By Kym Klass Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.
Sometimes, Heather Hogan believes she was meant to only care for dogs.
She is single, 35, and said for whatever reason, she has not been placed in a position where she could have children or get married. Her focus, she said, is her four dogs. And more often than not, she feels they are her purpose.
"It's the dog, and then the guy, in that order," she said. "If they don't like it, then they'll have to find someone else. Some part of me wants to have children in the future, but that window is closing for me. It may not be God's plan for me."
And Hogan is part of a national trend -- the fewer babies Americans give birth to, the more small dogs they seem to buy. Hogan's youngest and most recent addition to the family, Dolly, is a 1-year-old Springer mix.
By the numbers
Birth rates in the United States have fallen from nearly 70 per 1,000 women in 2007, to under 63 last year -- a 10 percent tumble.
American women gave birth to almost 400,000 fewer little humans in 2013 than they did six years before. The drop-off has come primarily among 15- to 29-year-olds, according to an article in Quartz.
Americans have been buying more and more small dogs each year since 1999. The population of little canines more than doubled in the U.S. over that period, and is only projected to continue upwards, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor.
But small dog owner Barbara Eaves of Montgomery does not believe it is just about fewer women giving birth, but that women and men are waiting longer to get married.
"I think there are other factors," said Eaves, who is single and owns two dachshunds. "They are not just saying, 'I'm not going to have children, I'm going to get a small dog.' It may be the delay of marriage or what have you.
"When I was 25, I thought I was going to be married and have kids. But that's not the way that life worked out. The fact that I have two dogs are totally independent from that fact. It's just the result that is the same -- I have two dogs, and no children."
Eaves, 41, owns Creature Comforts Pet Sitting in Montgomery, and her two dachshunds, Scooter Dog and Lulu Belle who are 3 and 2 years old respectively. She doesn't know if the dogs fill a void from not having children.
"Life didn't work out that way," she said. "I didn't have a child. I probably treat my dogs more like children than someone with children would."
It could just be a coincidence that Americans are birthing fewer babies at the same time they are buying a lot more little dogs.
But there's pretty good reason to believe it isn't, Damian Shore, an analyst at market-research firm Euromonitor, told Quartz.
"There's definitely some replacement happening there," he stated.
One telling sign that the two are not entirely unrelated is that the same age groups that are forgoing motherhood are leading the small dog charge.
"Women are not only having fewer children, but are also getting married later. There are more single and unmarried women in their late 20s and early 30s, which also happens to be the demographic that buys the most small dogs," Shore stated in the article.
Pampering the dogs
There's also evidence people are treating their dogs a bit more like little humans these days. Premium dog food, the most expensive kind, has grown by 170 percent over the past 15 years, and now accounts for 57 percent of the overall dog food market.
Both Hogan and Eaves fall into the premium food category.
"My dogs even have insurance," she said, adding that although she might be older than the demographics that are cited, the way she raises her dogs have not changed.
Hogan said her dogs are spoiled, and that baths and grooming are considered "spa days.
"I don't have the financial responsibilities that people with children have. I figure I'll take in what I can afford and properly take care of them. I have realized that four is my limit, because anything after that and it gets a little crazy."
Small dog ownership isn't rising just because people want kid substitutes, according to the Quartz article. Some small dogs are also emblematic of a national migration to cities, where big dogs are harder to keep. Nearly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas.
But the national trend towards later motherhood is certainly playing its part. And those who treat their pooches and pugs like babies may be on to something. A study last year found that dogs form bonds of dependency with their owners not unlike the ones babies form with their parents.
"The dogs, they are my children," Hogan said. "They may get treated better than some children. I have one Spaniel who has a cardiologist in Birmingham. So we see the cardiologist once a year."
Hogan's first Springer Spaniel was named Spot. He passed away when Hogan was 30. And Hogan, who offers pet-sitter services through her company Whiskers and Wags Pet Services, volunteers her time with three rescues: National Brittany Rescue and Adoption Network, English Springer Rescue America and Hotel Pitbulls.
Aside from the dogs she fosters, she has Patti, a 7-year-old Springer; Wilson, a 6-year-old German shepherd mix; Zoe, a 6-year-old pit bull; and Dolly.
Eaves said the choices in dog size might be different when you're single versus married with children. But still, that is hard for her to determine since she does not have children.
"I think if a woman wants children, she's going to always wish she had them," she added. "I don't wish I could have one now. I'm 41. I wish I had had one, and whether I have a small dog or not is not going to change that. But I do love them very, very much."
ON THE RISE
Since 1999 the population of small dogs has more than doubled in the United States, a trend that is expected to continue.