Pet Economy: Americans Feed the Beast and Then Some
Life + Money

Pet Economy: Americans Feed the Beast and Then Some

Surf and turf coats for canines. Puppy perfumes. Braces for Buster. Eco-friendly bunkhouses with ventilation and year-round protection. Even psychotherapy, high-tech surgery, Take Your Dog to Work Day, and family plots at pet cemeteries that cost $10,000 for the land alone — not to mention casket, monument, flowers, maintenance and gorgeous grounds with plenty of room to reflect on the Pooch Who Loved You.

Recession or no recession, industry experts predict we'll spend $47.7 billion on goods and services for our feathered, furry and scaly friends this year, up from $45.5 billion in 2009.

Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association, says, “If it were a single retail segment according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it would be the seventh or eighth largest in the United States. Nothing’s too good for Fido or Sparky.”

It’s no wonder, given that more than 62 percent of U.S. households, or about 71.4 million homes, shelter one or more pets. One of those pet owners is 28-year-old Dan Hevia, a restaurant manager in Westchester County, N.Y., who with his fiancé owns a silver-haired, blue-eyed, 5-year-old Weimaraner.  “My dog is everything to me,” he says. “Jack is my kid. I worry about him more than I worry about myself.” 

At Work and On the Road
Seventy-five percent of dog owners said they’d work longer hours if they could have their pet at work, according to a CNN survey. That’s partly why Pet Sitters International, an educational group for professional pet sitters, started Take Your Dog to Work Day in 1999, held this week. The group sees the event as a great way “to increase adoptions of dogs by showing the dogless just how amazing their co-workers’ dogs are,” according to their site. One in five workplaces allows pets, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Even during travel, our pets get pampered. Best Western, the world’s largest hotel chain, offers more than 1900 pet-friendly hotels worldwide. The price of an overnight stay? That depends on location and on the dog’s size: For a 40-pound dog to stay overnight in Best Western’s Manhattan location, the cost is about $25, in addition to the usual room fee, according to a spokesperson. One thing the hotel won’t do: Walk your dog.

Even the pet burial business is pretty much immune to economic dips and downturns. "Maybe we don't take a trip to Las Vegas to play poker," says Ed Martin, director of the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Hartsdale, N.Y., the country's oldest pet cemetery, with more than 75,000 pets buried there since it opened in 1896. "But for some of us, this is the right thing to do."

Prices for land, casket, labor and annual maintenance fee for a burial plot run from $1700 to $5,000, generally speaking, says Martin, “with a variety of options people can choose from within this price range.” He says that most people choose the lower price option, and that still includes a casket, “along with a pillow and blanket.”

Why Happiness is a Warm Puppy
While my two dogs don’t own surf and turf coats, they do have sweaters for cold-weather walks. Their funny faces make me happy. Between walking them, feeding them, grooming them and caring for them, they are a lot of work and cost a lot of money. But they’re loyal companions and fun to be with. And they're legitimate members of our family (with presents under the tree every Christmas). Maybe next year I’ll splurge for a designer leash. 

Do you have a pampered pooch or feted feline?  Tell us about it, below.