Pampered Pets: People treating animals more like children

The amount of money Americans spend on their pets has nearly doubled over the past decade, and several local business owners are benefiting from that.

Pet owners in the United States spent about $17 billion on their animals in 1994 and are expected to spend $34.3 billion this year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the industry’s leading trade association.

The anticipated $34.3 billion includes animals’ food, medical needs, grooming and new services, such as day care, acupuncture and pet insurance.

Tammie Cross was worried she wouldn’t have customers for the doggie day care and dog birthday parties she began offering last year through Fun and Games Dog Training in Sycamore. Instead, she found several clients and now cares for eight to 16 dogs a day.

She said many people bring their dogs to her because they don’t want them left alone all day while their masters are at work.

” Many people are treating animals more like children,” said Jen Bond, a receptionist at the Malta Veterinary Hospital. She believes most people have shifted from seeing dogs and cats as farm workers to part of the family because people are postponing starting families or are having smaller families.

Jenny Kingren, owner of Huckleberry’s Pet Parlor in Sycamore, said she’s noticed how the majority of dogs used to sleep in barns or doghouses. Now, many sleep inside with their masters.

“I’ve always felt like that about my animals, but my dad’s from the generation where dogs belong outside,” Kingren said.

Dan White’s Boston terrier sleeps in bed with him and his wife.

The owner of Pets and More Inc. in Sycamore said people are beginning to realize that their pets are better investments than spending the money elsewhere because pets offer companionship and security and they give back.

” People are realizing that dogs are loyal and that if you take good care of your pet, it will be more loyal to you than anyone else,” he said.

The public’s shifting sentiment toward pets also has brought about change in veterinary medicine.

“People are more likely now to bring their pets in at the first sign of anything out of the ordinary,” Bond said. She has gotten phone calls from people who wondered whether their pets were ill or needed to see a veterinarian because they had sneezed a single time.

Dr. David Emmert, co-owner of Prairie View Animal Hospital in DeKalb, said that since he began practicing in DeKalb nearly 15 years ago, pet owners have become willing to spend more and drive farther to specialists for their pets’ health. Some even have gotten health insurance for their pets.

Emmert refers some patients looking for alternative medical treatments for their pets to a veterinary clinic in Grayslake that offers acupuncture, herbal therapy and chiropractic adjustments.

Although few clinical studies have been done on these techniques, many clients have told him the procedures worked well for their animals, he said.

People appear to be taking better care of their pets, said Janet Ott, a DeKalb County Animal Control officer. She said the county has seen a reduction in the number of strays and calls about cases of animal neglect.

A part of caring for animals is grooming and putting the right collar on them, Cross said, adding that this has become a way of pampering pets. Her dogs wear special collars, such as a pink jeweled collar she had on her “baby” last week.

“They offer companionship and unconditional love, so we’re going to pamper them,” she said. As people find more ways to pamper themselves, it’s natural that they also will find ways to pamper their pets, she said.

Many stores that carry Halloween costumes also have costumes for dogs, Kingren said. Clothing stores such as Old Navy carry decorative collars or bandanas for pets, and even Playboy sells dog collars now, she said.

Dog owner and trainer Marcia Poff doesn’t think people can get too excessive in caring for and pampering their pets.

“If it makes you feel good and your pet feel good, go ahead,” she said.

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