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The New Frontier in Family Life

It’s not uncommon to see strange things in Berkeley. That, we suppose, comes with the territory — part of the local flavor, if you will, sometimes charming and sometimes maddening. While walking about town recently, we passed a boutique shop that sells, among other things, ladies’ handbags. One on prominent display caught our eye. A shimmering purple thing, it had emblazoned across the front in bold white script, “Dogs Are the New Children.”

Finally, somebody has said it! And not only said it, but had the chutzpah to commoditize and sell it. In the town that gave birth to the Free Speech Movement, somebody has finally given expression to what we’ve long suspected but couldn’t quite articulate: Animals are more highly valued than children, at least in progressive American enclaves. It can’t be mere coincidence, after all, that a lesbian couple can be seen in these parts walking their dogs — in strollers.

Nowhere is this new valuation more evident than across the Bay in San Francisco, where over the past couple decades families have been squeezed out as the cost of living has skyrocketed and political forces and the general cultural atmosphere have conspired to make it a very family unfriendly place. By 2006 the city that main­streamed LSD and homosexuality had earned the distinction of having “the lowest ratio of children to adults in any major U.S. city,” according to National Geographic (Apr. 2006). The pattern is now predictable: Where adults are abundant and children scarce, animals are brought in to fill the void, creating a situation in which — all together now — “dogs are the new children.” Indeed, the Associated Press reported that, “as more parents seeking new schools and lower housing costs move out of [San Francisco], more straight and gay couples, as well as aging baby boomers, are choosing canines over kids” (Oct. 4, 2011).

In 2010, according to figures from the latest U.S. census, 805,000 people lived in San Francisco — only 108,000 of whom were children. That’s a little better than an eight-to-one ratio of adults to kids. There were also an estimated 150,000 dogs in the city, according to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In other words, there are 39 percent more dogs than children in the City by the Bay. Not surprisingly, given the local penchant for political activism, dog lovers have formed a formidable political action committee to promote and defend their interests in city governance. This is the same city, after all, whose supervisors considered it necessary to legislate the condition of dog houses, which must now be “up to code” (see our New Oxford Note “Acne on the Chin,” Mar. 2005). “San Franciscans take their dogs very seriously,” DogPAC president Bruce Wolfe told the AP. “Our four-legged family members and companions are some of the most important people in life.” Wolfe’s sentiments were echoed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who said, “Making San Francisco a family friendly city means recognizing the multitude of ways in which we define families. And in the city of St. Francis, that includes dogs and companion animals.” Yes, in the “city of St. Francis” canines qualify as family members. Folks, what we have here is the new frontier in family life. Is it any wonder that families with real children are abandoning this place?

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