THE cats we had when I was a kid appeared randomly, had names like Ginger or Puss, did not make much of an impression on a noisy bunch of children, and disappeared without trace every so often.
Maybe they died. Maybe they just ran off into the bush beside the waterfront that was only a couple of hundred metres from our house, across the road and a park. No-one thought twice about cats going bush in the 1960s.
There was plenty of wildlife in the suburbs back then, and concerns about the carnage wrought on native animals by stray cats was a long way off. I can remember our pretty large front and back yards being potholed by bandicoots. I never saw one but Dad assured us they were there.
Maybe our succession of cats simply ran away to escape the noise from a large family. Who knows? They were there, then they were gone. A Ginger was replaced by another Ginger or a Puss, and if anyone mourned individual cats it was a short-lived grief, once the new Puss or Ginger was installed.
I don't know why we even had cats. We never had a dog. The budgies I looked after for a couple of years were about the high point of our family's commitment to pets, until one of them died a grisly death because she was egg-bound, or at least that was the explanation Dad gave me.
The only other pets I remember us having were the guinea pigs in residence from time to time, that seemed to be with us more as grass clippers than anything else. If a cat is hard for a kid to empathise or bond with, a guinea pig is the point beyond empathy, or feeling, really.
They eat, they squeal, they run around hysterically, they poop, they do it all again for hours each day, sleep, repeat the cycle, procreate and die. Possibly there's more to it than that but my childhood experience of them has clearly left a mark.
They were there, then they were gone. A Ginger was replaced by another Ginger or a Puss, and if anyone mourned individual cats it was a short-lived grief, once the new Puss or Ginger was installed.
And I say all this while respecting close relatives' devotion to their Fluffies, Puffballs, Bruces, Snowies and Winkies - even the Snowy who has gone down in family history, at least for the adults, as F*@!ing Snowy after half a deck had to be lifted to effect a dramatic guinea pig rescue years ago.
Anyway, the point is that any animals in my family in the 1960s and 1970s learnt quickly that survival of the fittest was the family motto. Meal times for human and beast were about lining up the quarry - for children that was the plate on the kitchen bench with the plumpest lamb cutlets (back in the last century when lamb was cheap and chicken was for Christmas Day), the biggest pile of mashed potato and the most gravy.
When the final scoop of peas was dropped on the final plate it was the signal for a mad and often violent grab for the most desirable plate. The eldest and biggest kids triumphed and the littlies took what was left, and begged if it wasn't enough.
Harsh? Yes. But I suspect the psychologists who now emphasise the need for children to learn resilience were little kids in large families during the 1960s and 1970s.
The pets in our family learnt to scrap and grab and beg the same way.
Which brings me to why I'm writing about pets today after an Australian company announced it was going to boost its wobbly bottom line with a concentrated focus on pet products in Australia and China.
Pet care "represents a growth opportunity" in both countries, with the industry generating $3.9 billion a year in Australia, and a market forecast of a staggering $39 billion in China by 2024.
Pet care covers the gamut from pet food to vet bills, grooming to toys, pet accessories to the cushions and often elaborate places they sleep in.
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Pet care would include the nearly $900 I spent on my dog Lloyd, a couple of years before he died, on the vet bill that was needed after he ate an extraordinary amount of cooked chicken bone he found in a garbage bag behind a restaurant. Don't ask for details. It was my fault. I still have the CD showing the X-rays of his impacted intestines. And the memories.
Pet care these days includes the pet supplement market which in China is currently worth $177 million, and is forecast to reach nearly $400 million by 2024. There's money to be made from anxious pet owners, in other words.
Pet supplements don't come cheap, and if there's a human condition where someone is selling a vitamin or mineral to treat it, there'll be a pet version somewhere on the market as well.
People will pay $50 a bottle for something that promises to "help maintain general health, wellness and vitality in dogs", particularly if you don't mind paying considerably more for the same thing for yourself.
The problem is the absence of objective evidence to support many supplements consumed by humans, let alone something sold to achieve a state as vague as "general health, wellness and vitality" in a dog.
The company is nothing if not open about what will drive this push into pet supplements. A check of its website shows references to products "delivered" with "veterinary expertise", which is not the same as products developed and marketed after randomised controlled trials to show their effectiveness to treat specific conditions.
The company will push the products because there is a "growth opportunity" going begging and a bottom line that needs to be bolstered. The market is us.
My cat, Puddy, is 13, and as wild as she was the day she arrived as a kitten - the runt looking for peace after leaving a family with three boisterous little boys. If I even tried to get a supplement into her she'd scratch my arm off, and I love her for it.
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