Mar 25, 2020

Why Aren’t House Pets Considered in the Census?

Some Indoor Meditations During Pandemic Season

By Ed Goldman

Why are house-pets considered to be part of our families except when things get official, like for the 2020 Census?

First, some background. I gladly stayed inside to work on my census questionnaire on-line during this pandemical year, when a rallying cry like “Stand Up And Be Counted” should probably have been replaced by “Stay In And Be Counted.” But this had less to do with the coronavirus than my distaste at having census takers come to my door, (which is what they’ll do if I don’t email the form in time). 

I don’t even like it when friends come to my door, unless I’m expecting them. And even then, I get leery about letting them in. How do I know they’re not cleverly disguised zombies? I may be watching the Syfy cable channel too frequently. 

But more than census takers or the undead, the people I really can’t abide when they come to my door are religious acolytes who start their chats by saying, “Good morning. Do you know you’re going to Hell?” 

Last time this happened I reacted by glancing desperately at my wristwatch, hitting myself in the forehead with the heel of my hand and saying, “You’re right, and I’m late! ‘Bye!” Then I slammed the door, hoping: (a) they’d assume I kept my car in the back, which would be why they wouldn’t see me gunning it past them to the aforementioned destination; (b) they wouldn’t linger on my doorstep too long arguing with each other about which freeway would be the more expedient choice to get to Hell.

Osborn calmly awaits the IRS auditor

By the way, this happened two months ago. Exactly as I’ve described it. Swear to God.

Anyway, it’s been kind of fun to fill out the questionnaire in the relative sterility of my own home. I say “relative” sterility because I have a litter box on each of my condo’s two stories—and while my cat, Osborn the Magnificent, has learned at 17.75 years old to think inside them, he still has this compunction to kick up the clean sand in them after an apparently satisfying interlude. He must think he’s in one of those old comic book ads where a bully kicks sand in the face of what used to be called “a 98-pound weakling.” (Now they’re called successful KETO dieters.) 

In any event, this occasionally makes the floors in the immediate vicinity of the boxes reminiscent of those you’d find in a family-vacation beach house. All that would be needed to complete the tableau would be brightly colored little pails and shovels. And a 98-pound weakling, natch.

Filling out the census form on the government website—which was working just great, compared to Amazon’s, where I tried to buy My Beloved Kim a collection of Julia Childs DVDs only to be told my password not only didn’t exist but never did and never will—made me wonder why Osborn doesn’t qualify as a member of my household. 

For example, I’ve never been able to declare him as a dependent or deduct his medical bills, which hit $8,350 in 2019, from my income taxes. 

To be fair, I can understand the government’s not allowing me to write off extra kibble as an entertainment expense if Osborn gets stuck sharing dinner with the dog a guest of mine has appeared at my door with (“I thought it was high time Osborn and you met Mister Monkey-Pants!”). In that instance, even if I graciously put out some Velveeta and Saltines for my guest, Osborn would be the one doing the serious entertaining (dinner) so it’d be his deduction to claim, not mine. But since he brings in zero income each year, I’m sure the paperwork would be more trouble than it’s worth (much like trying to buy a collection of Julia Childs DVDs from Amazon. Or did I mention that already?).

I was about to ponder this further but I got an alert on my phone that the 1989 film classic, “Chopper Chicks in Zombietown,” was about to start—which, as you can imagine, made me temporarily abandon my census.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).