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Rocky Mountain News Denver, CO December 11, 2006

By Janet Simons
Rocky Mountain News
December 11, 2006

These days he's packing more than 2 billion in pet gifts

Americans have gone completely gaga over their pets. In the past 12 years, we've more than doubled the bucks we spend to care for, feed and entertain our dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, fish, birds and reptiles.

Back in 1994, when Ace Ventura, Pet Detective was a top-grossing movie, we spent $17 billion on Fluffy, Fido and the rest.

In 2006, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association is projecting that we'll spend $38.4 billion - a significant increase even when inflation is taken into account. If current trends hold, we'll probably spend more than $2.6 billion on pet gifts this December.

That's what the APPMA tallied for 2004, the first year it looked at the practice.

"That's when we first noticed the trend of giving holiday gifts to pets," said APPMA spokeswoman Leah Nelson. "It seemed that pets were becoming more and more a part of the family."

Even the experts fall prey.

"I can't walk into Target or PetsMart without walking out with something for my dog and cats," said Leslie Irvine, associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado and author of If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connection With Animals (Temple University Press, $20).

Irvine theorizes that we're becoming closer to our pets because we're learning that they're more like us than we previously imagined.

"In the past decade, our culture has gained a growing awareness of the cognitive and emotional abilities of animals," Irvine said.

"I think we give gifts to our pets because it makes us feel good, but I know people who swear that their pets enjoy opening presents," she said.

And who knows? Perhaps somewhere an animal behaviorist is writing the thesis The Pleasurable Impact on the Canine Brain of Demolishing a Box Holding a Cashmere Sweater.

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