Newsletter: FT Weekend
Get weekend inspiration with the best of life, arts and culture. Delivered every Saturday morning.
Princess Diana called it the “moving carpet”. In the weeks following his death, others were not so forgiving of the Corgis of the royal family. Here the theory, which also mentioned horses, is a family that springs up on all creatures, large and small, except humans.
Do not think that there is a lack of purchase outside of England, this canine blue blood trope. “That’s the thing you need to remember about wasps,” says Gordon Gekko, shaking his glorious head on Wall Street. “They love animals. They can’t stand people.
How the tastes of the elite cascade. The proliferation of dog parks, the vast pet service industry: these trends will not be missed by any reader. I think you have to be single, or whatever, to know the odd intensity of what’s going on. It’s a world in which an apartment building’s pet policy can make or break. It’s a time of – the most anaphrodisiac phrases in the language, these – “dog moms” and “dog dads”.
And that was before entering the Alexandrian Empire that pets built online. Hector Bellerin practices the world’s favorite sport at the highest level, or so. With interests in fashion and politics, an equal voice between Barnet and Barcelona, he has the most entertaining YouTube channel of any athlete I know. Hosico, a cat based in Russia, has more than double the subscribers.
I love a furry quadruped as much as the next man. I still skip the piece The human factor, Graham Greene’s tightest thread, where the defector spy must get rid of his dog on his way to Moscow. If I, with the sentimentality of a city dweller about animals, stand by the ardor there, a line has been crossed.
In the United States, more Millennials have pets than Baby Boomers. What sets the property of one generation apart from the next, however, is not so much the quantity as the style. Where a pet was once the badge of the suburb, it’s now a metropolitan statement. Where it was the accessory of a family, today it is also often its substitute. I grew up on streets where animals were viewed with a sort of gruff tenderness. I now move among the lookouts and cooers, greeting each mouse caught as if a child has brought home a neat potato painting. It’s unclear if the build is the node here, or the class.
Pet owners, young and old, are prone to solipsism. Both assume that everyone welcomes an animal’s attentions. Both want you to laugh because your Kooples shirt is tangled in hard-to-wash fibers. But only one generation would name the creature and its species as one interest. Only one would define their relationship to her as less proprietary than quasi-pastoral.
The snob in me, who takes up a lot of space, wants to see this cult of animals as a prolonged adolescence. This is a play with: middle-aged people, double graduates who are likely to write a children’s book anytime, and the claim that TV shows have the weight and texture of the work by Luchino Visconti. But this is by no means the whole truth.
No, it’s much worse than that. You only need a brief exposure to a pet crazed millennial to feel like this isn’t a twee whim. It is a hole that is being filled. There is a peculiar sadness in lives which, while good or even grandiose by world standards, have not gone as planned. For some people, it’s about being reluctantly single. For others, drag is grudgingly married. Professional disappointment is usually part of the mix. Whatever the specifics of pathos, it tends to manifest itself much earlier in life – the thirties – than is often thought. And when it does, pets take on deep significance as both escape and solace. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a beagle. Two generations ago, maybe religion, volunteer work or a local kindergarten did the trick.
Their dog or cat is the only endothermic mammal that some externally successful peers can rely on for their ailment, or who don’t have to walk on eggshells. Understand that, and it’s not strange that our times are marked by the kind of pet treat that would have embarrassed Barbara Cartland. Whether man benefits as much as the beast is less clear.
Email Janan at email@example.com
To follow @ftweekend on Twitter to discover our latest stories first