Caring For All of Our “Children”

The Chevy Chaser, Lexington
By Susan Westrom
State Representative for the 79th District

In December, I usually choose to write about the typical holiday family topics; however, since I received such an overwhelming response to my article about animal cruelty, I thought I would compare America’s pets to Kentucky’s children.

I will share statistics I found in the Delta Airlines Sky Magazine article, “How Do I Love Thee,” which I picked up while on a flight last year. The United States has a population of 288 million people. We also “sport” a population of 192 million pet fish, 78 million cats, 65 million dogs, 17 million pet birds, 17 million small animal pets, and nine million pet reptiles. Thirty-nine percent of our households shelter cats, 34 percent house dogs, 13.7 percent keep fish, and nine percent are homes to small animals or reptiles. Believe it or not, we spend $34 billion a year for food to feed just the birds that live in six percent of our households!

This gets really good. Fifty-eight percent of our pet owners visit their vet more often than they do their own physician, and they spend more on their pets’ care than they do for their own personal health care.

If you are a pet owner, you may be part of the 63 percent who say “I love you” at least once a day, or the 28 percent who have a specific toothbrush for their dog. Not surprisingly, 52 percent of Americans know their neighbors’ pet’s names, but not the name of their human neighbor!

As far as relationships go, 90 percent would not date a person who did not like their pet, 62 percent remember their pet’s birthday (I am one of those!), and at least 63 percent of dog owners admit to kissing their beloved pooch on the mouth! Believe it or not, even with today’s hectic lifestyles, 63 percent of American pet owners spend over two hours of quality time with their pet every day. Eighty-three percent refer to themselves as “mom” or “dad,” and 20 percent will leave something in their will for their critter family.

As for “parenting” a pet, 67 percent of the owners feel guilty when they leave their pet home alone, and 33 percent leave phone messages to comfort them in their absence.

You may wonder how I can possibly compare Kentucky’s children to America’s pets. I am afraid there are very few comparisons that make me proud. Two weeks ago, in the Health and Welfare Committee, the Kentucky Youth Advocates presented the 2005 results of Kids Count, a project funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the status of children in the United States. Ten benchmark measurements were assessed to determine where each state ranks, and I was chagrined to learn that Kentucky plummeted from placing 37th in child well-being in 2004, to 42nd in just one year. What could have gone so awry in a one-year period to make Kentucky reach its lowest state rank in the entire 16 years since the annual data comparison began?

Kentucky saw a decline in six of the 10 indicators. Death rates for children and teens increased, while the death rate for infants from birth to twelve months of age is higher than the national average. Twenty-four percent of our children in Kentucky live below the poverty level, which is defined as an adult and two children living on $14,824. Unbelievably, 39 percent of our children live in a family where NO parent has full-time employment. More babies were born with low birth weights and more children now live in single-parent households. Twelve percent of youth aged 16-19 were neither in school nor working, placing Kentucky at 46th in that category alone.

If I could choose my wish for the new year, I would wish for different statistics for the well-being of Kentucky’s children. I would wish that every child was told “I love you” on a daily basis and received two hours of undivided attention from an adult family member. Ninety-two percent of pet owners say that, despite the recession, they were spending the same amount or more on health care services for their pet as they had in the past. I would wish that every Kentucky child had their health care needs met as readily as those cherished family pets in most households. Only one-third of Kentucky’s low-income children received any dental care in 2004, and it is doubtful their dog is one of the 28 percent with their own toothbrush!

I would wish that our world would not be so critical without being part of the solution or seriously seeking answers to solve the many challenges we find in our state. Perhaps as a whole, we need to begin by looking into the faces of children beyond our own and ask, “How Do I Love Thee?” and then remember that actions speak far greater than words.

But most of all, I wish that this report would be a wake-up call for all adults, especially the members of the General Assembly who can do something about it.

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on these and other issues of importance to you.

Susan Westrom is the State Representative for the 79th District. She can be reached at 1-800-372-7181.
e-mail: [email protected]