Christina De La Fuente, owner of VIP Grooming in Avon Park, cuts a dog's hair at the shop. Americans spent a record amount of money on their pets, and grooming was one of the pet services that saw an increase last year. HIGHLANDS TODAY FILE PHOTO
Every time Dana Hills goes shopping, she makes sure to bring home a special toy or a snack for each of her three pets. Her cat, Rusty, and her Yorkies, Tasha and Ranger, get their treats, even though Hills may have to make two or three trips a week. The animals, for their part, have figured out the drill and make a beeline for her bags every time she returns. "Needless to say, they are very excited when I come home," she said.
Marie Krenisky, another self-described indulgent pet owner, makes sure her cream-colored standard poodle, Winston, gets all the pampering he needs, even though his grooming costs her $1,200 a year. "You have to take care of these guys or they look like the devil," she said. "I want my dog to look like he's supposed to." Winston also gets to chew on special dog bones that keep his teeth clean, and his meals are not store-bought chow but special food that may cost $45 a bag but agrees with his system. ? ? ? Hills and Krenisky are among thousands of Americans who spent a record $55.7 billion on their pets last year, an industry trade group said. The American Pet Products Association is expecting this year's sales to go up to $58 billion. A little less than half went toward pet food, followed by pet supplies and over-the-counter medicine and veterinarian care. Americans also spent about $4.4 billion on pet services such as grooming and boarding, the association stated. "People are pampering their pets more than ever and manufacturers and businesses are offering new products, services and opportunities to meet their needs and wants from interactive and innovative toys to dog walking, doggy day-care and pet-friendly hotels, restaurants and airlines," Bob Vetere, the association's president and CEO, said in a statement. While there has been a slight decline in the actual purchases of animals, people spent more on grooming, training or boarding, which showed the largest percentage growth last year, rising 6.1 percent from 2012, the association claims. The association is also expecting pet owners to spend more on pet food as trends continue to follow human food and diet trends. ? ? ? For pet lovers, the extra cost is a no-brainer, even though some others don't get it. With Hills' children grown and gone from the home, her pets are like her kids, she said. For their birthdays, they get a special treat Mama bakes. Her Yorkies have several matching outfits and love to dress up for the holidays or when the days get chilly. Tasha, who is 8 years old, also likes to rest her legs in a stroller. Hills is known to take her two dogs with her on trips or walks - Ranger nestled in one arm and Tasha sitting in a pet stroller. "I'm the crazy lady they see pushing the stroller," she said."These are my babies with fur coats. I literally view them as my four-legged children. "I've always had a huge heart for animals. I get it naturally from my mother." But going an extra mile for Fido and Fifi comes with a price tag. "It's a cost. It is a cost I absolutely don't mind," she said. "Some people say I spoil them too much, but they are my babies." Krenisky agrees. "He's a member of our family," she said about Winston. "It's really heart-breaking when you lose one (a pet). It's like losing one of your kids." Groomer Shauna Rich, with Raintree Pet Grooming, said pet owners are spending more on their pets. "They love their pets like they love their kids. Sometimes that's all they have," she said. Rich said one may see that more in an area such as Highlands, with many retirees whose families may be in other places and whose kids have grown up and left home. "They spend more on their pet food than they do on their own health," she said. "Pets in general, it's good for business."