Sometimes, a dog is just a dog, but more and more lately, he or she is a furkid: a pet that's become more than a pet and is treated like a child.
It's not a bad tradeoff. The dog gets a comfortable life while the person gets unconditional love and something to care for.
It's not uncommon for people to speak to their dogs, or use baby talk; furparents take that to a new level and have spawned a new vocabulary to go with it. Peternity or puppy leave for when someone takes time off work after getting a new dog; and latchkey dogs, for animals left at home during the day, like latchkey kids who spend time home alone after school; Pupperware parties; and even barkitecture, for custom-designed dog houses.
Most of these dogs could also be called Velcro dogs, because they're constant companions.
Ron Bruce of Danville said his 6-year-old dog Mylo gets the attention he and his wife, Pamela, once gave to their three children.
"All our kids are gone now, so he's kind of a surrogate," Bruce said. "He gets to do what he wants and we don't mind. If he wants to get up on the back of the couch, he gets to. If he wants to sit on my lap, he gets to."
Sue Fleming, another Danville resident, lavishes more than just attention on Matt, the dog she rescued three years ago, named for Today show host Matt Lauer.
"He's my child, my baby," Fleming said. "He gets chicken and rice every night for dinner and he gets scrambled eggs every morning."
Brian Mack called his a 6-year-old dog Zoe a "perpetual 3-year-old," and he treats her the same as he'd treat a child, praising or reproaching her as needed.
"You have to cajole her a bit. That's the only way it works," Mack, also a Danville resident, said. "I just scolded her today for digging up the garden."
It's not just dogs and cats, either. Eileen Perucci of San Ramon has a featherkid: a yellow-naped Amazon parrot named Peanut that gets hot food every day.
"She's my baby. I cook for her when I don't even cook for myself," Perucci said.
She said she makes a special blend of mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes once a week and heats it for Peanut.
"I'll take her to the microwave and she makes the microwave sound with it. She'll want to eat it and sit in the spot where her warm food goes and wait for it," Perucci said.
Peanut also sings and dances.
"Sometimes she has this little mating thing she does, too. She'll start to do this slow figure 8 design. She'll put her wings out, she'll walk to her perch and put her beak on it and turn around. It's almost like an Indian dance," Perucci said, adding, "Peanut loves to talk on the phone. When the phone rings and she's on my shoulder, she thinks it's for her."
Tina Wong, the owner of Molly's Pup-Purr-Ee, named for her dog, a Welsh Terrier, called the word "furkid" obsolete. She said pets are are often full fledged members of the family, up to the point that they're included as members of a wedding party.
In her Danville shop, Wong also sells boutique items for dogs and cats including rhinestone-studded collars, shirts and sweaters.
"When I first started, there wasn't as much available," she said. "As people started having dogs instead of kids, the whole industry grew."
Wong said the two groups most likely to have furkids used to be young people and empty nesters, but now, "It's pretty much across the board."
Oksana Fagenboym, owner of Oksana's Elegant Grooming in San Ramon, said some furkids are treated better than children.
"Eighty percent of my customers already have grownup kids. This is the second generation of kids for them," Fagenboym said. "Those, for them, are grandkids."
While it may be tempting to poke fun at furkid owners, it's easy to anthropomorphize pets. And, as with children, it's not unusual for a complete stranger to come up and talk baby talk to that Velcro dog and make two instant friends: the furkid and the furparent, too.