Curious Questions: Should animals wear clothes?

Martin Fone, decidedly not an animal person, ponders whether animals should wear clothes and, indeed, what a stylish pet would wear in the case that they do.

I had better nail my colours to the mast. I’m not a pet person.

It is true I did, as a child, have a tortoise, not the most exciting creature for a young boy, but at least I didn’t have to take it for a walk, and a cat that taught me the salutary lesson that you need to adhere to the Green Cross Code, if you are going to attempt to cross a busy road. Since then, though, not a sausage (dog).

On the other hand, I am an animal lover and enjoy seeing them do what they do in their natural, albeit fast diminishing, environment. Whether they like me is another story as they seem to beat a hasty retreat whenever I am in their vicinity.

PRH2F3 Cute young male Bengal cat dressed up in leopard print outfit outdoors

There’s no getting away from the fact that pets are big business. With some nine million dogs and around 8 million cats in the United Kingdom, according to the 2018 annual report of the Pet Food Manufacturing Association, Brits spend a phenomenal amount of money on them, Mintel in 2015 calculating around £10 billion per annum on pooches and £8 billion on moggies.

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A poll, conducted by Harris Interactive in 2017, revealed that while 34% of respondents changed their shopping habits to save on their own food bill, only 16% were prepared to compromise on the food they gave their pets.

‘The reductio ad absurdum of this trend is to introduce clothing ranges to a wider range of animals’

With Britain in the grip of pet-mania, it is no surprise that there is a raft of goodies aimed at our furry friends, running the whole gamut from gourmet-style treats to insurance products to clothing. Astonishingly, according to GroomArts, British dog and cat owners spend, on average, almost £200 a year on clothes for their pets with 22% admitting to spending up to £20 on outfits a month. There is even a National Dress up your Pet Day, January 14th if you want to mark it in your diary.

Country Life’s token pug Parsley Elwes (son of proud pug parents property editor Annunciata Elwes and Jamie Elwes) sporting his winter Barbour jacket in the snow.

So, what does a stylish pet wear?

Online retailer, Zulily, reported that 60% of millennials were likely to buy sweaters, coats, dresses and other fashion accessories, for their pets. The site had seen a 33% year-on-year growth in this sector (from an article in Forbes magazine entitled The Pet Retail Market Is Hot And Getting Hotter By The Day). There was also a strong demand amongst this age group for clothing that doubled up as carriers for their pets, like slings and hoodies with pet-pouches. These hoodies are so much in demand that they sell out as soon as they become available, sales increasing by 622% in just a year. Missing out on one must be the epitome of a first-world problem.

The reductio ad absurdum of this trend is to introduce clothing ranges to a wider range of animals.

Precocious pug Parsley in a gorgeous jumper, proud to match his human, Country Life’s property editor Annunciata Elwes.

The mission of an organisation that emerged in America in the late 1950s was to do just that, clothe all pets, farm animals, and wildlife that were over four inches tall or six inches long. The group was rather inaccurately called the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA) as what they were trying to do was stamp out what they perceived as the affront to common decency of animals going around as nature intended them to.

Nonetheless, under the leadership of F Clifford Prout, it seemed to have struck a chord. Soon Prout was claiming a membership of 50,000 (there was no charge to join, you were just encouraged to out your neighbours who refused to clothe their animals) and that around 400 a week were signing up.

West Highland White Terrier. Adult dog wearing jumper, sitting in snow in snow

The messianic Prout came up with snappy slogans, such as ‘A Nude Horse is a Rude Horse’, members picketed the White House, exhorting Jackie Kennedy to clothe her horses, and parades were held introducing the general public to the concept of animals wearing apparel. A favourite of the TV studios, Prout would wow audiences by demonstrating a range of Bermuda shorts for horses, slips for cows and trousers for kangaroos.

SINA seemed to have hit the jackpot when Prout was interviewed on the influential Walter Kronkite’s CBS television news show on August 21, 1962. It proved to be the group’s undoing as some of the studio crew soon realised that Prout was none other than the comedian, Buck Henry.

Parsley now thinks he’s a human; here he is reviewing a vintage Morgan LMV3 for Country Life. Photograph by Annunciata Elwes.

SINA was nothing but a con, the brainchild of a serial hoaxer, Alan Abel, ably assisted by Henry. Abel later claimed to have got the idea when he saw two cows mating and wondered how far such a ludicrous idea as the one he had dreamed up would go.

Quite some distance, it would seem. Even more astonishingly, Abel was able to keep the hoax running for a few more years via a newsletter sent to those who were oblivious to the fall-out from the Kronkite show or the detailed expose in Time magazine in 1963.

So, should we dress up our pets?

dog in hat

Experts are divided on the subject, some pointing out that nature has already provided them with a perfectly satisfactory means to regulate their internal temperature, irrespective of the external temperature, something called fur.

Others suggest that provided that the item of clothing doesn’t cause the animal obvious distress and allows them still to regulate their own temperature, it may well be fine. And there is no doubt, that owners get some satisfaction and a psychological lift when they buy a piece of clothing for their bundle of joy.

As always, the key word is moderation. If you must dress up your pet, perhaps it should be long enough to get that cute snap for social media and no more.

What Abel and Henry would have thought of this trend of dressing up pets is anybody’s guess. The Roman orator and politician, Cicero, would surely have exclaimed, O tempora, o mores.

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