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Pet-less Trump seen as classless for report he called Pence 'low-class' for having pets

As it turns out, people of all classes enjoy pets. They're not just for vice presidents and yokels.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, holding their pet rabbit Marlon Bundo.
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, holding their pet rabbit Marlon Bundo.Read more(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Vice President Pence and his family live with two cats, a rabbit, and a snake at their official residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington.

That makes them "low-class," according to his boss, who said that he was "embarrassed" by the menagerie, and who labeled the Pences "yokels," according to the Atlantic. Trump ridiculed the Pence pets to his secretary last January, according to an unnamed long-time adviser quoted in the story, which is in the magazine's current issue.

So now, President Trump — whose statements have offended immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, women, prisoners of war, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger — has insulted one of the most passionate (and numerous) subsets of Americans there is:

Pet people.

"Oh, you kind of expect something like this from him," hissed Ed Smith, 50, who had just treated his shih tzu, Frankie, to some kibble and Christmas presents from a Pet Smart at Boulevard Plaza in Northeast Philadelphia.  "Animals just make you love them, you know. They're just good."

For his part, James Serpell, professor of ethics and animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said, "Mr. Trump has got it wrong, " adding that pet ownership isn't "low-class" at all.

In fact, he said, owning an animal "has remained a respectable middle-class activity" since the 19th century.

And not just the middle class.

Museums are filled with paintings of the well-fed, well-to-do posing with their pets — mostly dogs, many of which were bred by kings, queens, and clergy — noted sociologist Linda Kalof of Michigan State University, editor of the Oxford Handbook of Animal Studies.

Nearly 64 percent of people who live in households making $85,000 a year or more own pets, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Overall, around two-thirds of American households have pets, said Leslie Irvine, a sociologist at the University of Colorado.

"People across the socio-economic spectrum love animals and have all kinds of pets," said Irvine, whose well-known book, My Dog Always Eats First, chronicles pet ownership among the homeless. "Even people with no resources find ways to take care of them."

We love and need animals, she said, because "pets are nonjudgmental and provide structure for our lives."

Dogs are the most popular of pets: Almost half of all U.S. households owns one, compared with  38 percent that own cats, according to the 2017 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association, a trade group. Forty-six percent of households are like the Pences — owners of multiple pets.

Horse owners have the highest average household incomes, followed by bird, fish, dog, and small-animal owners, the survey said.

Rural people often have dogs and cats to guard their property, and keep deer or mice away, said David Blouin, a sociologist and an expert on human-animal interactions at Indiana University. In the city, pets are more seen as family members, he said.

Jeane Brody, 58, of Wallingford, who fosters animals, said that Trump's apparent misunderstanding of pet-human bonding explains why he's one of the only presidents not to bring an animal companion into the White House.

"If you don't like pets, fine," said Brody, an adjunct art-history professor at Villanova University who volunteers for Providence Animal Center in Media. "But don't denigrate Pence for having them."

While historical records aren't completely accurate, it appears that James K. Polk, in office from 1845 to 1849, was the only other U.S. president who didn't have animals.

Other presidents made up for the Polk-Trump lack, however.

George Washington supposedly had eight dogs, a parrot, and a bunch of horses; Thomas Jefferson owned two bears and a mockingbird; Theodore Roosevelt oversaw a veritable zoo, including a laughing hyena, a badger, and 21 other creatures; while, for some reason, Herbert Hoover possessed two alligators. More modern presidents settled for cats and dogs.

One would-be president, Mitt Romney, was a dog owner, but he famously drew the ire of pet owners everywhere after they learned he'd once strapped a dog carrier containing his Irish setter, Seamus, to the roof rack of his Chevrolet station wagon.

As for Trump's reportedly calling his own vice president a yokel for liking animals, Temple University sociologist Matt Wray said the president was simply "projecting his own inferiority onto Pence," since the Queens-born Trump himself was seen as a yokel by the Manhattan elite "who never took him seriously."

It's not as though Trump has gone through life dog-less, of course. He did live for a time with Chappy, his first wife Ivana's poodle, she wrote in her memoir, Raising Trump.

"Donald was not a dog fan," she wrote. "And Chappy had an equal dislike of Donald."