We place importance on interesting things. Priorities always make sense in one’s own mind, but sometimes even the most well intentioned priorities are questionable. The ways in which we collectively treat old people, babies, and dogs is a great example of American priorities gone awry.
Geriatric care is one of the arenas where social forgetfulness is most plentiful. The rising costs of nursing homes have prompted many families to seek out assisted living facilities or take their elderly parents into their own homes. This ultimately forces the hand of the breadwinner to dip into the family 401K to provide for the additional member. Medicaid doesn’t cover home-based care or assisted living. Even for mediocre accommodations, we are talking about $30K – $40K annually out-of-pocket to care for an elderly family member, with this figure rising to upwards of $80K in some areas. People are hesitant to spare expense for the elderly. Why? Probably because we realize that they are going to die soon anyway.
“Hey old person, what have you done for me lately?” Unfortunately, probably not very much, which increases our reluctance to spring for suitable care.
Babies, in their most simplistic form, are not that different from old people. They have poor motor skills, a sketchy memory, no teeth, they are messy, they urinate and defecate randomly, they need help eating, they have a unique odor, they are often bewilderingly inconsolable, they require lots of nurture for even average utility, and, of course, they need lots and lots of your time…like LOTS of your time! The time one must commit to caring for a child is far more engulfing than caring for a geriatric. But we care for children willingly and with far less grievance. Why is that? A baby has had no life experiences from which we can learn. A baby has no money or possessions to leave in a will if they die. A baby will not thank you for wiping their ass. So why is it that caring for an old person is so repugnant but having a baby is something that people strive for?
The average cost to raise a child to age 18 is about $240,000. That’s a stitch under $14,000 annually for 18 years. In comparison, it would cost about the same to provide average care for an old person for about 7 years. Is it a rational comparison given that the old person is close to departing this life?
“Hey baby, what have you done for me lately?” Just like an old person, probably not much. But babies have an identifiable future that will most likely not end abruptly any time soon. Babies may not contribute in any way and they may not have anything tangible to offer, but they have a level of expectation which makes providing expensive, time consuming care a non-issue.
The final group to discuss here are dogs. Dogs in America are an abomination. Never have I seen a culture so gratefully care for an organism that combines all of the worst characteristics of babies and old people, but get this…isn’t soon to be dead and will not mature and eventually care for itself. In the context of this discussion, the dogs have us hornswoggled. Imagine, a creature that has reached physical and sexual maturity, yet still dictates not only when you feed it and when you take it for a walk, but also when you carry its shit around in a bag for it! It’s like some cruel joke perpetrated on the American public that we will never get. A dog; useless like an old person, infantile like a baby…for the entirety of its life! Yet, in many instances, they are cared for better than both babies and the elderly. Medically, emotionally, physically…dogs have it made.
The average cost of dog ownership is about $2,800 annually. Given the typical canine lifespan of 13.3 years, you are looking at approximately $37,000 start-to-finish for your dog. That’s about 3 years of childcare or 1-ish years of assisted living.
“Hey dog, what have you done for me lately?” Nothing. A dog has done nothing for you lately nor will it. It will consume endlessly like a child and never outgrow it. It will require intensive care like an old person drifting towards the light. Not for a little while, forever! The unconditional, brainless embrace we as a society extend to these animals has gone far enough. The lone exception to this principle is hunting or show dogs that actually drive revenue for the owner. It is in these rare cases that dog owenership is beneficial to the human.
How do you prioritize these three forms of life that are so similar in many regards yet so different entirely? Clearly, there is no logic in this whatsoever. Yet the ways in which we perceive all three are very different and the lengths we go to extend that care are far more varied.