dedicated to lobbying the US government to allocate 1% of the US budget to stop poverty, hunger, and AIDS in the world. is a worldwide organization that is dedicated to stopping the causes of poverty in the world. (quoted previously) is another organization dedicated to stopping poverty worldwide.

May we be a people who will stand and fight for justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."


Mark Nelson said...


Greg Adkins (emerging minister blog) is the guy who set up my blog site (standingonthedesk)...he's the man with the answers...his e-mail is

Hope that helps...


Mary Olson said...

Hey Youth Pastor Nick,

I couldn't agree with you more. Well, except for one thing. The statistic that you quoted about 799 million of those who are malnourished are from the developed world is incorrect. I knew that this was not correct, having traveled to places where poverty and malnourishment are at extreme highs in places of the world that are much more densly populated than in the developed world. So I went to the website that you listed and indeed 799 million are in the developing world, which makes sense. It would be just dandy if you could change that little stat, so as to not further embolden those here in the developed world who discuss the need here as somehow being more important or equal to the need "over there," which is not true. Nothing is more frustrating to me when we try to talk about the need for justice advocacy in the developing world or for the need to continue to send missionaries to parts of the world where there are still unreached people groups than to hear "well, the need here is just as great... or I am a missionary here... or well, I heard that there are more poor people here... or yada yada yada..." This is so frustrating because there are parts of the world that are so much more disadvantaged than us both spiritually and economically and we somehow think that by "talking" about the problems here that somehow releases us from the responisibility to them "over there."

Note: I put "over there" in quotes because the locale is often irrelevant. There ARE places in the states that are somewhat comparable to the developing nations economically speaking, ie parts of southern west virginia and parts of the south and some inner cities; however, I would argue that these poor people are still better off than those in developing nations because over here there are resources all around them. Likewise, there are unreached people groups here in the Twin Cities: Somalis and Tibetan Buddhists. Therefore, the issue at hand is reaching those who are malnurished physically or spiritually, and the numbers are indeed higher in the developing world.

Okay, so back to what I was saying...when people say these things, I usually ask them, "So what are YOU doing to help all the poor people/unreached peoples HERE, if you are so concerned with their physical and spiritual welbeing." Well, I don't actually say it in that tone of voice, but you get my point. The response is typically that those people are doing very little if anything to help the situation anywhere. SO, I would rather not have one more stat out there that is incorrect for them to quote....

Anyways, back to your "pet" peeve, I couldn't agree with you more! I recall reading an recent article in the Pioneer Press (I believe) that talked about pet condos. (I tried to access the article in the PP archives but I need to pay to do so and I am short on the green stuff at this moment. If I get my hands on it I will post it to your blog). These are literal condos purchased for pets to live in. I've also heard about pet resorts, where pet owner can bring their pets while they are on vacation. (A reliable source' brother brings his pet there when he vacations). This is all quite unbelievable, but true.

Thanks for posting this to get people thinking.

Mary Olson
Missionary/justice advocate

PS I hung out with International Justice Mission in Chennai, India. It is an amazing organization! They have freed 1,000 bonded slaves in a little over two years in Chennai alone!

Nick said...

Thanks for your comments, Mary, and thank you for pointing out the mistake. i have corrected it.

I agree. The majority of the combacks that people use when this topic is discussed (we have our own poor, war lords will just steal it etc.) Are all just excuses to not get involved. Thank you for being a part of the movement to make knowledge of this problem mainstream.