Monday, December 25, 2006

55% of dog owners, 37% of cat owners buy presents for their animal friends

Like so many Americans, Woody Daniels hews to holiday tradition for his family, stuffing two stockings late on Christmas Eve when the house is quiet.“Winston gets all kinds of gifts, he's so spoiled. He'll get several kinds of treats, a bit of nip, and I'm getting him a stuffed mouse this year so he stops bringing me real ones,” said Daniels, who lives in North Park.

“And Buddy gets new tennis balls, food treats and some toys, including his favorite stuffed hamburger. They don't make that one anymore, so I keep putting the same one in his stocking year after year. He never seems to notice.”

Winston is a cat, Buddy a dog, and their owner is among millions of Americans who are including their pets as part of the family in holiday celebrations.

The 63 percent of U.S. households that own at least one pet will account for an estimated $38.4 billion in spending in 2006, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

A significant chunk of that will be spent around the holidays. A survey done by the association found that 55 percent of dog owners and 37 percent of cat owners planned to buy their pets holiday presents this year.

A great deal more money and effort will be invested in cute photos, processing and postage as the holiday greetings of untold numbers of families are sent in the form of cards bearing images not of them or their kids, but of their pets.

And some dogs and cats have somehow initiated gift exchanges. Darby and Cadha, a pair of cairn terriers who live in Ocean Beach, were busy last week wrapping gifts, with the help of their owner, Dee McMillen, for relatives back East.

“This year my dogs are sending Fortune Snookies, fortune cookies for dogs,” McMillen said, as the dogs took a break to work out with a tennis ball.

“They have cute sayings, like: 'What happens at the dog park stays at the dog park'; and 'You had me at, Here, boy!' They're sending them to their cousins in Michigan,” she said.

“They've already opened their own presents – rope toys this year. They love them.”

Not everyone is crazy about the idea of buying gifts for dogs and cats, however.

“Dear Abby” got a letter this month from the mother in a struggling Alaska farm family of four whose sister-in-law insisted the couple buy gifts for her dog and wrap them, “because the dog likes opening packages!”

“I told her we don't ask people to purchase gifts for our kids, and we don't purchase gifts for other people's pets,” the mom wrote. “Now she's offended.” (Abby sided with the mom.)

Yet, many pet owners wouldn't think of letting the holidays pass without presents for the family pooch or puss.

On a shopping spree last week at Muttropolis, a high-end pet-gift shop in La Jolla, Sondra Gemmill and her mixed-breed Sadie paid particular attention to the multiflavored chew sticks.

“Sadie is absolutely part of our family,” Gemmill said, sampling a “human grade,” scone-like Harvest Apple treat herself. “We'll have smoked turkey for dinner and she will, too – a little bit, anyway.”

Gemmill, who also has a cat named Ollie, was willing to spend a few bucks on “bully sticks” and other chews. But she passed on the $209 collars embedded with crystals, and the $275 top-end dog bed.

“Feel that fabric,” said Johanna Karcher of the sales staff. “It's made of chenille fabric and is supposed to look like a powder puff. These beds are very popular; we're on our second shipment of these.”

For those interested in sending Christmas cards with photos of their dogs, Puptown Doggy DayCare in downtown San Diego makes it easy. They dress up clients' dogs in Santa hats and antlers, pose them next to wreaths and ornaments and send the photos home.

“My wife, Pam, is at Costco right now turning Shadow's photo into our Christmas card,” said Fred Hollinger of Coronado.

“We always send pictures of our dog on our Christmas cards. Our son, who is 20 now, thinks we're crazy. He says stuff like, 'You guys should be put in an insane asylum. You love that dog more than you love me.' ”

Petco, which reports it racks up more sales during the holiday season than at any other time of year, offers to take your pet photos and weave them into a tapestry throw (for furniture or hanging) or a canvas suitable for framing.

Anne Perry of El Cajon said she and husband, Joe, have sent friends and family Christmas cards bearing their dogs' photos for the past five years. It's a matter of taste.

“We weren't lucky enough to have children and we're at the age where a cute picture of our dogs (Molly, a golden retriever, and Colby, a cocker spaniel) is much nicer to send than a photo of two middle-aged people,” she explained.

“These dogs really are our family.”

Library researcher Merrie Monteagudo contributed to this report.