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By Rikki Cheese, news anchor for KTNV, Channel 13

“You don’t have any kids.” Those words from my sister are one of the reasons why I’ve become a Pet Mom.

Maybe my advice was unsolicited from the day my niece and nephew were born, but that statement irked me. I helped raise her and many other women’s children.

I am nurturing, and I wanted to start a family of my own. To test the waters before becoming a single parent, I adopted a puppy—a huge Akita puppy. Akitas don’t stay small for very long. One day he weighed 10 pounds. The next day he weighed 130. OK. I’m exaggerating. But he seemed to bulk up overnight.

That’s when I got it. It’s easy to criticize someone else’s parenting if you’re not doing it yourself. Midnight feedings. Whining. Pooping. Grooming. Training. Challenging conversations.

“After all, they were my kids. They just happened to have four legs, fur and fangs. I knew I was in pretty deep when I started calling the two I have now ‘the babies…”

I did what so many parents do with their first-born. I disciplined Tundra like a drill sergeant. After all, he was an extension of me. He had to be perfect. I raised him, but I should have taken more time to just enjoy him.

I tried to make up for that mistake with my second Akita. Sean-Michael was so spoiled; he once walked away from teriyaki prime rib. He sniffed it, flipped his tail and walked away with an attitude. That’s when I realized I was anthropomorphizing. It’s a tongue-twisting term for treating an animal as if it is human.

As my sister did with me, I resented and rejected all advice on how to raise Tundra and Sean-Michael. After all, they were my kids. They just happened to have four legs, fur and fangs. I knew I was in pretty deep when I started calling the two I have now “the babies,” but I am far from alone.

Americans are increasingly treating pets like children, and spending on them the same way.

How many of us have pictures of our fur-kids on our smart phones? I spent a fortune on professional studio photos because my tribe is notoriously hard to shoot. My co-workers have photos of their two-legged kids in their cubicles. Pictures of my four-legged ones surround my work area.

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Their insurance premiums are higher than mine. Getting them groomed costs more than getting my hair done. Socializing them took five sleepless months of carting them to doggie day care separately, then together. Special turf adorns the backyard so they can play without getting too dirty. Baby gates inside keep them safe.

Other families spend evenings and weekends at sporting events. We practice at PetSmart and take field trips to Fremont Street downtown. We have play dates. We hang out at a dog gym and the dog park. Akira likes to shop for makeup at Sephora. Apollo prefers the dollar stores.

Now that I’m a Pet Mom, I can appreciate what my sister was really saying.

Children are a lot of work. So are puppies.

Rikki Cheese Rikki Cheese co-hosts Valley View Live weekdays from 2 to 3 p.m. and Action News Live from 3 to 4 p.m. She also anchors live updates on Action News at 5, 6 and 6:30 p.m. Contact her at rcheese@ktnv.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lasvegasrikkic

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