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Animal Magnetism

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On her wedding day last summer, 31-year-old Ericka Tullis knew that despite the disapproving looks she might receive from her guests, she wanted her best friend, Daisy, by her side. As it turned out, Daisy, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever outfitted with a wreath of flowers around her collar, made a well-behaved bridesmaid at Tullis's Napa, Calif., nuptials. Afterward, while the newlyweds honeymooned in Italy, Daisy embarked on a two-week stay at the luxurious Paradise Ranch Country Club for Dogs in Sun Valley, Calif., complete with swimming pool and a bedroom with TV, for $45 a night. Says Tullis, “Daisy is my best buddy, and she deserves the best. She's like the daughter I haven't had yet.?

Tullis and her husband, Paul, 33, are among the more than half of all U.S. households (62 percent) that include at least one pet, up from 56 percent in 1988, according to the annual Pet Owner Survey published by the Greenwich, Conn.-based American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). And, like Tullis, pet owners overwhelmingly consider their furry friends to be members of the family — 92 percent do, according to a February Yankelovich poll. Last year, Americans spent an estimated $29 billion on their pets, up from $17 billion in 1994. Pet industry analyst Julia Dvorko, of Norwalk, Conn.-based Business Communications Co., expects the market to grow to $34 billion by 2005. Says Dvorko: “Trends in consumer expenditures show that owners tend to pamper their pets even when they have to cut back on [household] spending. After all, even during economic downturns, people give gifts to family members and buy special treats for their children.?

Traditionally, the pet industry has catered primarily to the married-with-children set, and rightly so, as this group has consistently spent the most on pets. But changing lifestyles and demographic shifts are creating new consumer pockets for pet-related businesses. Only a third of all pet owners today are married with children, according to New York City-based Mediamark Research, Inc. An increase in cohabitating couples, and longer waiting periods before becoming parents, have led to a growing niche of pet lovers: young couples who acquire pets as a means of testing the waters of parenthood. At the same time, married Baby Boomers are filling their empty nests with dogs, cats and birds. Single households, primarily those headed by Boomer divorcées and seniors, are also on the rise, with many of them finding comfort in furry companionship.

These shifts have helped create what experts say is one of the most prominent attitudinal drivers of pet industry growth: the increasing anthropomorphism, or humanization, of pets by their owners. Because today's pet owners view themselves as their pets' parents — 83 percent call themselves “Mommy? or “Daddy,? compared with just 55 percent who did so in 1995 — they're on the lookout for pet products and services that meet high standards.

One of the fastest growing segments of the market is the pet supplies category, as more consumers demand better quality as well as more aesthetically pleasing products and accessories for their pets, industry experts say. Veterinary services and health-care products will also flourish, as will nonessential services such as pet-sitting, day-care centers and boarding. And just as “convenient,? “customized? and “healthful? have become buzzwords in the development of human products and services, so too are they the primary shapers of the pet industry, from functional foods tailored to pets' special health needs to in-home services that make life easier for these “parents? on-the-go. Here is a look at the leading trends in pet products, foods, veterinary care and special services that are poised for growth over the next decade.

Pooch Products

Pet products are becoming increasingly more convenient, educational, technological and easy to use. For example, since pet owners have little patience for poop, companies have begun to introduce automatic, self-cleaning kitty litter boxes, such as the Litter-Free Self-Washing Cat Box by Pet-Centric, Inc. (retail price $299.99), and even doggie litter for smaller dogs, which makes dog-walking an obsolete chore.

“Products that make it easier for pet owners to solve pet care problems quickly and easily are taking off,? says David Goldberg, president of Marina Del Rey, Calif.-based Petkin, a manufacturer of pet washing products called DoggyWipes and KittyWipes, similar to human baby wipes.

Other convenience products aim at owners loath to leave Fluffy alone. For example, Newport, R.I.-based Travel Meals offers what are essentially bag lunches for dogs and cats. Costing about $4 to $5, each “mobile feeding bowl? comes with a meal and drinking water, and either a disposable foldout kitty litter box or doggie scoop bag “for easy cleanup.?

As for toys, product manufacturers that recognize the parental attitude of today's pet owners are looking to human children's playthings for inspiration, says Funda Alp, spokeswoman for the APPMA. Last year, toy giant Hasbro teamed up with pet superstore PetSmart to launch a line of products called Paws 'N More, which includes such toys as Puppy's First Key Teether and Catch-a-Fish Mobile for Cats. And like many children's toys today, playthings for pets are becoming more technological and educational. The Talk To Me Treatball, by Chesterfield, Mo.-based Marketing and Creative Sales, is a rolling food dispenser that plays a recorded personal message each time an animal nudges the ball. The product, which retails for $16.99 to $19.99, depending on the model, is touted as a training toy that can also help cure pets' separation anxiety.

“Our workdays and commute times are so much longer than they used to be, and we feel so guilty about leaving our pets at home alone,? says Alp. “These types of toys help to fill the void and entertain them.?

The pet-as-family trend has even inspired industries beyond traditional pet-focus businesses to develop new products for this consumer group. The auto industry, for one, has begun to offer products that make it easier to bring pets along for the ride. Car manufacturer Saab offers a full line of vehicle accessories for its 9-5 Wagon called Pet Gear, designed in cooperation with the Humane Society of the U.S. The product line includes two types of seat-belt restraints, the Batzi Belt and the VersaLeash, as well as convenience products such as a travel bowl that keeps water from spilling and a pet backpack that lets four-legged hikers carry some of the load.

General Motors is developing its Pet Pro concept for the GMC Envoy, a car that will be retrofitted specifically for pet transport ease. The SUV may include rear storage units customized for pet supplies, an integrated vacuum cleaner and a dog ramp that slides out of the rear cargo area to help older dogs who may have difficulty jumping into the vehicle.

Kibbles and Bits

If you thought it was difficult getting a baby to eat mashed carrots, try feeding Fido generic kibble. When it comes to eats, today's finicky pets and their owners aren't interested in the ho-hum. As in the human food industry, pet food trends are moving toward the natural, organic and functional.

“Everyone is realizing how important diet is, and the same holds true for pets,? says Stephen Payne, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Pet Food Institute, which represents dog and cat food manufacturers.

One major growth area is functional foods for geriatric dogs and cats. As pets live longer, more pet food companies are recognizing that pet health problems mirror those of the older population of humans — from heart disease to arthritis to memory loss — and are creating foods to address these conditions. Ralston Purina, for example, last year launched its Beneful brand, which promises to support a healthy immune system with omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E and selenium antioxidants.

Also on the upswing are products and foods to help improve pets' dental care, such as Dentabones by Pedigree ($3 to $4 a pack), which reduce plaque in dogs, and Excel dental dog biscuits with chlorophyll to clean doggie's breath. The Iams Company also recently announced its Eukanuba Dental Defense System pet food, which it claims will reduce tartar buildup.

Last fall, Royal Canin took the customization trend even further when it introduced Feline Nutrition Indoor 27, a food that addresses the specific requirements of indoor cats. The company touts the product's Opti-Odor System, a combination of protein and chicory extract that decreases stool odor. Retailing at $14.99 for a 7-pound bag, the food is also formulated with a Hairball Transit System, a natural blend of dietary fibers, to curb hairball formation.

Healthy and Happy

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that veterinary services will be one of the fastest growing industries of this decade, expected to increase 44 percent by 2010, compared with overall employment growth of 16 percent. According to the BLS's Occupational Outlook Handbook, this growth is partially attributable to the consumer demands of aging Boomers with larger-than-average disposable incomes. In addition, according to the report: “Pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of advanced care and may increasingly take advantage of nontraditional veterinary services, such as preventive dental care. [They also] may more willingly pay for intensive care than in the past.?

Veterinary care is also becoming more tailored to individual pet needs. While pet dermatologists, cardiologists and ortho-surgeons have been around for some time, the number of vets certified in specialty areas has increased to keep up with consumer demand, says Dr. Gail Golab, a veterinarian and assistant director of communications at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in Schaumburg, Ill. The number of vets certified in specialty programs has more than doubled in the past 15 years, up from 3,000 in 1986 to more than 6,500 in 2001, reports the AVMA.

One of the fastest growing specialties within vet care is animal behavior, says Golab. Poor pet behavior, which includes everything from disobedience to aggression toward humans or other animals, is the top reason people give up their pets, she says. But as pet owners increasingly see their animals as family members, many express a desire to “work it out? with their pets. While some call these specialists “animal psychologists,? Golab cringes at the title. She says “psychologist? implies a level of understanding beyond what vets currently have, and prefers the term “behaviorist.? Whatever the nomenclature, the demand is the same: “As pet owners become more aware of human depression, ADD and other human mental issues and ways to treat them, they increasingly expect similar treatments and diagnostics for their pets,? Golab says.

And though it used to be that a terminally ill pet would usually be put to sleep, many of today's pet parents refuse to give up easily. Kerry Tucker, a 28-year-old who lives in New York City and works for a market research company, spent $2,000 last year to cure the blocked urinary tract of one of her two cats. “I would spend as much as I had to save my pets,? says Tucker, who also owns two dogs. “I've already borrowed money and not paid my rent for them.?

According to a 2001 survey of 1,225 pet owners by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), 24 percent say they would spend more than $1,000 to save their pet's life, and 35 percent claim they would spend “any amount.? Twenty-one percent would travel more than 1,000 miles to obtain specialty health care for their pet.

At Your Service

Pets are on the go more than ever: 68 percent traveled with their owners in 2001, compared with 58 percent in 1995, according to the AAHA. And almost a third (29 percent) of pet owners stay in a hotel or motel with their pet, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). “As they become more a part of the family, people would rather take their pets with them when they travel than leave them in a kennel,? says Cathy Keefe of the TIA. “The industry is making it much easier for them to do that.? In fact, in 2001, 41 percent of hotels and motels allowed pets, up from 31 percent in 1998, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

But today's hotels are doing much more than simply allowing pets in — they are catering to them as consumers. Two years ago, the Loews chain of four-star hotels launched Loews Loves Pets, a loyalty marketing program that offers pet-sitting and walking services, as well as special bedding and such menu options as grilled lamb for dogs and salmon for cats. Spokeswoman Emily Kanders explains that prior to the chain-wide program, some individual Loews hotels did allow pets. “At the hotels where we accepted pets, our guests were very grateful and loyal,? says Kanders. “Based on that enthusiasm, we did some research and found that with changes in demographics — more single households and more couples having children later — Americans were bringing their pets along.?

As for the pets that do get left behind, pet-sitting and pet-walking services abound. While teenage baby-sitters may be just fine for human children, when it comes to pets, many owners want a pro. Lynn Blumenthal, a writer in Chicago, says that ever since one of her three cats got lost while under the supervision of a teen neighbor, she has turned to professional help. She's not alone. Pet Sitters International, an educational association for professional pet sitters based in King, N.C., has attracted more than 4,200 members in its brief eight-year history. In fact, the BLS reports that the number of “animal caretakers? is expected to grow much faster than average — 22 percent between 2000 and 2010 — as more consumers seek out professional care for their pets.

Meanwhile, pet accommodations at kennels aren't too shabby. Many of today's pet facilities rival four-star hotels, offering everything from kitty aerobics to manicures to swimming lessons. Very few still call themselves “kennels.? They are now known as “pet-care centers,? “resorts? and “country clubs.? According to Jim Krack, executive director of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based American Boarding Kennels Association, the majority of boarding facilities today have added at least some “luxury? services during the past five years. “A dog doesn't really care if he's in a place with cement walls or one with wallpaper and a brass bed,? says Krack. “But owners today expect the same type of accommodations and services they can get for themselves.?

Two of the biggest trends Krack sees in the boarding business are Web cameras that allow owners to check in on their pets via the Internet, and “community play time,? allowing pets to socialize freely with others. “Historically, in the kennel business, it was a major no-no to allow pets to interact with each other,? says Krack. “Now many pet owners ask for it. They want their dogs to have a social life.?

Hey there, Four-Paws, come here often?


Additional reporting by Melanie Shortman.

HAPPY TAILS

The percentage of pet owners who indulge their pets is on the rise.

Percent of pet owners who:
1995 2001
Call themselves “Mommy? or “Daddy? 55% 83%
Celebrate their pet's birthday 50% 59%
Specially prepare foods for their pet 48% 66%*
Dress their pet 17% 24%*
Travel with their pet 58% 68%
Give or buy massages for their pet 10%** 16%
Have pet health insurance 1%*** 5%
*Data from 2000 survey
**Data from 1997 survey
***Data from 1996 survey
Source: American Animal Hospital Association

PAMPERED POOCH

When it comes to Fido's health and happiness, some pet owners are willing to dish out the dough.

Service Where available Cost
Pet acupuncture CSU Veterinary School, Fort Collins, CO $22 every other session, plus $39 for initial exam
Pet swimming sessions Biscuits and Bath, NYC $30 for 30 minutes
Pet massage The Kennel Club LAX, Los Angeles, CA $40 per hour, plus $10 for hot oil
Pet vacation Paradise Ranch Country Club for Dogs, Sun Valley, CA $45 per night
Pet psychotherapy Angie Siegel, Los Gatos, CA $60-90 per hour
Pet photo shoot and portrait package Valerie Shaff, NYC Starts at $1,000
Source: Research by Melanie Shortman for American Demographics

The Demographic: Singles, Divorced Boomer Women

Market Potential

  • Forty-five percent of women ages 35 to 54 who have been divorced, separated or widowed own a pet. These females are 18 percent more likely to own a feline, and 52 percent more likely to own a bird than the average American.*
  • Americans ages 45 to 54 spend the most per year (an average of $281) on their pets. The average U.S. household spends $209.**
  • Spending on pets in single households is expected to grow at an annual rate of 4.1 percent between 1999 and 2004.***
  • Single households make up 28 percent of total expenditures on pets.***

Case in Point

NAME: Leslie Birdwell, 42

HOMETOWN: Huntington, WV

NAME, AGE AND BREED OF PET: Mudge, 3 years old, black cat (stray)

ESTIMATED AMOUNT SPENT PER YEAR ON PET: $440

AD: Why do you have a pet?

LB: Mudge was given to me by a friend who thought I was ready for a little more interaction with a living creature. She arrived a little over a year after the divorce was final. My ex-husband didn't like cats, and I'd always had one as a child. It's nice to have something furry and alive sharing your living space. Someone is always glad to see me. Always.

AD: What kinds of products or services do you wish existed that you've been unable to find or wish there were more of?

LB: If someone could come up with the best way of cleaning up cat hair, I'd be most grateful. It's everywhere. I just cleaned my refrigerator, and, of course, it's in there too.

AD: What two things frustrate you the most about being a pet owner?

LB: 1) Mudge's enthusiastic ejection of litter from her litter pan.

2) Cats, for all their vaunted cleanliness, can be kind of stinky.

AD: Why do you think women like you — divorced Boomers — are more prone to be cat or bird owners?

LB: Cats are self-sufficient and, in my opinion, less destructive than dogs, although that is a generalization. Cats sleep for hours at a time and are also good at entertaining themselves. Birds probably meet the same criteria.

AD: How much quality time do you spend with your pet?

LB: Probably about 30 minutes a day, sometimes more. She likes to sleep on my chest at about 3:00 a.m., so we always have some cat massage/affection time every single day.

AD: How has having Mudge helped you move on with your life after divorce?

LB: The divorce was long overdue, Mudge was icing on the cake.

*Mediamark Research, Inc.

**BLS 2000 Consumer Expenditure Survey

***BLS, analysis by Business Communications Co.

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