VIPs [Very Important Pets]

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They wear fancy clothes, eat gourmet dinners, and get massages. Their public displays of affection are universally welcome. And their significant others often call just to say hello.

Pets, it seems, have never had it so good. That's the finding on pet owners from the American Animal Hospital Association's National Pet Owner Survey. When it comes to their furry friends, pet owners have no fear of commitment, the survey reveals. The majority of pet owners say they're willing to sacrifice everything for their pets: A full 74 percent of those surveyed say that they would be willing to go into debt in order to provide for their animal's well-being. And of those who have a will, 27 percent have included provisions for their pets.

“Believe it or not, these results are not surprising to us,� says Dr. Michael Thomas, AAHA president. “For years we have known about the growing importance that people place on their pets. For most people, a pet is a full-fledged member of the family who plays a critical role in today's society.�

Just how much do people love their pets? Nearly one-third (29 percent) of all pet owners — not to mention almost half (48 percent) of singles — say that of all the people, or creatures, in their lives, they rely on their pet the most for companionship and affection. Four percent say pets are more faithful than friends and 2 percent agree they are more reliable than their parents. Puppy love was especially strong among the respondents: 78 percent of dog owners allow their pet to lick their face, as do 68 percent of cat owners.

Seventy percent of pet parents refer to their pets as their children, and nothing keeps them from being with their kids. Sixty-five percent take their pets on errands with them at least once a month and 28 percent take their pets to work. Even those poor puppies who do have to stay home are only a phone call away: 37 percent of pet owners talk to their pets on the telephone or through an answering machine.

If pet owners are generous with their affection, they're even more so with their money. They spend a total of $23 billion a year on their pets' needs and wants. Ninety-three percent of pet owners buy at least one present for their pet every year and 55 percent buy them four or more. Twenty-four percent have a wardrobe for Fluffy, and of those, 52 percent say they dress their pet for holidays, 57 percent dress them for cold weather, and 10 percent dress them in seasonal outfits. Forty-four percent have purchased souvenirs for their pets while on vacation and 39 percent have furniture in their homes that is reserved for use by their pets.

But purchasing presents isn't the only way pet parents pamper their puppies. Owners spend $12 billion annually on traditional veterinary health care. And yet, following a human trend, alternative medicine for pets is taking off. Eleven percent of pet owners have given their pets massages, 7 percent have provided them with herbal remedies, 5 percent have used holistic/homeopathic medicine, and 2 percent have given their pets acupuncture treatments. By comparison, only 5 percent of the human population uses acupuncture (see “Quackery No More,� Toplines, January 2001). And while 79 percent of pet owners provide daily exercise for their pet, 52 percent admit they provide more exercise for their pets than for themselves. Boy, life is “ruff.�

For more information, visit the AAHA Web site at or call (800) 883-6301.

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