When Business Comes Second, Behind Your Dog

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- So you've got a major business trip planned, been in the works for years and is coming to fruition in a week. Hotel rooms and venues are booked, The presentation has been well-rehearsed. Inventory is fully stocked and ready to start shipping product from the sales the tour will inevitably generate.

The home office and foreign partners are buzzing, ads are bought and paid for, announcing your arrival.

But then you realize the pet that has shared your home and your heart for the last decade or more is much, much weaker. The end is coming and soon, all the signs are there.

Leave now, you'll be gone for weeks. What do you do?

If you're Fiona Apple, the one-time teenage pop star turned mature, mercurial artiste, you cancel.

That's right. Cancel the tour.

In a moving four-page handwritten letter to fans posted on her Web site on Nov. 20, Apple announced she was postponing a tour of South America set to begin Nov. 27 because her pitbull, a rescue named Janet, who had been ill with a tumor for the last couple years, had worsened and was dying. Janet "has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life," Apple wrote.

The dog has Addison's Disease and requires regular Cortisol injections, making it dangerous for her to travel, Apple wrote. And the singer could not bring herself to leave her pet to die by herself or in the care of others.

"Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes to pick which socks to wear to bed," Apple wrote. "But this decision is instant . . . I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love and friendship."

In an article Dec. 1 in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Jessica Pierce notes that Apple's devotion to Janet is part of a larger trend.
More Americans now see themselves as living in a multispecies family...Surveys conducted by the pet industry have found that 70% of pet owners in the U.S. share a bed with their animal, a figure unsettlingly close to the percentage of people who share a bed with their spouse. And we show our devotion in how we spend. This year Americans will fork out an estimated $53 billion in caring for their pets.

That booming outlay in pet health care also translates into investment dollars, as noted Friday by TheStreet's Oliver Pursche in his article, Investments That Go to the Dogs (and Cats). Pursche points out that a customized pet stocks index has returned 25.8% over the last year.

At the close of her article, Pierce confesses, "I've spent more time in the kitchen cooking special meals for my dying dog than I spent cooking for the humans in the house -- and I know I am not alone. Crazy, maybe. But not alone."

I can sympathize with this perspective. Over the summer, it came time for my wife and me to put down not one, but two cats in the space of three months. Both pets had shared our home with us for over 10 years. I would have done just about anything to keep them alive -- except watch them suffer.

I've had plenty of time to get over it. I'm not over it.

But the real question here is how many business owners would go to the lengths that Apple did, sacrificing real bird-in-the-hand dollars for the intangible? Placed on the heartless scale of your company's revenue sheet, how much is your relationship with your pet really worth?

Now, to be perfectly cold about this, Fiona Apple is in a slightly different position than most entrepreneurs. She has sold many millions of albums and can sell a whole lot more completely by accident, as the headlines resulting from a September arrest in Texas on a drug possession charge illustrated.

Also, whether she intended it or not, her letter is at least partly a salvage operation, admirable from a clay-footed marketing perspective. By explaining in such honest, tender language, she will undoubtedly win new fans here while hopefully guaranteeing the loyalty of at least some those jilted by the cancelled shows.

In fact, given all the hoopla over the letter, it is quite possible she could, when she returns to touring, sell even more tickets, albums and merchandise than she would have done otherwise. Money lost in the short-term may be made up in the long.

We will never know, of course, because in the meantime Apple was nominated for a Grammy award for her January release, "The Idler Wheel . . . " (the full title is 23 words long). Win or lose, that publicity alone will ramp up sales.

All of this leads us back to the original question: Among readers of TheStreet, who would go to such lengths for a pet? What business owner would take such a personal gamble to be able to grieve alongside a dying, four-footed comrade?

We would love to hear from you in the comments for this article.

--Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park, N.J.

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