Must Love Dogs? If You Want the Job

When’s break time?

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

If you want to understand why “emotional support animals” on airplanes have become such a flashpoint, consider a striking seasonal statistic. This Valentine’s Day, the National Retail Federation projects that about 21 percent of Americans will buy a present for a pet, spending a total of $751 million. That’s up from 17 percent in 2008, when the group began tracking the category. (About two-thirds of U.S. households own pets.) People under 35 are more likely to buy Valentine’s Day presents for their pets and spend significantly more when they do.

The debate over animals on airplanes is part of a bigger cultural shift that is overturning existing norms about when and where pets are appropriate. Animal owners have long loved their pets, but lately they’ve taken their devotion to a new level.

“The humanization of pets continues to be a driving factor for the pet industry,” reports a study by the American Pet Products Association. Pet owners born between 1980 and 1994 — aka millennials — are leading the way. They’re feeding their pets organic foods, taking them to day care instead of leaving them home alone, buying them health insurance, paying extra for flavored medications, throwing them parties, and, of course, lavishing them with gifts. “Pets have come a long way in the past couple of decades, going from being outside dogs to sleeping in our beds and having their own Instagram accounts,” says New York veterinary technician Natasha Feduik.

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