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JBR-06468; No of Pages 10

+ MODEL ARTICLE IN PRESS JBR-06468; No of Pages 10 Journal of Business Research xx (2007)
+ MODEL ARTICLE IN PRESS JBR-06468; No of Pages 10 Journal of Business Research xx (2007)

Journal of Business Research xx (2007) xxx xxx

10 Journal of Business Research xx (2007) xxx – xxx Consumer behavior, extended-self, and sacred consumption:

Consumer behavior, extended-self, and sacred consumption:

An alternative perspective from our animal companions

Ronald Paul Hill a, , Jeannie Gaines b , R. Mark Wilson b

a Villanova School of Business, Villanova University, 800 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA 19085, United States b College of Business, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, 140 Seventh Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, United States

Received 1 January 2006; received in revised form 1 August 2006; accepted 1 November 2006


This article explores the intimate relationships between pet owners and their animal companions from the extended-self and sacred consumption perspectives using a unique method that Morris Holbrook inspires. The article opens with a brief introduction that includes a summary of the relevant literature. A description of the study's protocol follows. The article then covers five thematic categories that result from the investigation. The analysis of text from the consumer essays and a few precious photographs bring life to the case reports. The close provides implications for consumer-behavior scholarship and marketing practice in a variety of intra- and inter-species domains. © 2007 Published by Elsevier Inc.

Keywords: Consumer-behavior; Animal companions; Extended-self; Sacred consumption

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

Roger Caras The belief that living a dog's life is some form of inhumane punishment or a lower form of existence has changed dramatically over recent decades. As Mendelson (1998, p. S3) aptly states, No longer is Fido or Fifi just an animal that sits by the kitchen table waiting for scraps of food. Now, the household pet has worked its way up the family tree, in some cases even winning a coveted seat at the dinner table. The consumer- behavior literature is replete with theoretical and empirical research that shows the positive impact consumption may have on our quality of life (e.g., Ahuvia, 2005 ), and the acquisition, utilization, and disposition of animal companions is an outstanding example. In fact, these classic descriptors of the consumer-behavior process may fail to capture the tenderness and intimacy of such relationships ( Holbrook et al., 2001 ).

The authors thank Morris Holbrook for his inspirational work on beloved nonhuman animals. The authors dedicate this article to our three cherished friends who lived a dog's life with great joy. Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: ronald.hill@villanova.edu (R.P. Hill), jgaines@stpt.usf.edu (J. Gaines), mwilson@stpt.usf.edu (R.M. Wilson).

0148-2963/$ - see front matter © 2007 Published by Elsevier Inc.

The enormity of this consumption phenomenon is expressed by several telling statistics. For instance, almost one-third of U.S. households (32%) own at least one dog ( Geissler, 2003 ), and they eagerly spend $36 billion annually to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of their pets (Dorsey, 2003 ). Approximately three-fourths of these consumers are willing to take on additional debt to provide adequately for these animal companions ( Gardyn, 2001 ). Over one-third of dog consumers celebrate their pets' birthdays, and an equivalent number take their animal companions on vacation ( Dorsey, 2003 ). More extraordinarily, a majority of pet consumers verbally express their love to their nonhuman friends daily, and nearly one- fourth receive most of their physical affection and attention from their pets ( Fetto, 2002 ).

1. Extended-self

The consumer behavior concept of the extended-self pro- vides a ready theoretical context for comprehending the con- sumption relationship between pet owners and their animal companions. Belk (1988, p. 139) provides a simple way of elucidating this construct: A key to understanding what possessions mean is recognizing that, knowingly or unknow- ingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions



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as parts of ourselves. Awide range of investigations follows this initial article, demonstrating that consumers assimilate a diverse collection of products into their self-definitions as a way to signal admirable aspects of their personhood to themselves as well as others ( LaTour et al., 2003; Tian and Belk 2005 ). Animal companions, especially dogs and cats, represent shared con- sumption experiences that rise to this level. Hirschman (1994) and Endenburg et al. (1994) find that consumers buy pets to satisfy social needs. The domestication of animals has more to do with our desires for companionship with other species than for protection or other utilitarian purposes. Pets such as dogs may play the role of friend or intimate partner, providing unconditional and nonjudgmental fondness for their owners. Given selective breeding over the past 12,000 years, dogs have features such as short noses, curly tails, large brown eyes, and miniature sizes that imbue them with childlike char- acteristics that bring out maternal and paternal instincts among their adult owners.

2. Sacred consumption

The research of Holbrook et al. (2001) eschews the extended- self paradigm as a path to understanding our mutually-beneficial exchange relationships with animal companions. Their primary concern is that some scholars might use this concept as a means to various ends such as the enhancement of self-identity, failing to recognize that the intimate bonds between parties are ends in and of themselves. Nonetheless, Belk (1988, p. 155) reinforces this long-term viewpoint that the attitude of pet owners is, Love me, love my dog. Therefore, the extended-self includes the possibility that inter-species love involves a fusion of identities, allowing for a deep-seated commitment in time and effort that greatly impacts the emotional fulfillment of both pet owners and their animal companions ( Ahuvia, 2005 ). Taken together, the work of these scholars suggests that the relationship between human and nonhuman animals is an experience that transcends the ordinary consumer-behavior do- main of possessions/possessors to that of sacred and spiritual consumption (Holbrook et al., 2001 ). As a result, a true portrayal of the pet-owner/animal-companion nexus requires an among-species perspective that allows the voice of each party to resonate throughout the investigative process. The market- ing-practitioner trade press advocates such a sophisticated approach to consumer research involving product development for domestic animals like dogs ( McLean, 2004 ). The academic community echoes this refrain, suggesting an emphasis on caregivers' projections, expectations, and desires ( Holbrook et al., 2001 , p. 4).

3. Research direction and method

This investigation uses and reports a unique way of capturing the shared consumptive lives of beloved pets with their owners, relying on a combination of the extended-self/sacred consump- tion paradigms. This study, like Holbrook et al. (2001) , uses personal self-reflection to uncover the underlying meanings of consumer-behavior experiences. Holbrook (1997) recommends

modifications to research practice in order to properly under- stand consumption activities and outcomes from the perspective of our beloved pets. He uses many hours of nonparticipant observation to craft a likely description of a cat's musings about a classic film with Audrey Hepburn where her feline companion plays a pivotal role ( Holbrook, 1998 ). The present study's examination of canine consumption begins similarly to Holbrook et al. (2001) whereby the three principal investigators provide in-depth essays that chronicle the entire lifecycles of their beloved dogs, each of whom was an integral part of the owner's lived experiences from the pet's birth, through puppyhood, until death. This approach involves the use of several preserved items such as photographs, collars and leashes, chew toys, and ashes as remains to stimulate thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The study develops each testimony in- dependently and projects the voice and spirit of the particular animal so that the anthropomorphic style of the storyteller is reflective of each dog's individual personality, behavior, and expressions. This form of discovery is consistent with the reflections of Van Mannen (1995) in describing ethnographic reports as storytelling institutions that blur the demarcation between science and literature. As a consequence of the liberation from typical stylistic restrictions, a wide variety of modes of pre- sentation are available such as impressionist tales, dramatic ethnography, and creative nonfiction. The primary goal is to represent the lived experiences of an unfamiliar population in ways that allow others to see, hear, and feel what a different existence may be like ( Van Mannen, 1988 ). This approach concentrates attention on a series of important and critical events in the lives of cultural members that define their rela- tionships with others, often using some form of internal monologue to express the subjective reality they experience (Agar, 1995 ). The analysis of these canine life histories treats them as texts and subjects the texts to scrutiny that is becoming increasingly common in consumer research ( Hill, 2001, 2002 ). The first step involves creating an understanding of the totality of the consumptive lives of each dog from its own perspective. The second step requires summarizing these findings for each story with an emphasis on contextually-based information within the particular essay. The third stage involves developing interrelated themes that depict particular aspects of the consumer behavior of canines across beloved pets and notable situations. The fourth stage requires examining relationships among the themes to develop a comprehensive understanding of the entire consumer lifecycle of these animal companions. The next section presents results as thematic categories.

4. Canine consumptive world

The essayswritten by middle-aged adults from different areas of the U.S., all with histories of long-term animalhuman relationshipsreveal a series of interrelated thematic categories that capture the various consumer-behavior activities of animal companions. The categories include initial engagement and se- lection decision; early adjustment and relationship development;


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permanent bond and loving intimacy; special events and life transitions; and parting as such sweet sorrow. The order of presentation is purposeful, and their telling moves from one to the next as the essays naturally unfold. Each theme employs excerpts from their life histories to exemplify intended meanings (Fig. 1 offers photographic support). After discussing themes, examples, and implications for creating a deeper understanding of beloved pets, the closing section explores serving pets through goods and services with suggestions for conducting lifecycle consumer- behavior research.

4.1. Initial engagement and selection decision

The earliest existences of these dogs occur in their families- of-origin, as they begin the exploration of their own capabilities within the external world. Their relationships with their siblings are both cooperative and competitive. They often engage in fun and playful activities, nipping and wrestling with one another before settling down for extended periods of sleep. However, these (potential) animal companions are in a real life-transforming contest with their brothers and sisters that influences their ultimate fate. Humans parade them one-by-one before collections of other humans who are searching for the right nonhumans to join them. The canine winners of these high-stakes competitions believe that these initial engagements reveal positive differences between

themselves and their brethren and that such revelations are part of the basis for their selection as beloved pets. Consider the following excerpts from the histories of Buddy and Beau. The musings from the former describe the context in which such introductions take place, while those from the latter provide a glimpse into the significance of good first impressions:

More importantly, we get new visitors on a regular basis. The routine usually follows the same pattern. They come in with the house people and stare at us while making cooing noises. Then someone smiles widely and the children shriek as we are placed on the floor near them. The adults call out to us as if they want us to do something special, but we have no idea what they mean. The kids often rush over and grab us from behind so we bite them with our developing teeth to get them to stop. (Buddy)

Whoops, here comes fresh blood through the doora very tall boy with dark hair and a girl with a nice smile. They're coming over my way. They're making baby sounds in my direction. I think that's a good sign. The crate door opens and I leap into the girl's arms and start licking her face. She laughs and rubs my back. The boy reaches into the back of the crate and lifts my sister out. She just lies in his arms and shivers. At this rate, she'll be at Puppy Love the rest of her life! (Beau)

she'll be at Puppy Love the rest of her life! (Beau) The selection decision follows a

The selection decision follows a similar pattern of events and is an outgrowth of winning the competition for the right to acquire status as a beloved animal companion. However, be- coming a chosen one is not without its drawbacks. Chosen ones are removed from the warmth and security of their original domiciles without warning and plunged into an outside world in which they have limited knowledge or experience. This change in their proverbial cages leads to a fear of the unknown regarding who will provide their care, where they will live, what treatment they will receive, and what food and enjoyment they will receive. The initiation into their new lives is abrupt and filled with confusion about proper comportment. Of course, the decision to select a particular dog does not guarantee that the owners fully understand the implications of their new roles. The excerpts below from the essays by Lincoln and Buddy demonstrate the precarious nature of the dog/person intersection during the consumer-behavior decision process. The first segment describes the animal companion's trepidation as consumption proceeds from engagement to selection. The second paragraph reveals the lack of a meaningful connection even when selection occurs.

It had been quite a day for me. Just this morning I was in a cage at the animal shelter with my brother and sister. Three people peeked into our cage; one person had long hair and the other two were much smaller and moved around a lot. They lifted us out onto the floor and we played for a few minutes; the quicker small one wanted all of my family to go home with them. The smaller one was shy and kept his distance, but Fig. 1. Photographic exemplars of themes. seemed to like me the best, probably because I'm moving a bit



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slowly today. The long haired one, the boss called Mommy, picked me up. We left my brother and sister at the shelter and drove away. Scary; I'd never been away from my family before. I liked these people immediately, but what kind of a situation was I getting into? (Lincoln)

After arriving at this strange new place, I am carried inside by the mother. We walk into the living area, with me deposited in the center of the room for everyone's amuse- ment. Paul and PJ get down on all fours like my own brothers and make playful gestures in my direction. We chase each other in a most enjoyable manner until the impulse to urinate develops. As I begin to relieve myself on a spot of the rug with just the right scent, the father grabs the scruff of my neck and rushes for the door! (Buddy)

4.2. Early adjustment and relationship development

The first few minutes, hours, and days of their lives together represent a period of enormous adjustment for these canine com- panions, as well as for their new human families. Each party is unsure how to act around one another as normal routines give way to abnormal circumstances. Lavish attention characterizes the initiation to their new homes by pet owners who seek ways to relate to a different species and to meet its needs. Some of the activities resonate well with both sides of this exchange

activities resonate well with both sides of this exchange relationship, while others seem to cause considerable

relationship, while others seem to cause considerable distress for one or the other. Most interestingly, the sources of early rapture are from play, exploration, and companionship. Difficulties tend to occur with natural functions and rhythms that the change in venue disturbs (such as urination, defecation, eating, and sleeping). Beau and Lincoln provide apt chronicles of their early adjustment to living in a human community. These animal companions enjoy the frenzy of events that take place during their introductions to their latest homes, but they experience several difficulties in attempting to understand and navigate new relationships with near strangers.

I wake up as the car stops, and we get out in the driveway of

a house with lots of grass. I squirm, and she puts me down

to run around and explore. There are all kinds of new smells

I can't make out. Then we go into the house more new

smells, objects, and spaces. And then I discover the back- yard is fenced, but it is so big it will take me forever to sniff all of it! The boy and girl seem to want to hold me and talk to me non-stop. I wonder if it will always be this way!?! I like it, but I'm really tired and sleep overcomes me. (Beau)

After my long day with people, I was sleepy but not very hungry. It was dark, everyone said goodnight, and I looked around for my brother and sister so I could snuggle and sleep. But when I looked around, all I saw was an irritating ticking clock wrapped in a towel. I couldn't sleep like this; so I expressed this fact to these people . I awoke early, with a headache and an upset stomach, when Mommy began to fix breakfast. We went for a walk and Mommy acted kind of strange when she saw my feces. I didn't know if humans are always like that or if it was just her. (Lincoln)

These early adjustments give way to developing relationships between canines and humans, building from a new set of routines. As the different groups begin to comprehend the basic needs of each other, a distinct form of communication emerges that allows for some consistency and continuity in their interactions. Much of this progress centers on areas of original difficulty that are natural functions. The most vexing issue that receives the greatest at- tention involves elimination, and pet owners' celebrations of success in this regard suggest a triumph over contamination to their living quarters that results in great relief. Family members begin to occupy specific roles with these animal companions that signal their relative status within the family as well as the nature of their connection to these beloved canines over time. The following texts from Buddy and Beau show relationship development, with a particular emphasis on coordinating elimi- nation needs. The texts highlight clear connections between the primary caregivers and their new puppies, and Beau seems to enjoy real intimacy at a very early stage in his lifecycle.

I wander around, instinctively seeking a safe haven. My first

order of business is defecation, followed a few moments later by urination. Mom gives mild encouragement through the whole series of events and lets out a loud cheer when the


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process is complete. We return to the house and enter a room with the most delicious smells! She goes immediately to the cupboard and extracts two food sources that are mixed together in a small bowl. Mom places it down on the floor next to another container filled with water. I shuffle over to see them more closely and start to eat heartily. (Buddy)

The next several weeks are spent with Mom (the girl) trying to persuade me to tell her when I need to go outside to potty”— her word, not mine! She is home with me almost every day. She and I sit on her bed with tons of books and papers surrounding us. She is in school trying to become a professor of something. She reads constantly and then writes stuff about what she reads. Sometimes she reads what she's written out loud to me. I think I'm there to make her take study breaks so that we can go out and play. The tall boy with the dark hair comes over a lot and plays ball with me in the back yard. (Beau)

4.3. Permanent bonds and loving intimacy

Over the weeks, months, and years, these canine companions integrate fully as members of their human families. New

integrate fully as members of their human families. New routines develop into regular and seamless parts

routines develop into regular and seamless parts of their joint schedules, meeting essential needs far beyond their earliest intentions. Some of these activities require participation of the whole family, serving as ways to solidify bonds among and between humans and dogs. Thus, familial relationships grow ever stronger as a consequence of striving to meet the daily require- ments of the beloved pets. The best example of such bonding occurs during the evening walk, a regular event that brings many or all family members together for the benefit of their canines, while simultaneously encouraging contact with each other as well as with members of their larger human communities. The excerpts from Buddy and Lincoln demonstrate the integrative role played by daily walk-based togetherness. Buddy describes the routine nature of this daily event in terms that suggest its relative importance to creating permanent bonds between himself and the rest of his family. Lincoln provides a similar vignette, also revealing his leadership role in facilitating connections between his human family and other people in their neighborhood.

The evening walk is a proud tradition and occurs rain or shine! There are times when Mom and I are alone, but Dad often comes, and the children occasionally join us. We start out the

front door and usually turn to the left, walking past Digit's house. If she and her mother are outside, they visit with us for a few moments or take their walk as well. We round the corner and walk up the street with me pulling Mom or Dad as hard as I can toward various spots along the way. After relieving myself,

I try to stay out front as the lead animal in the pack. (Buddy)

I always enjoyed walking. One good thing about this outdoor

bathroom fixation of Mom and Dad was that I went for a lot of

walks. I liked to keep track of what went on in the neighbor-

hood. Every bush and every tree have evolving stories to tell to those of us with keen senses of smell and investigatory natures.

I liked to greet animals during my walk. I always made it a

point to tell other male dogs what I thought of them. I was not shy like Mom, Dad, Matt, and Dave. I don't know how many conversations between them and the people I met on my walks started with the question, Is this your dog?All of us were quite friendly after I got these relationships started. (Lincoln)

These long-term commitments to one another grow and mature into loving and intimate relationships between pet owners and their animal companions. The general nature of these connections is like that of a brother/son or sister/daughter, but their characteristics tend to vary across individuals. Just as family members occupy a variety of roles among each other, their canine companions function in a number of capacities depending upon the nature of their associations with adoptive parents and siblings. Additionally, when their lives intersect with extended family (such as grandparents), they easily assume positions appropriate to their ages and longevity (such as grandson or granddaughter). Taken together, these findings show a long-lasting and loving intimacy that rivals any familial bond for its integrity and strength.



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The next two paragraphs reveal the depth and breadth of several relationships among humans and their dogs. Lincoln discusses each household member separately and explains the deep-rooted nature of these connections, while Beau provides a similar story that includes both sets of grandparents.

As I matured, I instinctively took on more roles in the household. I became the official greeter of all visitors, protector of family members (especially from other male dogs), and companion-and-confidant to Mom, Dad, Matt, and Dave. Mom's and my relationship grew deeper as the years passed. In many ways, she was my primary provider, and she grew personally as she accepted me and my dog way of life. In turn, she earned my deep affection and devotion. I greeted Dad at the door everyday because we enjoyed doing stuff together. We liked the same games, and he knew how to pat me just right. He used to talk to me while he worked in the garage or in the yard; so we grew very close. I still feel as though I communicate with Matt, even from my grave. Only a few human beings are born with the innate ability to communicate with animals without speaking, and I am his special dog. Dave was originally the shy one; I viewed shyness as a dog-lover waiting to happen. I am proud to say that Dave also became my very close friend and an avid dog-lover. (Lincoln)

Some good things also happened after we moved into the new house. Grandmother and Granddad from Kentucky moved into a condominium just a few blocks from our home. Mom and I spent a lot of time at their place, where I was king of the house. Grandmother spoiled me shamelessly, and I loved her for it. JJ's parents also visited every year from up north, and I was their special grand dog. Once while they were visiting, Mom made linguine with white clam sauce. My Grandpa wasn't crazy about it; so he put his plate on the floor in the kitchen. Before they realized it, I had inhaled the entire plate and was lying on the floor with all four legs sprawled in different directions, totally unable to get up. Mom was im- mediately concerned that I needed to go to the vet, but everyone else was convulsed in laughter. The good news is that the pasta eventually began to digest, and I became mobile once again. And it was so, so good while I was eating it! After that incident, one of my nicknames became Noodles. (Beau)

4.4. Special events and life transitions

Given the ongoing, intimate, and long-lasting nature of human/canine bonds, these animal companions occupy unique places during special events and life transitions. From birthdays to holiday events to other celebrations, beloved pets fully engage in traditional activities and come to personify the essence of what makes these times truly extraordinary. They are an essential part of every aspect of festivities, including travel, gift-giving and gift-receiving, and food preparation and feasting. Memories from these times illustrate the ways in which canine companions

these times illustrate the ways in which canine companions capture the positive energy and joy that

capture the positive energy and joy that gives meaning to such gatherings. They are much more than passive observers who occupy the sidelines in a state of inter-species confusion; instead, they participate with unrestrained vigor that is childlike in its intensity and duration. The following material sheds light on the integral place of animal companions in our secular celebrations of Christmas. Beau tells his exciting story that includes travel to a new state, and Lincoln explains his moniker as the Christmas-Spirit Dog.

Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and finally it was Christmas vacation. Yea, time to take a car trip to Kentucky again to visit Grandmother and Granddad! There was even more cooking than before, and Grandmother and I were now very tight. There was a big tree with lots of presents (even for me), friends, family, laughter, hugs, and SNOW! This was a new one for me. One morning, we woke up and found that everything outside was white. When Gerry took me out, I slipped and slid on the porch steps, and the white stuff was extremely cold on my paws. I couldn't believe they actually wanted me to do my thing under those conditions! (Beau)


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My favorite time of the year was Christmas. The lights, the

music, the people, the food were all terrific. I enjoyed every Christmas. The joy of wrapping-paper frenzy stirred me up even as an old dog. They named me Lincoln, but

I always thought of myself as Christmas-Spirit Dog. (Lincoln)

These beloved pets participate intimately in a number of serious and difficult life transitions. Human children grow older and more mature, leaving home to receive advanced training, to pursue careers, or to start their families. Sometimes death or divorce rips families apart, shattering the intimate bonds that held them so closely together. Career changes by adult members of the household lead to similar disruptions, causing the loss of familiar settings, friends, and routines. While animal compa- nions come to represent the love and excitement associated with special events and celebrations in our lives, they also manifest the fear, anxiety, and sadness experienced during difficult transitions. Their innate empathy and emotional capacity allow them to experience negative changes deeply and (sometimes) permanently. The excerpts below exhibit the stress and trauma that life transitions can evoke in pet owners as well as in their canine companions. Buddy absorbs the anxiety and trepidation around him that come from a cross-country relocation, whereas Lincoln struggles with the loss of his human brothers when they go off to universities in other cities.

One very eventful day, Mom begins packing up our belongings

in large boxes. Tension fills the air as Dad is preoccupied with

something I cannot understand. When he is home, I often sit by his feet and rest while he works away on the computer. However, now he just mopes around the house with a worried expression on his face. The boys also seem agitated, as if the moods of their parents were catching. A big truck pulls up to the front of our house, and several large men come to our front door. I bark at them for being strangers, but they come inside anyway and pat me on the head. When the last bits are loaded, we walk around the house saying goodbye for a final time. We drop Mom off at the airport, and the rest of us stay with friends for a few more days. The disorientation continues until I'm placed in my crate and carted off in a plane as well! (Buddy)

The thing I liked the least was watching my family leave.

Not just leaving for a little while, like to work or to school,

or like some evenings when the guys and I would get to play

together without parents around. My sadness started when I saw anyone packing a suitcase. My view was: stay or take me with you. I think my saddest time was when Matt left for College. My soul mate and I were a lot bigger and older that day than when we met, and I guess it was time for him to move on, but a little energy left me that day. When Dave left two years later, I really slowed down. The hardest thing in my life for me to accept was not seeing them every day. These were my brothers. We grew up together. (Lincoln)

4.5. Parting as such sweet sorrow

As our families grow older and mature, so do our animal companions. However, their movement through the various stages of physical development and decline accelerates relative to human beings. They respond gracefully to old age, slowing down and sleeping more while continuing to maintain the routines of their day-to-day lives in abbreviated form. Yet our beloved pets still aspire to meet the needs and expectations of their owners, even if this means occasionally rising above the bodily limitations of advancing years and reacting to events much like their younger selves. The recent country ballad released by Toby Keith captures this eagerness: I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was ( Keith, 2005 ). Regardless, the march of time continues to reap its damage, and our canine companions persist in their decline despite the best of intentions. The subsequent paragraphs depict the ravages of aging from the perspectives of Lincoln and Beau. The former is resigned to becoming an old dog and even finds some solace in his advancing years to make this bitter pill easier to swallow. The latter shows few outward signs of illness and seeks comfort in the care received during his final days.

I guess I accepted old age, although I was certainly not happy about it. My joints got stiff and sore, my walks shorter and slower. I needed help getting into the car; my

shorter and slower. I needed help getting into the car; my Please cite this article as:



R.P. Hill et al. / Journal of Business Research xx (2007) xxxxxx

naps were longer and deeper; and my eyesight and hearing grew worse. People are kind to old dogs; but young dogs are a nuisance to older dogs. People patted me and talked to me, even though I could hardly hear them. I appreciated the attention and enjoyed the pills covered with peanut butter. These were all fine, but the steps going into and out of the house got harder and harder for me to climb. I learned to use the ramp Dad and Dave built for me, but the decline in my mobility disturbed me. (Lincoln)

When we walked into our house under the bright lights, Mom took one look at me with panic written all over her face. She asked Liz if she saw that the whites of my eyes were yellow. Liz agreed, and Mom immediately scooped me up and left for the veterinarian's office. He examined me, confirmed the jaundice, and said I would have to spend the night so that I could have IV fluids with medicine in them. Mom and Liz were crying when they left and said they would be back in the morning. Dr. Brooks promised that he would take good care of me. He put a needle in my leg and bandaged it, and his helpers tried to make me comfortable. (Beau)

Of course this deterioration must eventually end in death, and beloved pets and their owners cope with the conclusion to these sacred exchange relationships in their own ways. Our canine companions seem to understand when the end is near, and they respond instinctively by closing down to their surroundings. Their reactions to this imminent demise suggest an acceptance of the natural finale to lives well lived. The range of activities narrows to a handful of intimate moments with the humans who have meant so much to them, rather than any attempt to return to the routines that formerly marked their daily existences. For their part, family members grasp these last glimpses of consciousness as if they hope for reprieve from a higher power. Our canine companions look upon this anxiety and sadness with the utmost appreciation and with concern for our welfare following their inevitable passing. The last segments from our essays discuss the waning moments in the lives of Buddy and Beau. The first segment shows how Buddy comes to understand his approaching death and acts on his appreciation for loved ones before taking a final breath. The second segment reveals Beau's concern for a special partner in life following death and also narrates the tender ceremony of burial.

It finally dawns on me that my final moments with my family on this earth are near. My Mom or Dad keep trying to feed me various foods and medicines that are designed to ease my suffering, but my rea lization causes me to refuse their kindness and to accept my fate . My last moments arrive none too soon. Dad walks away from me to get something he left inside as I look up at Mom and try to smile to show her my gratitude for the years of friendship and love that she has lavished on me. She seems to lack awareness of my ultimate demise, as a shudder overtakes my body and as my exhausted muscles finally relax. I hear her calling my

name and then screaming for Dad to come outside, as her image fades, and I leap from my body toward the bright light that extends from the overcast sky. (Buddy)

I wanted to go off and explore my new world, but what about Mom? So I hovered near the ceiling as they stitched up my incision and wrapped me, or what used to be me, in Mom's pink robe. It wasn't long until Mom and JJ came to the vet's office to get me. As Mom talked with Dr. B., she was crying, and even JJ looked distressed. Dr. B. took them in the back and Mom picked me up, swaddled in her now-stained robe, and carried me out to the car. She held me and talked to me all the way home. Mom unpacked one of Liz and Gerry's hand- made baby blankets, wrapped me in it, and put nine of the pink roses in the blanket with me. She gently placed me in a plastic box, kissed me goodbye for the last time, and sealed it shut. Mom was determined to have a service; so she, Liz, Ann, Grandmother, Granddad, and JJ held hands while talking about their favorite memories of me. Mom said a prayer, and JJ took the box outside and covered the grave with dirt. (Beau)

5. Concluding thoughts

5.1. Truly knowing our beloved pets

This study employs a unique method to explore the con- sumption experiences shared by pet owners and their animal companions. The results include thematic categories with af- firming excerpts. While some scholars may argue that our sample fails to meet acceptable criteria for generalizing findings, the parallel nature of the essays suggests that these owners experience homogeneity in the ways beloved dogs are perceived, evaluated, and loved. The analysis and resulting themes provide vivid de- scriptions consistent with the alternative standard often applicable in qualitative research studies (see Van Mannen, 1988, 1995). Nonetheless, examining a more diverse group of dog loversfrom different socioeconomic, cultural, geodemographic, and family-composition subgroupswould enrich the five thematic categories. Further, other speciesfor example, catspotential- ly interact with pet owners in unique ways, requiring their own examinations. An additional issue for more traditional consumer-behavior researchers concerns giving voice to beloved pets. While no one expects these dogs to answer questions or write their own life histories, using an empathic and anthropomorphic style may not resonate as truthful. On the other hand, limited options exist under such circumstances. One disappointing alternative might accept the inner lives of animals as unknown and unknowable. But the relevant literature and the intensely personal nature of these consumption experiences suggest an intimate connection manifested in various forms of inter- species communication. The pioneering work of Holbrook et al. (2001) with family members who are also dogs or cats provides rich detail about the many ways animal companions and their owners co-consume each other as well as the larger world around them.


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Assuming that at least some portion of our stories is merely projection of human thoughts and feelings onto these canines hardly diminishes the applicability of a consumer-behavior perspective. As caretakers and providers, loving owners fulfill obligations to act on their pet's behalf to ensure a quality of life that is consistent with other family members. Thus, human roles and responsibilities with pets resemble those of parents who must discern very complex wants and needs that evolve as the mutual parent child understanding grows over the years. The extent to which dog devotees misrepresent the sadness or sorrow, happiness or joy, manifested by their animal companions is most probably a matter of over- or under-stating the relevant feelings by a margin that reflects their own pain or pleasure. Such errors may actually enrich our comprehension, given the emotional resonance of shared consumption experience.

5.2. Satisfying their wants and needs

Many pet owners possess a solid grasp of the consumption requirements and expectations of their animal companions. Thus, firms with a mission to serve beloved pets may gain market share and goodwill by using thematic categories such as this research reveals in the development of new goods and services. For example, initial engagement and selection decisions reveal the well-inte ntioned yet naïve processes owners employ in their earliest interactions with pets and in selection protocols for their canine family members. Given the long-term consequences of such decisions, breeders and other pet suppliers would be wise to help their customers enact more sophisticated purchasing strategies to ensure loving choices. The second theme of early adjustment and relationship development recounts initial attempts on both sides of this sacred bond to integrate animal companions into their house- holds. The excitement of this early period may exacerbate emotional states associated with novel experiences, suggesting the need for providers to help pet owners become aware of typical adjustment issues and coping mechanisms for them- selves and for their animal companions. Permanent friendships and loving intimacy show that early trepidation gives way to integration of beloved pets into their human families. These bonds build from the establishment of regular schedules and from forms of interaction that meet needs beyond owners' original expectations. Pet suppliers may facilitate bonding, trust, and intimacy by supporting the growth of new routines and modes of inter-species communication. The fourth theme of special events and life transitions demonstrates how animal companions come to represent both the best of times and the most difficult moments in our lives. While some providers market a variety of goods and services linking to positive occasions such as birthdays and holidays, few help pets and their owners navigate difficult transitions such as job changes, cross-country moves, and divorces. The final theme expresses a particularly poignant example namely, parting as such sweet sorrow. This theme chronicles the aging and final moments of a beloved pet's life. While health care providers such as human/animal psychologists and veterinar- ians recognize the important role dogs and cats play in our day-

to-day worlds, their advice often fails to help owners grieve, heal, and ultimately recover from such devastating losses. Teaching pet owners how to recognize end-of-life situations and how to develop their own natural mourning-and-coping processes would take a real step forward.

5.3. Final remarks

The ultimate test for the value of any academic research project is the extent to which the study impacts theory and/or practice. Combining the extended-self paradigm with the sacred consumption literature and providing exemplars based on the integrated consumer lives of pet owners and their beloved canines may have real influence on consumer-behavior scholarship and its applications to the marketplace. Additionally, the method employed here has implications for other domains as well. Scholars focusing on elderly consumers might utilize such essays to gain insights into sacred consumption events and objects that help determine the quality of life in old age. Parents have a primitive understanding with regard to children's consumption needs in a fashion similar to the projections of pet owners, suggesting the value of our research protocol in another extended-self arena. Perhaps a combination of the extended-self and sacred consumption paradigms, along with postmodern methodologies, might provide additional insights for the care and protection of all living beings, but especially for three of the most vulnerable groups in our societychildren, the elderly, and beloved animal companions.


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