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Vet Centric Article December 22, 2000

Written by: Tracy Vogel, Staff Writer

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care: stockings for the parents, the kids, and Charlie, the gerbil.

When buying holiday gifts for the special people in their lives, shoppers often also remember the family pet. Seems a little silly -- the cat doesn't know it's a holiday. Its entire seasonal contribution thus far, in fact, has been to knock down the tree. But pet owners are undaunted. "We're about two to three times as busy as we usually are," said Caryn Tribble, co-owner of 2 Girls and a Dog, Atlanta, Ga. "A lot of people have pets rather than children, and they treat them like their children."

Other specialty pet shops report the same increase -- the holiday season is generally twice to three times as busy as the rest of the year. People buy for their own pets or for friends and family members with pets. The business is split about 50/50 between pet-related people items -- think I (heart) my schnauzer mugs -- and actual pet items -- think squeaky toys.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 93 percent of pet owners nationwide buy presents for their pets. More than half purchase at least four presents annually. And if you think the holiday gift-buying is odd, consider that 44 percent buy souvenirs for their pet while on vacation.

Specialty pet shops cater to that clientele with quality toys, designer food bowls and other unique items. They're luxury shops for pets.

Laurie Axell, owner of Bone Jour, Tahoe City, Calif., sells toys and gourmet treats for pets. The treats are the top sellers, with "peanut butter and banana sandwich" being the most popular.

Ms. Axell said she finds many people buying for the pets of friends and relatives. "Some people are buying for the pets because they have no idea what to buy for the owner."

When people are buying for a pet that isn't their own, often the gift can be of more importance to the owner than the pet. Ms. Tribble offers the example of a ceramic food bowl -- one of the store's more popular items.

"It's the kind of thing you wouldn't necessarily splurge on for yourself, but you like to have," she said. "It's as much a part of your kitchen dTcor as a cabinet. It becomes part of the kitchen instead of being a bowl that you just wish wasn't there all the time."

Other items that appeal to the owners more than the pets include jingle bell and glitter collars, and fun tags made of recycled stained glass, Ms. Tribble said.

Purchases that target the animals include aromatherapy kits -- oils meant to induce calm in your dog, or drive away fleas -- and faux fur beds.

It isn't just the dog owners going all out. Gail Bohall is owner of Bisket Baskets And More, Parker, Colo., a company that sells its products online and through veterinary offices, groomers, and breeders.

While the bone-shaped stockings, stuffed with treats, are selling well -- "I hired my mother, the poor soul, to make the bone stockings this year" -- so are the cat products. Bisket Baskets provides a mouse-shaped stocking stocked with catnip toys, treats, an ID tag, and more.

"I was surprised," Ms. Bohall said. "I thought more people were into their dogs than into their cats, but that doesn't seem to be the case." Tinsel balls, pots for growing oat grass and catnip, and catnip-stuffed candy canes and cigars are among the popular sellers at Bev's Cat Boutique, Toledo, Ohio.

The store sells mostly items for pet lovers instead of pets, but people do tend to look for purchases for their animals, said Bev Wright, owner. "They all feel their pet should have a Christmas gift."

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