But Free Range Kids guru Lenore Skenazy has found a more serious undercurrent to the North American obsession with furry friends. Amid all this coddling, we've become a culture of helicopter pet owners.
In a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Skenazy outlines how various forces, including an earnest push toward greater animal welfare, have made us lose our way.
She focuses much of the piece on the escalating demands of pet-rescue groups and shelters, calling them "a little pickier than the royal family choosing a governess."
On one website, pet owners are told that all dogs must be constantly supervised in their yards for safety reasons. Fences aren't enough – owners have to scour the yard for "digging/scaling" risks and install outdoor floodlights, she reports. "Excuse me – no dog can be outside in a fenced-in yard these days without a human being standing guard? Didn't guarding used to be the dog's job?"
But it gets better: The same site also raises the spectre of bats, bees and snakes, which can all get around pesky fencing.
In one case, a wannabe dog owner was chastised by an agency's staff for looking forward to dog-park frolics. (They're not considered safe.)
"In other words, dog park = poorly supervised playdate. Tsk, tsk."
After filling out a 50-question form and listing all the vets she'd employed over the past 15 years, the woman's application was rejected.
In another tale, one of Skenazy's friends faced an intense cat-adoption process, which included a list of the "all-natural" brands that were acceptable to feed a kitten.
"I'm sure it's great stuff, if you can afford it without being reduced to eating cat food yourself. But plenty of cats have spent their lives – maybe even nine of them – eating Purina, and they still purr gratefully."
Then, there is the fear of abduction that has infiltrated the pet world as surely as the parenting world. One site she visited ("I won't give you the Web address because you don't need it.") recommended dog owners vary the times that they let their dog into the yard. Skenazy says this "predator paranoia" is the same reasons kids don't go outside any more.
"No one is watching your dog through binoculars, clocking his movements and peppering a T-bone with knockout drugs. … The fear does not match the facts, and the fear is winning. The result? Kids, and now pets, hovered over, fenced in and floodlit. It's like they're at Leavenworth. In 2012 America, that's considered good parenting, no matter the species."