I can hardly bear to confess this, but once, a long time ago, I dressed up the family dog in one of my T-shirts. In my defense, I was only 7. I had no idea then that such behavior would place me in a category that polite society tactfully refers to as “those people.”
It soothes my troubled conscience to remember that this only happened once. Our dog was named Pepper. We got her around 1979 and named her Pepper because she had black and grey fur. The date is crucial, since it was around that time that the soft drink Dr. Pepper was running a catchy jingle that went like this: “I’m a Pepper. He’s a Pepper. She’s a Pepper. We’re a Pepper. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?”
The logic was unassailable. If everyone else is a Pepper, even a thirsty iconoclast would have trouble resisting the pressure to conform. The whole country fell for it. Dr. Pepper sold millions of drinks that year, along with an entire clothing line. I had a T-shirt and proudly wore it to school. In fact, if the truth be told, I was a little afraid not to.
But here’s where the story takes a tragic turn. One day I was feeding the dog named Pepper. And I was wearing the shirt that said “I’m a Pepper.” Any one of you might have had the same impulse. I put the shirt on the dog. And Mom took a picture.
I can only be grateful that this regrettable incident happened decades before Facebook. So the photo was mercifully kept from cyberspace, thus preserving Pepper’s dignity and, up until today, also preserving mine. It wasn’t long afterwards, incidentally, that
poor Pepper had a nervous breakdown. Her psychiatrist told me that it had nothing to do with the T-shirt. But I think he was just being kind.
Frankly, I had blotted the whole thing out of my memory until a few weeks ago, when I saw a commercial on TV that brought home to me again the utter humiliation pets continually endure. You’ll have to forgive me the indelicacy of mentioning the product, but something has to be said to save another generation of dogs from their thoughtless owners.
The product, I’m sorry to say, is the “Bull’s Eye No-Mess Pee Pad.” The commercial shows a frustrated pet owner constantly wiping up puddles from the kitchen floor and wishing there were a better way. But now, we are told, the “Bull’s Eye” will change all that. It’s a square pad with concentric circles drawn in the center. Inside those circles is a pocket of concentrated pheromones that tell your Pavlovian pup exactly where to do his business. The pad not only prevents reckless aim and spillage, but it also locks in odors and releases a fresh scent.
For only $12.99 plus shipping, you get 30 pads. And little Fido gets to lose a little more of his self-respect. There was a time, of course, when people were more sensitive about these things. In the past, when Fido had to answer the call of nature, his owner would take him outside and then discreetly turn away and whistle advertising jingles. Thus Fido could do what he had to do in private and wherever he wanted.
But now, not only does Fido have a bull’s eye drawn on the floor for him, but an impatient master now watches to check that his output is properly contained. Can you imagine what it must be like to aim at a target, while your owner stands there with his arms crossed, sneering like a Roman emperor? Nero fiddles while Fido tinkles.
True, cats have had litter boxes in the middle of the kitchen for ages, but frankly, there’s a certain cosmic justice in that.
And as if the “Bull’s Eye” were not bad enough, I also saw an ad recently for “My Spy Birdhouse.” It’s a birdhouse with one wall made entirely of transparent glass, so that families can attach it to a window and let the kids enjoy a constant lesson in how birds live. And so that the birds can have their private lives ogled like a bad reality show.
In the digital era, humans have already relinquished our own privacy. Must we drag the animal kingdom into “1984” with us? I can just see the poor birds now, under surveillance and indoctrinated with Doubletweet, trying to put up curtains to hide from Big Brother. Meanwhile Fido looks up from his launch pad, as if to say, “Hey, it could be a lot worse.”