Michael Schaffer never expected to have a dog that gobbled antidepressants, said Claire Suddath in Time. When the former war reporter and his wife headed to a shelter to pick up their Saint Bernard, Schaffer vowed not to become a pet coddler. But things change. “We had jobs, and we had this dog at home,” he says. After neighbors complained about the dog yapping all day, Schaffer consulted a vet who diagnosed the problem as separation anxiety and then recommended a pill. It was then that Schaffer decided he wanted to learn more about America’s tendency to treat its pets as if they were children. His first book, One Nation Under Dog, gently absolves the entire trend.

Schaffer no longer feels apologetic about his purchases of puppy pharmaceuticals. “The measure of what is ridiculous is a very moving target,” he says. The main reason U.S. spending on pets has skyrocketed in the past 15 years, he says, is that the creatures fill a real need for companionship. If that boom had been driven primarily by an increase in disposable income, he argues, it would have begun far earlier. The real triggers, Schaffer wrote in The Boston Globe, are the rises in empty-nesters, unattached singles, and two-career families. “The dog in the mohair sweater,” he says, “is less a symptom of a gilded age than a reflection of a lonelier one.”