A fur baby, dressed in a onesie and booties, parades by my home in Toronto, running at the end of a long loose leash held by a woman talking on her phone while sipping a coffee. Another dog walks by, and another. Then a dog walker with four. An hour later, that same walker comes from the opposite direction with three others. I can think of a dozen cats among the houses near mine too.
All the while, I think of how many children each little dog and cat could feed. While 3.4 billion people around the world live on less than $6 a day, Canadians spend $3 a day on average just feeding their puppies. Of course, I know some of these animals, as well as their owners. They are good, caring people. But global poverty is everybody’s responsibility.
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We need to look seriously at how we spend our own money. And we truly must start valuing human beings more than pets.
There are about eight million dogs and eight million cats in Canada. Fifty-eight percent of Canadians own a pet, whether it be a dog, a cat, a hamster or others, like wallabies. That’s seven and a half million households. In 2020, Canadians spent $6.5 billion on pets and pet food.
Unsurprisingly, another $4 billion was spent on veterinary care and other pet services.
But it’s not just Canadians. Another US$100 billion is spent on pets in the United States, while Europeans spend almost a quarter of that amount on pet products and grooming. What’s more galling is that obesity in pet dogs and cats is on the rise.
Meanwhile, there are still 800 million human beings living without clean water, putting them at risk of dehydration, disease and death. For half a trillion dollars — a few years’ worth of pet indulgence in wealthy western nations — clean water could be supplied to developing nations.
Potable water was one of the targets to achieve in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Established in 2000, the goals included eradicating poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world, promoting gender equality and establishing universal primary education. It was an idealistic wish list.
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Still, there has been positive movement toward those ambitions. The number of people in extreme poverty — those who live on $1.25 per day or less — was at 1.9 billion in 2003. Now, that figure is under 700 million. Primary education rates have increased and hunger rates decreased. These are signs that with funding and concerted efforts on a variety of levels, the very poor can be lifted out of their poverty cycles.
In a 2005 book, the renowned American economist and author Jeffrey Sachs estimated that it would take US$175 billion per year for 20 years to eradicate poverty worldwide. Obviously, most of the money is there — being spent on pets, not people.
The global pet clothing market alone — hoodies, onesies, etc. — was worth US$5 billion in 2020. Those pictures sure do look adorable on social media, but that is a vulgar statistic. If, at the very least, pet parents could give up their addiction to cuteness, within a decade they could create the infrastructure to feed every child every day.
No dog should be in a hoodie, or in a purse. And no child should have to go without food. People should matter more than pets. People, not pets.
CORRECTION: The magazine version of this story stated that in 2011, Jeffrey Sachs estimated the amount of aid needed to end world poverty, when in fact, that comment came from his 2005 book, The End of Poverty. This version has been corrected.
Andrew Faiz is a writer and editor in Toronto.
This opinion piece first appeared in Broadview’s January/February issue with the title “The price of pets.”
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