Sarah Rae Murray is a writer, former veterinary practice receptionist and an advocate for all animals.
It’s been a big year for Calgary couple Avery Lee and Brady Side. It all began around this time last December with a proposal in the Rocky Mountains. Not long after their engagement, Lee and Side moved into a new home to make room for their growing family. They then celebrated their back-to-back thirtieth birthdays with a road trip to Saskatoon. The true purpose of their trip? To pick-up their family’s newest addition: a 2-month-old Cane Corso puppy. They named him Severus Porter Side, Sevy for short. Lee and Side were already proud pet parents to a Siamese-cross cat named Chai, so overnight the three grew into a family of four.
“I think we’ve definitely seen a different side of each other, in a positive way, because we’re kind of bringing him up together. It’s been a learning experience for both of us” – Brady Side
Together, the four of them are a modern take on the nuclear family. It’s an approach to family life that has become increasingly more common. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) have surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest demographic of pet owners. According to a TD Ameritrade study, 7 in 10 Millennials own a pet and 76% of those Millennial pet owners consider their pet their “fur baby.” Say what you will about them—Millennials take their role in their pet’s lives seriously; committing themselves to the responsibilities of caring and providing for a living being. They’re not just pet owners; they’re pet parents.
True to their generation, Lee and Side both embrace the idea of pet parenting. “I can honestly say I’ve been obsessed with Chai (her cat) for the last five years. Now I’m equally obsessed with Sevy and I have a whole different view on dogs. We’re very proud parents,” says Lee. This obsession wasn’t born of a whim, Lee and Side did their due diligence, especially when it came to the decision to bring a puppy home.
Side introduced Lee to the Cane Corso breed, “For over a year straight, our entire Instagram feed was sending each other Cane Corso puppy pictures and videos,” says Lee. “We researched the breed: did a lot of reading and watched a lot of videos. We gathered as much information as we could find…on training and owning a dog in general.” They also spent a lot of time researching how to introduce Chai to a new puppy: “The hope was that once they bonded—if we introduced them correctly and let them get to know each other over a period of time—hopefully they could become companions,” says Lee.
It took more than a year of research, financial planning, and moving into a larger space before they took the big leap and brought a puppy home. Finding a proper home for their pets isn’t unique to Lee and Side, it’s a reflection of an overall trend in Millennial pet ownership. A realty survey of Millennials with pets showed that 79% would pass up an otherwise perfect home if it didn’t meet the needs of their pet. Pet parents are willing to make real sacrifices and lifestyle changes to prioritize their pet’s wellbeing. Absolutely everything’s changed for Lee and Side since Sevy’s arrival, including certain aspects of their relationship. "I think we’ve definitely seen a different side of each other, in a positive way, because we’re kind of bringing him up together. It’s been a learning experience for both of us,” says Side.
Veterinarian Sara Wick is no stranger to pet parents like Lee and Side. She’s the owner of Mahogany Veterinary Clinic in Calgary, where the majority of her client base and her staff are Millennials. She chooses to stay neutral when it comes to the language she uses with clients, straying away from terms like “pet parent” and “fur baby” regardless of their age group. “We all kind of use those terms with our staff and with our own pets but I tend to stay away from them with clients because you’re never quite sure what their mentality is…But we have a lot of Millennials as staff members and they definitely use all of those terms for their own pets,” she says.
She finds that Millennial clients, as pet parents, are seeking out a family doctor relationship with their veterinarian, allowing for a partnership of sorts. A research study, conducted by the Pet Owner Paths, revealed that 57% of Millennials involve their veterinarian in their journey as a pet owner and 50% ultimately follow their vet’s recommendations, despite actively curating information from a number of different sources. “And that’s something that is totally unique to this newer generation,” says Dr. Wick, “Previous generations didn’t have the easy access to all of the information like we do now. It’s with us 24/7 on our phones. I think that helps them feel like they’re part of the team, to do the research and then get together and talk about it…we can have that collaboration.”
As a veterinarian in a community populated by a younger demographic, Dr. Wick’s clients are often young couples who are recently married or who have just moved in together and brought home a new pet. She likes being part of this milestone for her clients. “I feel like that’s the first stepping-stone to a family…and we’ll get to grow with those families,” says Dr. Wick. She believes that pet parenthood helps to prime couples for another potential milestone — having children. “I feel like (having pets is) going to prepare them financially for having somebody who’s dependent... So I think that’s actually a great step for people,” she says.
While Lee and Side say their motive for pet ownership wasn’t preparation for child rearing, it has provided some relevant lessons. “We didn’t intentionally get the dog as training wheels,” says Lee. “We got a dog because we wanted a dog…But having to get up all the time, teach him, and take care of him has definitely changed my perspective a little bit. Not that I had doubts before, but it’s made me more confident in how we’ll parent together.”
Dimock, Michael. “Defining generations: Where Millennials end and post-Millennials begin.” Pew Research Center, 2018, Web.
Fender, Kristi Reimer. “Exclusive report: New study reveals insight into pet owners’ purchasing decisions.” DVM360 Magazine, 2017, Web.
Olick, Diana. “Millennials put pets first when buying a home.” CNBC, 2018, Web.
TD Ameritrade. “Millennials and their Fur Babies.” TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation, 2018, Web.
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