Our humanization of pets is officially complete. Today, should they know to look for it, four-legged companions can find tailored versions of practically everything that makes people-life worth living: wine for cats, spas for dogs, Blue Apron-esque meal delivery services, Casper-brand dog beds, and Whistle, a Fitbit for pudgy pooches. If The Sartorialist made humans more conscious of how we look outside the house, you could say the same of The Dogist, for dogs. When I read about the Denver-based company making feline wine, I naturally ordered some for my cat, Joanie, sold by the promise, “Our special blend will entice your cat to become as classy as you.” Last night, post-indulgence, I busted her peeing on the bath mat.
Still, we keep trying. In 2016, Americans spent an estimated $60 billion on our pets. We demand the same level of medical care for them as we do for ourselves, and are ever more willing to shell out for it—and to imagine the possibilities. Joanie, for example, has a belly that drags on the floor. It’s loose skin, not fat—to be honest, most of the weight is in her hips—and often I wonder if she might be more comfortable moving through life without skimming the hardwood. Turns out a surprising number of people wonder the same thing. Toby Mayer, MD, a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, frequently fields requests from patients who inquire whether he might take a look at their dog, too?
For one thing, the technology is there. “A lot of what we do now in pet care is practice a very integrated approach similar to what’s being done in human medicine,” says Kathleen Ham, DVM, an assistant professor in the department of veterinary sciences at Ohio State University. “And some newer surgical advances very much mimic what’s done on people.” When it comes to plastic improvements, this might include eye lifts or tucks, nose jobs, facial-fold reductions (or full-on facelifts), lip tucks, boob jobs, tummy tucks, skin grafting, and prosthetic implants—not only for replacing limbs but also, in the case of Neuticles (a line of testicular implants made semi-famous by Rocky Kardashian, Kim’s boxer), for making neutered cats, dogs, and horses feel masculine again.
According to Edgard Brito, a São Paulo vet often described as “the world’s preeminent plastic surgeon for dogs,” when compared to plastic surgery in humans, the reasons for procedures may vary, but the goal is the same: to be more lovable. “I often say that a clean dog with well-kept teeth will always be in better contact with its owners. Otherwise the dog ends up being [put to sleep],” says Brito, whose work includes perfecting imperfect ears and corrective eyelid surgery. He also uses Botox to help alleviate arthritis (the same way I use Botox to, ahem, cure my migraines) and Restylane to correct depressions after tumor removals. An animal that’s physically appealing, he says, will get walked more, fed more, cuddled more.
And some pets, like some people, need the edge. Hillary Rosen runs the L.A.-based non-profit A Purposeful Rescue, which she started in 2012 to save high-risk dogs from area kill shelters. She calls her hard-luck cases “magical unicorns.” They’re the dogs that hide in corners. Or need a little more discipline. Or, perhaps, look more like armadillos than dogs, but often can become some of the best companions—if she can help someone get past their looks. Aesthetic improvement is a regular part of that.
“Pickle is this six-pound Chihuahua we have now,” says Rosen. “She has this saggy, dangling mass off her side, and it’s huge. We call it her change purse. It’s probably nothing, but yeah, we’re gonna remove it.” Pickle will also undergo dental work to fix her “ranky” teeth. Rosen has removed skin tags, ugly bumps, and warts. She’s taken dogs for eye lifts and tummy tucks. Many of the dogs that she rescues have been neglected, if they’ve ever had homes at all. “We had a Labrador mix who was dumped because her people decided she wasn’t of use anymore,” says Rosen. “She’d had so many litters, her boobs hung to the floor—we nip-tucked that away.”
L.A. vet Jennifer Cola, DVM, who works with A Purposeful Rescue and other groups, as well as in private practice, has performed facial reconstruction on a dog burned by firecrackers and reconfigured a foot that got caught in an escalator. She also once performed a lip tuck on a Newfoundland because it was drooling too much. “The owners said they were going to get rid of the dog if it couldn’t be helped,” she says. “Some might consider that surgery elective, but I don’t.” Of Pickle, she says, “That’s an animal who may have a hard time getting someone to take her home. But for me, it’s a 15-minute fix. If we can get more shelters to do that, it means fewer pets are getting euthanized. Hangy boobs and lumps and bumps make people uncomfortable.”
Others maintain that even the best intentions are bad ones. “This is really the worst thing I’ve ever heard of,” says Cornelia Guest, a longtime animal advocate who sits on the board of the Humane Society of New York. A while back, the Manhattan philanthropist, author, and socialite had a Great Pyrenees named Bear. He was a rescue, like most of her pets over the years, which at present include seven dogs, one cat, about 40 miniature horses (which she rescues and re-homes through her non-profit, Artemis Farm Rescue, in upstate New York), and a tortoise named Socrates. Guest admits that, in New York City particularly, a pet can be more of an accessory, “like, can your dog fit in your Birkin?” But there’s a limit. She’ll never forget the time she took Bear, “the most wonderful, big hunk of a dog,” to a pet store on the Upper East Side. “We get there,” she remembers, “and they immediately begin spritzing him with perfume. They put a bow on his head and started going for his feet with the nail polish. The look on Bear’s face—he was mortified.”
Guest, in fact, thinks the ugliest dogs are the ones who get adopted first. Like her Chihuahua, Oscar, who came from a dumpster and “has an underbite a mile long.” Her friend Wendy’s dog, Priscilla, is “the ugliest, funniest-looking dog you’ve ever seen,” says Guest. “And people want to adopt her from Wendy all the time!”
Boston-area pet communicator Danielle MacKinnon, an MBA who quit corporate life to give readings across the country, says she’s worked with plenty of animals that have had surgeries of all kinds. “And,” she says, “they’re usually always happy about anything that improves their lives.” As Linda Olle, whose collection of some 200 photos of Manhattan dogs inspired a 2015 art show at the East 96th Street Library called “Dogs of the Upper East Side,” puts it, “I knew someone who planned to get his bulldog puppy ball implants. He said he thought it would make the dog look and feel better about himself.” Olle thought it sounded preposterous. “But then I saw that my friends’ dogs feel so happy and affectionate when they’ve had a haircut,” she adds. “Maybe pets really are aware of their looks.” We’ll likely know soon enough—now that we’ve found a way to reinflate Fido’s manhood, the technology to give him the (mellifluous) voice to match can’t be far behind.
Main image by: Jamie Chung/Trunk Archive