Pampered Pets, Hungry Kids

When Fido Can Enjoy $170-a-Night Hotels and Lavish Health Care

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LONDON, DEC. 17, 2005 ( Spending on pets is skyrocketing. Animal owners in the United Kingdom will spend around 85 million pounds ($150 million) on Christmas gifts for their pets, the Scotsman newspaper reported Nov. 19. The figure came from a survey conducted by Churchill Insurance. The firm estimated nearly 70% of pet owners will buy gifts for their animals this year.

And for owners planning to go away for the holidays, there is always the option of a pet hotel. In Japan a five-star hotel for animals opened recently, the British newspaper Guardian reported Dec. 1.

Located at Tokyo’s Narita airport, the Pet Inn Royal has 170 rooms, as well as cages for those on a lower budget. Veterinary and grooming services are available, as well as an exercise field and staff who will look after the pets 24 hours a day.

The rate for a standard cage starts at around 4,000 yen ($34) a night, rising to 20,000 yen ($170) for a deluxe suite — about twice the price of a room at a midrange hotel for humans, noted the Guardian. All rooms have air conditioning and purifiers. According to the report Japan has around 19 million pets — more than the number of children under 15 — and the pet care industry is worth around $8.8 billion a year.

Pets can also find hotels in the United States. PetSmart had set up a string of 20 Petshotels in its stores, according to an Aug. 3 report in the British-based Financial Times.

In fact, the United States is seeing a veritable boom in the pet industry, the New York Times reported Nov. 16. The lucrative sector is attracting large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, in addition to smaller specialized firms such as Petco and PetSmart.

Petco has about 765 stores and 17,000 employees and will have opened 90 new stores by year-end, according to Kevin Wayland, a company spokesman. PetSmart has more than 750 stores and is opening almost 20 new ones each quarter.

According to the New York Times, the pet supply industry is now worth $37 billion. U.S. retail sales of pet supplies, not including food and services, were $8.5 billion in 2004, compared with $6.2 billion spent on baby-care supplies. Pet supply sales are growing 7% annually, while sales of baby supplies are decreasing. And the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, a trade group in Connecticut, now has nearly 900 members, compared with just over 500 three years ago.

The Times noted that when Hurricane Katrina forced the evacuation of New Orleans, many people refused to leave without their pets. Since then, several members of Congress have proposed legislation requiring consideration of pets in future evacuation plans.

Health services

Big money is also being spent in health care for pets. In Australia some owners now have the opportunity to use the country’s first dedicated magnetic resonance imaging machine for pets, the Melbourne-based Herald-Sun newspaper reported Oct. 20.

From the machine’s arrival in July to the time of the article, more than 60 cats and dogs had gone through the apparatus, at a cost of more than $1,200-Australian (US $908) a time. One of the customers, Steve Kastelic, used the images from the scanner to treat his German shepherd for a tumor. Kastelic estimated that he would end up paying about $12,000-Australian (US $9,082) for the scans, surgery and chemotherapy.

«We spend on our pets as if there’s no tomorrow,» commented Rachel Johnson in the Oct. 8 issue of the British weekly Spectator, «and we lavish on them a level of care and comfort that the elderly in our care homes can only envy.» In fact, she noted, there is a leveling of status between owners and their pets, or, as they are increasingly called, «animal companions.»

In some cases pets are even better off, as pet medical insurance covers almost everything. Human medical insurance, by comparison, covers an ever-diminishing amount of ailments. Animal medical coverage will even extend to treatment for behavioral problems. And when it is all over, there are even pet crematories and cemeteries.

But even with insurance, pet owners face hefty bills. Veterinarians’ fees are rising at an average of 12% a year, and insurance costs are climbing, the British newspaper Telegraph reported April 27. Premiums for dogs range from 50 to 500 pounds ($88 to $881) a year, depending on the breed and age of the animal, and the level of coverage.

Cats are also costly. The Telegraph cited a survey by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, showing that the cost of owning a cat is about 9,500 pounds ($16,800) over its lifetime. This includes all costs, not just health expenses.

And costs are set to rise, as ever-more sophisticated treatments appear. Darrell and Nina Hallett of Washington state, for instance, spent $45,000 on a stem cell transplant for their golden retriever, the Associated Press reported April 7. The treatment was for cancer. The couple dedicated months to tracking down blood relatives of the dog, to find donors.

For those who don’t have the money to look after their pets, help is on the way from animal shelters that have recently received a big donation. The June 9 issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that Dave Duffield, founder of the software company PeopleSoft, and his wife, Cheryl, have donated $93 million to a foundation they established in 1999 to promote the well-being of pets.

They had previously donated $200 million to the foundation. The funds will be used to expand grants of the foundation — Maddie’s Fund — whose main task is to discourage animal shelters from euthanizing healthy cats and dogs. As of August 2004, the Alameda, California-based foundation had already awarded $33 million over five years.

Children in need

Many children are not so well looked after. On Wednesday, UNICEF released a report entitled «The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible.» In a press conference in London, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman commented, «There cannot be lasting progress if we continue to overlook the children most in need — the poorest and most vulnerable, the exploited and the abused.»

The report explained that children are disproportionately represented among the poor, since the least developed countries tend to have the youngest populations. Poor children are also more likely to miss out on an education and, as a result, on the opportunity to generate a decent income that would allow them to escape poverty in the future.

According to the report, more than 1 billion children suffer from one or more extreme forms of deprivation in adequate nutrition, safe drinking water, decent sanitation facilities, health-care services, shelter, education and information.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has some useful guidelines concerning the question of how much attention and resources should be devoted to pets, and to humans. In No. 2416 it says we owe animals kindness as they are God’s creatures.

But No. 2418 warns it is «unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery.» Moreover, the text explains, while one can love animals, «one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.» Spoil the beast, maybe, but first spare the child.

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