Mary Ann Guarino-Schlau, of Joplin, has two living rooms: one for her and one for her 14 dogs. Guarino-Schlau’s furry “babies” have their own couch, love seat, chair, television set, radio and pillows. They are her life. Each dog has its own collar, identification tag and clothing that fits its personality. Four baskets of dog toys are spread across her house, and Guarino-Schlau said she is willing to sacrifice a large part of her life for their happiness.
“They are most certainly my kids; we call them our babies,” Guarino-Schlau said. “They mean everything to us. We don’t go places because we have to take care of them, and we don’t mind. This is our luxury: to sit and watch them play instead of watching television.”
Guarino-Schlau is part of the growing population of pet owners who look at their animals as friends and family rather than property, and prove it with their checkbooks. The American Pet Product Manufacturers Association estimated that in 2007, people spent more than $40 billion on their pets nationwide. Those costs include boarding, grooming, animal purchases, medical care and food.
And pet ownership is becoming more universal. The association’s survey found that 63 percent of U.S. households, or 71.1 million homes, have at least one pet. More people own dogs than cats, the second most popular pet, but cat owners tend to have more animals, so the total of pet cats in the U.S. outnumbers dogs 88 million to 75 million.
Bow Wow Business:
New businesses have sprung up to meet the demand, and existing businesses are falling in line to get a piece of the market.
Kendal Kantola, manager of the Bow Wow Boutique in Joplin, said her business grows every year. She has clients who bring their pets in for weekly grooming and others who schedule their pets’ monthly appointments to correspond with their days at the salon.
Even as a pet owner herself, Kantola said she is amazed at how far people will go to pamper their pets. Weekly clients could spend more than $1,000 a year on just bathing one pet. She has puppy parents who celebrate their animals’ birthdays with parties and cake, feed their dogs macaroni and cheese, and buy them more Christmas presents than they buy for their human children.
“Even back when I was a kid, we used to give the dog a bath in the back yard, but it’s not like that anymore,” Kantola said.
The trend is strong enough to gain the attention of national retail chains. Wal-Mart is cashing in on the pet-pampering craze with an expanded stock of dog apparel including rhinestone-studded collars, sequined bows, and puppy T-shirts bearing phrases like “Dog-a-licious,” “Born Fabulous” and “Love at First Bark.”
So, why are people willing to go so far to ensure their pets’ happiness? Pets do have some benefits when it comes to their owners’ health. Studies from a number of health institutes and universities have shown that owning a pet helps lower blood pressure, reduces stress, helps reduce heart disease, provides greater psychological stability, lowers health-care costs and fights depression.
But the most likely reason that Americans spent $40 billion on their pets last year goes back to the unexplainable connection between people and their pets.