Greg Erlandson

My wife and I have taken to watching the population boom of dogs in commercials. Have you noticed they are everywhere? Dogs are the new children, but better groomed.

Pet food sales in the United States top $28 billion a year, more than the U.S. government spends on non-military foreign aid to the rest of the world.

Dogs are not just being trotted out to sell bags of Pedigree or Iams. Increasingly, dogs are making appearances in ads selling other products, from cars to psoriasis drugs. They are guaranteed to inspire the warm and fuzzing feeling that marketers want associated with their products.

That advertising is going to the dogs tracks with our experience of families, young couples and singles. Talk around the water cooler is as likely to be about pets as kids. Folks are spending a fortune on anti-anxiety drugs for their animals, for hip replacements and kennels, for doggie play groups and for pet therapy. All totaled, Americans spend more than $65 billion on Fido and Fluffy.

Lots of baby boomer grandparents-in-waiting can tell you about their offspring who may be delaying pregnancy (and marriage), but who like the pitter-patter of little feet around the house. Vacations home to visit Mom and Dad now include elaborate arrangements for the housing of the pets at kennels, or they are brought along on the trip because they suffer from separation anxiety.

Often referred to as “the kids,” pets now have their own greeting card lines. Check it out this coming Mother’s Day. My favorite: “You make me want to be a better cat.” Surely a sentiment no cat has ever felt.

So amid this allergen-saturated love fest with our furry friends, let me, as a parent and perhaps-someday-grandparent, make the case for kids.

— Ignore all the bogus statistics about how much children cost. Those astronomical numbers are meant to scare you sterile, but they have no connection to reality. The truth is: It works out, whether it’s braces, first car or college. It just takes patience, faith and a little ingenuity.

— Pets are cute, but children are fascinating. Mine are all barreling toward full adulthood, and I find them even more interesting now than when they were learning how to throw a football or master a math problem or discussing Harry Potter. I want to hear their thoughts on life and love and what’s showing at the Cineplex, and of course share mine.

— Kids help us to grow in love. They are designed to inspire our most protective feelings at birth, but that is just the beginning. Through them we learn how to sacrifice ourselves for others.

We learn to up our game — giving them examples of discipline and forgiveness. We learn humility, for they expose our weaknesses and shortcomings as well. They teach us that love is not zero sum, but grows exponentially.

— Children teach us about empathy. They say no parent is happier than his saddest child, and it’s true. To see a child suffer — whether from a skinned knee, a breakup or a business failure — is to share that suffering with them. And that is love, too.

— And for all you actuaries out there, the truth is that kids live longer than dogs and cats. God willing, we get to walk through the rest of our lives with them, which is what makes families so amazing (and occasionally maddening).

Pets are nice, but what all of us grandparents-in-waiting want to say is that children are God’s wonderful gift. And it is a gift that keeps on giving.

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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at gerlandson@catholicnews.com.