What are America’s pet owners thinking?

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, May 10, 2012

If you didn’t think American civilization was in trouble already, this ought to worry you: Americans are hiring psychics to communicate with their pets.

According to Benjamin Radford of Discovery News, pet psychics claim they can use telepathy to communicate with animals, living and dead — for about $85 an hour.

I can tell pet owners what their dog is thinking for half that amount: Rover wants you to scratch him on the belly and give him a treat. I’ll pop my invoice in the mail.

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But this isn’t about telepathy so much as it is about our obsession with pets — a reflection of a country gone nutty and soft, confused by our emotions.

Look: Pets, generally, are a great thing. Social scientists explain that in our fast-paced, transient society, pets help fill the void that was once filled by close friends and extended family.

I love dogs and wish I wasn’t away from home so often or I’d get one.

But our obsession with pets is getting out of hand. Despite our sour economy, the pet-service industry continues to grow by $2 billion a year — to $52 billion this year.

There are gourmet pet foods, heated waterbeds for dogs, doggie personal trainers and doggie weight-loss programs (Biscuit Watchers?).

If Rover’s feeling down, a doggie psychologist is waiting to help: “Rover, your low self-esteem can be traced to your neutering.”

Now that people will pay thousands of dollars for veterinary care, pet health insurance policies are all the rage.

Pet deaths are announced in pet obituaries these days: “Buster is survived by his emotionally distraught owner and his favorite toy, Squeaky.”

And let us not forget another growth industry — pet cemeteries and pet headstones: “Here lies Buster down by the levy, we sure do wish he saw that Chevy.”

The truth is that many pets in America are living better than three-fourths of the people on this Earth, and something isn’t quite right about that. .

When I was a kid in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a dog was part of my family, and we loved her, but there was a line of demarcation between dogs and humans.

Jingles ate her own food out of a can, not gourmet home-cooked grub. She didn’t go to a doggie trainer for exercise. She preferred that we toss her a stick and try to catch her, as she zigged and zagged and raced through the yard. No kid ever did catch her.

That’s because back then, humans were humans and dogs were dogs.

But today, we’re not only pampering pets with overzealous affection, we’re trying to elevate them to the level of humans. We see a dog’s paws move while it sleeps and we assume the dog is having a nightmare.

“What is a dog nightmare, anyway?” says comic Garry Shandling. “Your dog dreams he’s drinking out of a toilet bowl and the toilet lid falls on its head?”

We think today that our dogs have souls that live on after their physical bodies cease to work and exist. But I don’t think dogs have souls, and I offer proof.

When was the last time you saw a dog at confession? (“Forgive me, Father, but I doodied on the living room rug.”)

I love dogs as much as the next fellow, but if I saw a drowning child next to a drowning dog and could save only one, the choice would be obvious. But I’m not so sure it would be obvious to everyone these days. Some might save the dog — then hire a psychic to apologize to the kid.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review, writes a nationally syndicated column.