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Owners put human spin on a dogs life

Leslie EarnestLos Angeles TimesVail, CO Colorado
Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times Pet-care specialist Kristen Kennedy stops the food cart at one of the so-called suites, where Peri, an Australian cattle dog, eagerly anticipates mealtime.
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Americans are pampering their pets more than ever. They treat dogs and cats as if they were human, buying them bathing suits, strollers, antidepressants and, for the neutering-conflicted, testicular implants.This is more than puppy love. Elena Rodriguez witnessed it when a customer at the PetSmart PetsHotel she manages in Glendora, Calif., asked that someone perform the sign of the cross over Sweet Pea, a Shar-Pei and chow mix, every night. One evening, Rodriguez neglected to administer the ritual.I was on my way driving home and Im like, Oh, my gosh, I forgot to bless the dog, Rodriguez said. She called a co-worker to attend to Sweet Pea.For people who check their darlings into PetsHotel, she said, Its not just about watching them overnight.

The link between pet and person has become deep and complex. Humans are relying more and more on pets for comfort as traditional support systems falter, say the experts in relations between the species, with families becoming fragmented, baby boomers facing empty nests, job security a fading notion, employers less generous and, for many, religion under scrutiny.Theres an extraordinary, revolutionary shift in the relationships between people and companion animals, said Jon Katz, the author of six books about dogs. People in extraordinary numbers are turning to companion animals, especially cats and dogs, to fill the holes in their lives.At the same time, people have more money than ever to spend, and businesses are giving them more ways than ever to spend it. Pet industry sales are expected to swell to almost $41 billion in the U.S. in 2007, making it the second-fastest growing retail category, after electronics.Even Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, has been taken aback by the offerings.I just got a brochure from a company that makes wigs for dogs, he said. I dont know when my dog ever walked past a mirror and said, Gee, my hair is ugly, I need a wig.Pets have their own bakeries, day-care centers and GPS devices, the latter so their owners can find them faster if they get lost. A Los Angeles-area business called the Best Little Cat House in Pasadena is cage free and playrooms are outfitted with Web cams so absent owners can observe their kitties.PetsHotels show appropriately themed movies in its dog suites, such as 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp. The chef at Club-Beverly Hills, advertised as paparazzi-free, whips up kosher food and pasta.You have a parallel life now with your dog, said Marjorie Lewis, who owns the club, which is actually in West Hollywood. If you eat all natural food, you want your dog to eat all natural food.Muttropolis, which describes its boutiques as Crate & Barrel meets Whole Foods for dogs and cats, expects to have 100 locations within five years. Existing stores sell, among other things, all-terrain boots for dogs and soap-free wheat grass shampoo for cats.Dogs that have been spayed can be fitted with prostheses made by Neuticles, a company in Missouri. Owner Greg Miller has found plenty of takers, selling almost a quarter- million worldwide, with California his best market.If your dogs leg or tail or nose got cut off, wouldnt he know theyre missing? Miller said. If youre neuter-hesitant and you want your dog to look like nothings ever changed, thats where Neuticles come in.


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