A man who used to occasionally dine on duck learned to dine with ducks when he fell in love with a duck-obsessed pet parent.
But co-parenting a pampered pooch, duck or ferret isn't always so easy.
The new childhood belongs to the dogs. Literally.
Baby boomers began elevating the status of pets decades ago. No longer were pets simply there to serve a utilitarian purpose, such as protecting the house or providing companionship; they were part of the family. The longer couples wait to have children, the more childlike their pets have become to them. Empty-nesters replaced the children in the center of their orbit with furry companions -- ones much less likely to talk back and slam doors.
Lisa Tucker, executive producer for "Spoiled Rotten Pets," which aired on Nat Geo Wild, says she watched pet culture become more luxurious and indulgent years ago in Los Angeles and New York.
"Of course, there are doggie weddings and 'bark mitzvahs,'" she said. "You see people pushing dogs in $200 strollers pretty regularly in New York City." But she was surprised to see that it wasn't just cats and dogs that got the best of their owners' love. The show featured women who knitted clothes for their ferrets; a woman who painted her ducks' feet, made outfits for them and took them on bike rides in a basket; and a couple who took their two pot-bellied pigs to a day spa and installed a doorbell at snout level for them at their house.
"You would think a lot of the indulgence came from people who had the money and time," Tucker said. "But that wasn't necessarily the case."
And spoiled pets can be found throughout the land, from the smallest town in the heartland to the reddest of red states.
Owners have pushed pet industry expenditures to more than $58 billion annually, according to the American Pet Products Association. The figure has risen every year through the Great Recession, with more than a 20 percent increase in the past five years.
There are times when family members draw the line. One reptile-lover's home was divided into two levels at the wife's request: reptiles downstairs, humans upstairs. No boa constrictors allowed in the bedroom.
Pampered pooches have entire bakeries and gourmet lines devoted to their treats.
Kathy Caton, owner of a St. Louis Three Dog Bakery, has catered a dog wedding (Jose and Lily's), baked numerous gourmet birthday cakes and hosted "doggie nights out" at local restaurants with a specialized, pup-friendly menu. She says as people have become more conscious about the quality of the food they consume, they want the same organic, healthy standard for their pets. I have a friend who drives to an organic dairy to purchase raw milk for his cat, who eats organic Cornish game hens and wild-caught salmon several days a week.
Lab mix Maggie wandered around Three Dog Bakery in a blue sequined tutu, purple pedicure on her paws. Her daddy got her ready this morning for her puppy playdate and didn't even need any coaching to pull her outfit together.
"I can't believe I'm walking a dog with a skirt on," Steven Davis, 31, thought to himself, that morning. By way of rationalization, he said: "Everyone thinks she's a boy if I don't."
"She's got bows in her hair," Maggie's mama, Faronda Davis, 30, said.
The Davises, owners of a children's cooking school, exhibit some of the typical divisions that can come up in a pet-centered home. They have a human daughter, Ayla, 11, and they rescued Maggie, now 4 months old, when she was 7 weeks. Allegedly, they got the puppy for their daughter.
"I do want to have a birthday party for her," Faronda said.
"We are not doing that," her husband said.
"She's sweet. She deserves it."
"I think it's crazy," he said, to no one in particular.
Maggie looked unfazed. A smart pup, she had a fair idea who would win this battle.
When her family goes on vacation, she stays in a plush doggie hotel.
"Honey, be honest," Faronda said, to her husband. "You wanted to put her in that horrible kennel. I said, 'No way is she staying in a kennel.'"
"I really have no say," Steven finally admitted.
It's a familiar scenario to Steve Tharp, who works part-time as a pet photographer. He says pet owners are willing to spend as much on dogs as they do on children's portraits, if not more. He's had clients spend anywhere from a few hundred to more than $2,500 on a dog portrait package. There's usually a negotiation between the "parents" about how much to spend.
Typically, the wife wants to spend a little more, and the husband comes to the digital viewing of the photos to put a check on things, Tharp said.
"The woman usually wins," he added. There have been tears shed in some of the photo preview sessions.
But don't worry if Fido picks up on tension between mommy and daddy.
You can always hire a pet therapist.