The intriguing animals, items and ethics at a Pet Expo
THE SANTA CLARA
January 14th, 2016
Humans domesticated dogs 15,000 years ago. The pseudo-wolves found nuzzling and cuddling for scraps of meat easier than the hassle of hunting. Humans have since monkeyed with the genetics of a bunch of beasts for a bunch of purposes, but have boosted the diversity of canines with a special fervor. Over time, eyes rounded, teeth shortened and snouts softened as sizes fluctuated. Now, there are 339 officially recognized dog species, not to mention hybrids and mutts.
Owners displayed delegates hailing from the entire diaspora during the Bay Area Pet Expo at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds on Jan. 9.
To be clear, I’m a cat guy– more specifically, an outdoor cat guy. I prefer a pet that can occupy itself for 23 ½ hours of a day. I will trade water and fish-flavored cereal for short bouts of affection. Beyond that, I want us to be indifferent roommates. I attended the expo to see how the other half lives.
When I arrived, I watched as a dalmatian great dane slobbered above a quivering chihuahua the size of a sub sandwich. I spotted a plump pug in a Golden State Warriors cheerleading jumper and a cocker spaniel being fitted for a leather holster with a red and gold “Support Our Troops” patch on it.
I let my hand be gently gnawed by the tiny teeth of a scruffy puppy. I touched a Hungarian komondor covered in felt-like, white dreadlocks that its owner told me offered “protection from fauna” back when these pooches lived outdoors. I stepped aside as a chocolate lab mitirated upon the cement floor, the origin of the most pervasive odor in the warm showroom.
Guard dogs headlined the afternoon’s main event. After their trainers grunted commands in harsh German, the tautly muscular shepherds sought the “intruder” hiding behind a pop-up screen. Once they locked on the target, the rigidly alert dogs barked with persistent menace, waiting for the Michelin man to make his move. When he did, they sprung, sank their salivating chompers into his inner bicep and held on until their trainer hawked and spit out the magic word. At which point, the dog would relinquish, then look up with panting obedience, as innocent as though it had just retrieved a tennis ball. I did not feel safe.
The human audience murmured with impressed fear as their dogs ogled the trained attackers with the same glossy gaze I get when I watch LeBron. My terror subsided slightly when an unimpressed rival trainer told me the language choice isn’t to terrify or speak in the dog’s native dialect, but rather “just because it sounds cool.”
Alongside the exhibitionists, there were rows upon rows of pet entrepreneurs. A surgically enhanced blonde hawked pewter canine jewelry. Two bored salesmen repeatedly scooped up fake turds off a fake plastic lawn with “Poogo Sticks.” A frenetic brunette sold eye-guards for dogs with owners who like company while they skydive or ride motorcycles.
I spotted a worrying patch on a tiny jacket that said, “Silence is Golden, Duct Tape is Silver.” I learned about doggy conditioner that a saleswoman told me included “mud from the Dead Sea.” I rubbed my hands with vitamin-E lotion that a very professional pre-teen told me “was good for anything with skin.”
And though dogs dominated the day, I did get to meet some more elusive members of the domesticated animal kingdom. I held an injured racing pigeon while its caretaker told me, “People don’t realize pigeons are smart, loyal, emotional and wonderful.”
I cradled a Chinchilla named “Cuddles” and guiltily realized why they get made into coats. I gushed over a guinea pig nibbling on a carrot the same size as its body. I ran my fingers against a docile iguana’s pebbly skin and sympathized when his caretaker told me 90 percent of these reptiles die from owner negligence. I watched a rattlesnake yawn, casually showing off his inch-long hypodermic fangs. I signed a petition to legalize domesticated ferrets after an impassioned activist convinced me the ban was simply a clumsy misclassification by ignorant bureaucrats in the 1930s.
I draped a six-foot-long carpet python around my neck and felt its rippling muscle twist beneath oily scales. Its beefy owner wore a cobra shirt and advised me to “let the snake think it’s in control, but you’re really in control. So when you’re married, you’re halfway there.”
Right afterwards, he told me how he microwaves vacuum-sealed rats to 100 degrees and arranges them tastefully on a plate for his snakes at dinner time.
But the best animal there, by far, was the “Toyger.” Displayed by an eager man in a khaki outfit, it was exactly what its name implies, a mini tiger. I stroked the snoozing cat’s thick coat of black and pumpkin stripes and felt its dormant, but considerable muscles. According to the Jack Hanna look-alike, breeding kept this feline’s feral coat, but replaced its aggression with a bonding need stronger than a labrador. Apparently, its intelligence is also “primate plus,” whatever that means. It weighed 30 lbs. and cost $5,000.
The Pet Expo showed me fanatical animal lovers aren’t nutters. They’re just more willing to devote oodles of effort in return for the unconditional love of a cute creature that stays cute, unlike human children who get increasingly ugly and ungrateful. Many attendees had taken responsibility for helpless animals that didn’t ask to be born. They saved those poor souls from unpleasant deaths. Pet ownership is weird, but at least it’s a hobby dedicated to the protection and proliferation of life. And that’s noble, but it’s a bit subjective to purchase one animal out of the billions on this planet, then lavish it with extravagant love.
On my way out, I paused at a stand that railed against the horrific practice of eating dogs. The pictures showed jarring, bloody abuse that juxtaposed harshly with the rest of the event’s non-stop pet pampering.
But I reconsidered my outrage when I looked to my left and saw a cotton-topped lady bite into a hotdog before feeding her Corgi a dried slice of beef lung.
Contact John Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.