On Dec. 25, many Kenai Peninsula residents may be saying "hairy Christmas," because this holiday season owners are pampering their pooches and catering to their cats in a myriad of new ways.
The latest statistics show an increasing trend toward the inclusion of pets in the family unit. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) National Pet Owners Survey, 53 percent of America's dog owners purchase Christmas gifts for their canines.
"Many owners see their pets as true companions with very human-like qualities and reward them as they would good friends," Funda Alp, spokesperson for APPMA, said. "Consumers shouldn't be surprised at the large number of pet owners across the country who regularly include the names of their birds, cats, dogs and reptiles on the holiday gift lists they write out each season."
Indulging pets has become an American phenomenon. Americans are expected to spend an estimated $30 billion on their pets this year, up from the $28.5 billion spent last year, and nearly double the $17 billion spent in 1994.
The recent survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) found that 55 percent of respondents bought at least four gifts per year, and 44 percent purchase souvenirs for their pets while on vacation.
In another study conducted by Pet Supplies Plus, 28 percent of those surveyed said they spent more on their pets' Christmas present than they did on their spouse's.
"It's been amazing," said Dianna Taplin, owner of Cad-Re Pet Supply in Soldotna, when referring to the increase in holiday business. "We've got something for just about every category of animal."
"For cats, Matanuska and Arctic catnip is one of the top selling items for Christmas every year," Taplin said. "For birds, millet is always a big hit."
Dog owners will be happy to know there are several new items this year. The "Chuckit" device allows dog owners to play fetch without having to touch the slobbered on ball.
"Greenies are extremely popular," Taplin said while holding up the pea-colored, toothbrush-shaped dog treat. "It cleans their teeth and freshens their breath. My dogs will just help themselves to them."
There also is a diversity of new collars, leashes and other standard items for sale, including skijoring and mushing equipment.
The increased amount Americans are spending on their pets could be attributed to the growing dependence they're placing on animals as companions, rather than just pets isolated to the backyard and given only occasional interaction.
Many owners have admitted to their pets filling a void other humans can't occupy.
The recent State of the American Pet Survey, compiled by Nestle Purina PetCare, showed just how strong the bond between humans and animals is. Among dog owners, 95 percent of respondents said they pet and hug their dog daily, 92 percent play with their dog daily, 45 percent have taken their dog on vacation, and 43 percent have celebrated their dog's birthday.
Statistics for cat owners were slightly lower but still comparable with 91 percent saying they pet and hug their cat daily, 85 percent play with their cat daily, 16 percent have taken their cat on vacation, and 29 percent have celebrated their cat's birthday.
A separate AAHA survey found 70 percent of respondents view their pet as they do their own child. A third of pet owners admitted to talking to their pets on the phone or through an answering machine when they are away from home.
There are even books dedicated to taking pets from the doghouse to the penthouse. A recently published book by author Margaret Svete, "116 Ways To Spoil Your Dog," covers everything from obtaining a driver's license for you dog to getting them braces.
According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc., the top trends in pet gifts fall into 10 categories.
The first being "luxury," which includes high-end fabrics and gilded packaging that adorns a variety of pet products, bedding, apparel and gourmet treats.
"Natural" is another category and includes earth-conscious products, including all-natural treats and bedding materials and apparel made from hemp fibers.
Cute doesn't even begin to describe how Darby, a wall-eyed Boston Terrier puppy, looks in his new Christmas sweater.
Photo by JOSEPH ROBERTIA
Salmon treats are a huge hit in Alaska. Taplin said "Tinytot" nutri-treats have been moving off the shelves quickly at Cad-Re.
"They're one of the most nutritious snacks you can get," she said.
"Hygiene" includes electric toothbrushes and mouthwash for dogs, pedicure perches for birds, and paw wipe mats and claw covers for cats.
A fourth category that is popular is "high-tech." Technology is radically influencing the pet industry with automatic feeders, radio-controlled doors, improved terrarium lighting sources, as well as digital aquarium maintenance reminder tools.
"Human look-alikes" are any of the number of pet products designed to mimic those in the human world, such as high-end designer perfumes and bone-shaped dog mints packaged like Altoids. "Yip-Yaps" mints for dogs were one of the hottest items for sale at Cad-Re, Taplin said.
Massagers and herbal teas lead the trend of "relaxation." Spas are even going to the dogs with multiple packages offered for pets.
"Business was booming over the Thanksgiving holiday," said Terri Eddens, a certified pet massage instructor and owner of Kenai K-9 Spa.
She expects to see business blossom even more at Christmas.
Products that make caring for companions easier like energy-saving aquarium pumps and self-cleaning litter boxes categorize "efficiency."
Accessories ranging from California chic to New York posh summarize the category of "fashion." Each year, pet apparel designers unveil their newest fabrics with favorites like faux fur and Burberry plaid knockoffs along with holiday and patriotic costumes for dogs, cats and even ferrets.
Pets are going more and more places with their owners, and "travel" gadgets are moving beyond traditional carriers and crates. Stylish and safe, transportation systems and harnesses now exist for all pet categories including rabbits, birds and hamsters.
"Personalization" is the final category and includes monogrammed apparel and feeding dishes, as well as edible cards for birthdays and the holidays.
All these gifts ideas can leave a pet owner wondering who owns whom, but lavishing pets on a grand scale can be fun.
However, at this time of year it's also important to remember less fortunate animals. Local animal shelters always are full of pets needing good homes.
Charitable donations in the form of funds or pet supplies or volunteering time at a local facility are ideas for holiday gifts and can even be given in the name of another.
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