Orignal Pet RockCredit: Photo courtesy of http://animaltheory.blogspot.com/2012/03/pet-rock-invasion.html

Dogs and cats may be the most popular pets in the United States, but what about those who want a pet but can’t have one for one reason or another? There have been numerous alternatives over the years to real live pets.  Some fake pets were short-lived fads while some still endure. 

 Pet Rocks a Brief Fad

 In the mid-1970s pet rocks made their appearance and found a place in many homes.  In 1975 advertising executive, Gary Dahl of Los Gatos, California, came up with the idea of pet rocks while listening to his friends complain about their pets.  Initially, it started as a joke as he told his friends a pet rock was the perfect pet, needing little care and attention.  Eventually, the idea took hold and Dahl developed an instruction manual full of puns and play on words referring to the rock as an actual pet.  The ordinary gray rocks came in a “pet cardboard box” with holes for breathing and straw for bedding.   A training manual was included with instructions on the proper care for the Pet Rock and also how to teach the new pet some tricks.

 The fad continued for about six months with sales of 1.5 million Pet Rocks and made Dahl a millionaire.  The original Pet Rocks are collectors’ items now; they are no longer manufactured or sold.   However, in 2009 Martin Abrams of the Mego Corporation bought the rights to the Pet Rock and began manufacturing and selling a new line of Pet Rocks.

 Chia Pets Endure

 Another alternative to a live animal pet is the Chia Pet.  Since Chia pets are living plants, they do take more care than a Pet Rock.  Chia Pets are terra cotta figurines used to sprout chia.  When the chia grows, Chia PetCredit: Photo courtesy of http://www.buying-chia-pets.com/chia-pet.htmlwithin a couple of weeks, the plant resembles the fur or hair of the animal.  The first Chia Pet was created in 1977 and was called Chia Guy.  The pet didn’t actually make an appearance until a ram was released in 1982.  The ram was widely marketed and became quite popular. Over the years, many other animals followed including a turtle, a pig, a puppy, a bunny, and a kitten.

 The Chia craze continued and other figurines were added as others were discontinued.  Now, not only pets, but film and cartoon characters as well as well-known people have been available as Chias.    Chias are usually only sold during the holiday season and as of 2007, annual sales of about 500,000 were reported.   Chia Pets were originally manufactured in Mexico, but now are produced in China.

 Digital Age Pets

 As technology advanced, so did the notion of artificial pets—enter the virtual pet.  In 1996 in Japan, Akihiro Yokoi of WiZ and Aki Maita of Bandai created a handheld digital pet called Tamagotchi.   This virtual pet is the size of a keychain and is really a type of game with a backstory.  The Tamagotchi is a small alien and an egg was deposited on earth to observe life.  TheVirtual Pets – TamagotchiCredit: photo courtesy of Elleana player’s objective is to raise the creature from egg to adulthood.   How the creature grows depends upon the care the owner gives it.  Gameplay varies between models with some requiring less care than others.

 The game entails all the attributes of a live pet; it needs feeding and cleaning and can die from ill treatment or old age.  Once the pet dies, the game can be restarted.  The pet grows from the egg into a child stage, a teenage stage and an adult stage.  Newer models have added a senior stage as well.  Each stage lasts from one hour (infant stage) to several days.  The pet can become sick and require medicine, or can “act out” and need discipline.

 By 2009 there were 44 models of the Tamagotchi pet.  Sales reports show as of 2010 over 76 million of the virtual pets have been sold worldwide.  The Tamagotchi pet made way for videos and animated films as well as music.

 It was perhaps the Tamagotchi that inspired the Neopets website.  More than a site for simply caring for a virtual pet, Neopets quickly gained popularity.  The website allows the player to create and care for the virtual pets that inhabit the virtual world of Neopia.   Food, clothes, toys and accessories for their pets can be bought with Neopoints or Neocash. Neocash is purchased with actual money or specific events that reward users with Neocash.  Neopoints are earned through playing games, winning contests, investing in the game’s stock market or trading.

 The Neopet craze spawned a book series, a magazine, real world plusheies, cereal and other types of merchandise.  The site was praised for its educational content such as word games and is highly ranked in regards to how long visitors stay on the site.

 Virtual pets are an option for those who can’t have a pet or don’t want the responsible of caring for a live animal.  But nothing can compare to a warm greeting from a dog wagging its tail or a cat wrapping its body around legs after a long day at work.






The copyright of the article “Whatever Happened to Pet Rocks” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.