Pampering the Pets, and Then Some

Owners Lavishing Luxury Items, From Unisex Pillows to Hip Replacements

LONDON, JUNE 5, 2004 ( Spending on pets seems to have no limits these days. Last year, British pet owners spent a staggering 11.23 billion pounds ($20 billion) on cats and dogs alone, the newspaper Independent reported Wednesday. While food accounted for majority of this, 1.75 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) went on treats and presents. These figures are on the rise, despite a decline in the number of pet owners.

Not only are people spending more money on their pets, but services previously reserved for people are now springing up for pets. The Independent reported that British canines will soon be able to enjoy the United Kingdom’s first yoga workshops for dogs.

“As both men and women spend more on their own clothes, hair care and cosmetics, so they want to spend more on their pets,” said Dan Thomas, head of grooming at Pet Pavilion, the company that is introducing “doga.” “It’s like sending your child to a better school — it’s simply another way of upgrading your lifestyle.”

Catriona Marshall, the marketing director of Pets at Home, said: “For many people, owning a pet has become like having a new baby, and that’s how pet companies are now treating it, too.”

In the United States, an increasing number of options are available for people who want to treat their pets to a special holiday, the Christian Science Monitor reported Tuesday. In California, the Loews Beverly Hills Hotel will arrange for a chef to prepare pet meals. And in Wisconsin and Colorado, camping sites organize special days for activities dedicated to pets. Other activities available include an aquarium in Florida where pets are given guided tours.

“The travel industry has begun to tap into that deeper sense of companionship between pet lovers and their pets,” commented Tierra Griffiths, spokeswoman for the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

U.S. pet owners spent $32.4 billion last year on their pets, and companies are eager to share in this market, the Monitor noted. The pet population in the country has reached 353 million, with around 62% of households owning at least one pet.

Another booming market for pets is presents. In time for Christmas last year, the film studio Warner Brothers came out with a luxury range of clothes, the British newspaper Telegraph reported Nov. 11. The collection, launched in London, includes a 900-pound ($1,650) satin dog coat studded with Swarovski crystals and lined in pink silk, and a diamond-encrusted platinum dog-collar pendant costing 12,000 pounds ($22,100). There are also crystal-studded collars and leads (629 pounds, or $1,150, a set), dog bowls (379 pounds), travel cases, and “unisex” pillows and beds.

“Sales of pet accessories are phenomenal,” said a spokesman for Warner Brothers. “A lot of people are delaying having children, and spending money on their dogs and cats instead.” The studio, noted the Telegraph, is not alone. Gucci sells a gold-plate diamante-studded cat collar for 605 pounds ($1,111), and Louis Vuitton a pet carrier for 790 pounds. Collection designer Eric Way employs a full-time nanny to look after his two Shih Tzus and one bichon frisé.

Health costs spiral

And increasingly hefty sums are being spent on health care costs for pets. In Australia, the Animal Referral Hospital in Sydney is flourishing, the Age newspaper of Melbourne reported March 26. It started five years ago with 10 staff members and now has 90, said a founding partner, Dr. Sarah Goldsmid.

“We do a vast number of high-end cases, really critical cases,” Goldsmid said. “We do total hip replacements, we do spinal surgery, we do difficult fractures, cancer surgery, chest surgery, that sort of thing. Now we’re at a level where we can do MRIs and CAT scans on animals. We also provide radiation therapy.”

And when all else fails, San Francisco-based Genetic Savings & Clone is offering to duplicate animals, for the modest price of about $50,000 a copy, Agence France-Presse reported March 28. The company that announced the world’s first cat clone in February 2002, plans to clone nine cats this year.

The firm has already received four firm orders for the copy cats and is also working hard to duplicate the genetic makeup of dogs. And the company already has a few hundred clients who are storing their pets’ genes in the hope of reviving their beloved furry companions’ genes at a later date.

Health care can even extend to psychological treatment, the British paper Independent noted Jan. 4. After attacking a maid and killing one of the Queen’s corgis, Princess Anne’s “troublesome” English bull terrier, Florence, was sent to see an animal psychologist. The psychologist had already treated another of Princess Anne’s dogs after an attack on two children in 2002. Psychologist Roger Mugford normally charges 293 pounds ($540) for two visits.

Bark mitzvahs

Spiritual needs are also being taken care of. At St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut, pets can now even receive Holy Communion as well as a special benediction, the Wall Street Journal reported March 10.

The Journal noted that with pews being increasingly hard to fill, some clergy are creating “pet-friendly worship services.” In some cases this even extends to making house calls for sick animals or accompanying pet owners to the vet when they euthanize a pet, not to mention officiating at pet funerals and group “bark mitzvahs.”

According to the Journal, after pet gravestones became one Petco’s most-requested products the company started selling memorial stones in 2002. The greeting card company Hallmark has introduced cards with spiritual imagery to its lines of pet sympathy cards. The sympathy cards are sent to pet owners when their animals die; annual sales are now half a million. Meanwhile, Skylight Paths has just published a book called “What Animals Can Teach Us About Spirituality.”

Sometimes animals can even be given precedence over human worshippers, BBC reported April 24. St. Hilda’s in Ellerburn, North Yorkshire, may be forced to close after an invasion by Natterer’s bats.

The church dates back more than a thousand years, but under European law it is an offense to damage, destroy or obstruct an access used by bats. The church vicar, Reverend Dave Clark, says the bats are driving his parishioners away and without a congregation the church would close. The church stands on a site thought to have been occupied by a monastery founded by St. Aidan in A.D. 647.

Double standard?

Nobody wants to deny people the enjoyment of having pets. But some observers think things have gone a bit far, as a Jan. 15 report in the London-based Times indicated. Members of a family in Spain were found guilty of abandoning their grandmother. They were fined 240 euros — only about a tenth the punishment for illegally disposing of a pet.

In June 2002 the 86-year-old grandmother had been dumped by one of her daughters at the side of a road. Subsequently a court in Barcelona found that the four family members were capable of looking the woman, who suffers from senility. Shortly before the judgment, the regional Catalan government introduced a law making the abandonment of animals punishable by a fine of up to 20,000 euros ($24,500).

And while animals can look forward to organ transplants in Britain, attempts to bring legal action after a 28-week-old fetus was aborted because it suffered from a cleft lip have so far been unsuccessful. According to the Telegraph on May 9, Joanna Jepson, the Church of England curate who initiated a legal challenge to the abortion, has agreed to a police request to postpone her High Court action. Shades of Animal Farm indeed.

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