Giving gifts to her pets at Christmas has been a family tradition for the Berkley, Mich., resident because "the dogs feel included this way."
Stella and Opus also have their own Christmas stockings and even give gifts to family members.
For pet owners like Michele, gift giving is popular, especially at Christmas. According to a survey of 1,019 pet owners by the American Animal Hospital Association, 79% give their pets holiday or birthday presents.
"People are really humanizing their pets," said a spokeswoman for Denver-based AAHA. "About 70% of pet owners think of their pets as children."
A study from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association shows that the number of pet owners giving Christmas gifts to dogs has increased from 60% in 1992 to 62% in 1994. It has also increased for bird and small animal owners, from 26% to 37% and 31% to 33%, respectively.
Consumers spend about $20 billion on their pets each year, including food, veterinary care and supplies. And when surveyed, the majority of pet owners who buy gifts said they spend an average of $10 per pet, but there are some who say they spend more than $100.
"Pet superstores have made pet products more visible to consumers," said Simon Handelsman, a Newburyport, N.J.-based pet industry consultant. Now, consumers have five to 10 times more items to choose from than a decade ago, an indication of the growth in this area, he said.
Pet superstore Petsmart expects big business this holiday. It will sell more than 35,000 sets of reindeer antlers and 210,000 sweaters for pets through its 258 stores. The nation's largest pet superstore expects to reach sales of $1 billion in 1995.
Petsmart is offering some cool gifts this holiday including a leather jacket for iguanas; a dog bomber jacket; a rawhide Christmas wreath; a pet sofa; an angel costume; and video catnip, a video starring birds, squirrels and chipmunks.
Owners can also bring pets in to have their picture taken with Santa Claus with 20% of the proceeds benefiting humane organizations.
Catalogers have also caught on to the pet gift trend. Hammacher, Schlemmer & Co. offers many pet items, including an indoor cat playground ($59.95), a heated pet bed ($49.95-$69.95) and pet's treat machine ($29.95). L.L. Bean Inc. offers monogrammed pet beds; and the Orvis Co. has a pet loveseat.
Even manufacturers are catching on to the holiday spirit. Many offer Christmas canisters and colors for their products around the holidays.
Terry Goldman, co-CEO of Penn-Plax, a Garden City, N.J.-based pet product marketer, said that his company now makes a Christmas rope for dogs in red, white and green colors, and also offers Christmas stocking accessories.
Giving gifts to their animal companions is something pet owners don't feel apologetic about. In fact, they're rather proud.
"People buy gifts for their pets now because of their concern for their health and happiness," Mr. Handelsman said.