Puppy Love | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Opinion

Puppy Love

Taking a Gander: Where's the love for Utah's elderly?

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It's a familiar story. Junior and Missy are badgering their parents daily with a message that can't be set aside: "Daddy, Mommy, can't we get a puppy?" Though the parents are reluctant, Saturday morning finds the family at the local pet shop.

"Isn't he darling!" coos Missy, and Junior's making all the right declarations, too. "I'll take him for walks every day, and I'll clean up the grass after him. He's so cute." No one is more excited than the puppy; it leaves a yellow streak down Junior's T-shirt.

Mom and Dad are secretly worried—that their kids don't have any comprehension of just how much work a dog can be. But, then again, they can't say no to the fulfillment of a dream. The soft fragrance of puppy breath and the aroma of fabric softener is more than even they can resist, and they plunk down the wad of cash. For just a second, Dad seems to lose his enthusiasm. After a few cerebral calculations, he announces, "My God! That's $13 an ounce." Missy thrusts the puppy into Dad's arms, where the luxuriant softness seals the deal. He simply can't resist.

Well, that all sounds really good. Sure enough, not only do Junior and Missy do their share of the care; the whole family, parents included, are willing volunteers to lavish the puppy "Fido" with anything he desires. But, after about two years, nothing is the way it had been. Walks become infrequent, the back yard looks a bit messy and the dog chow routine is sorely monotonous.

The passage of time seems to have happened at an accelerated rate, and, before anyone was ready, the puppy graduated to an adult dog. He's not as soft as he was, and the piles he makes in the yard are commensurate with his 70-pound size. After only three years in the home, Fido understands the painful truth—that all good things come to an end. He's no longer the uncontested center of attention, and he's noticed that Dad is looking at him with the faint whisper of "Sushi!" under his breath. They still throw Fido the occasional bone, but, more often than not, he's an afterthought than a vital member of the pack.

When you study the state and regional fertility graphs, it's obvious Utah is a state where most everyone loves babies and full of world-class Olympic-quality coochie-coochie-coo-ers. While the Beehive State has the highest birthrate in the nation, just like with the puppy parable, getting older here often means blending into the woodwork. While Utah families do love their parents and grandparents, some older Utahns do get lost—at least from a legislative standpoint—in a state that commits most of its resources to the younger generation. The facts show, unmistakably, that older citizens are virtually marginalized by Utah, which, instead of giving special perks to seniors, doesn't do them any favors at all.

Considers the tax situation: Utah taxes all retirement earnings, including Social Security, while most other states don't. In some states, retirement earnings of under $65,000 per year aren't taxed at all.

While retirees should be enjoying our great outdoors facilities, there are few, if any, discounts for seniors. Almost all other states give their seniors either heavily discounted fishing and hunting licenses or a low-cost lifetime variety, Utah's aging pay like everybody else, and the benefit of not having to restrict recreational activities to the weekends—like younger folks—is offset by the fact that Utah's state parks don't give any campsite discounts, even if you were born the month before Methuselah. Gee willikers! Even the federal government gives a 50% discount to senior campers, but Utah does not—not one single dime. With an adjustment for the typically lower incomes of retirees, the current situation imposes, in effect, a discriminatory cost to the elderly.

Some of this has been proposed before, and a few bills, over the years, have addressed the subject, to no avail. One would think that, in a state where so much respect is given to the white-haired hierarchy that runs the show, Utah could do a much better job of helping its elderly.

Everyone comes into this world as an infant, and the transition to old age is inescapable. Living to a ripe old age shouldn't be punished. Lowering taxes and offering discounted recreation and camping at state parks would be a good start and is something the Utah Legislature should address.

The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog. Send comments to comments@cityweekly.net