By KRYSTLE CHOW
Published in the March/April 2006 edition (Vol. 6, Issue 2) of Ottawa Insight.
OTTAWA – Gillian Pearlstone buys bottled water and natural foods for her pets, and occasionally brings them in to the Natural Pet Foods store in Ottawa’s Westboro community for massage or reiki therapy.
Pearlstone, who is the proud owner of two cats and a dog, says she spends about $1,800 a year on her dog and about half that amount a year per cat. Along with her own pets, she also pays for the upkeep of the two or three dogs she fosters every couple of months.
“They’re my children,” she says. “I’d rather spend a lot on food than on vet bills.”
Pearlstone is one of a growing number of pet owners who spend thousands of dollars each year on their furry companions.
It’s no longer just about buying food and the occasional treat for your pets. Many owners now include water fountains, designer accessories and spa treatments on their lists of essentials.
At least $600 of the amount Pearlstone spends on her dogs goes towards toys, treats, vet visits, grooming, and massage therapy.
“It keeps them happy, content, and keeps them occupied from obsessive behaviour,” she explains when asked why she spends so much on her pets. “They’re chucked into four walls every day (so they need the treats.)”
CASH FOR PETS NOT KIDS
Paul Shabatowski, district manager of the Canadian pet store chain Super Pet, says many owners are spending more money on their pets than they might have ten years ago.
He explains it’s because they regard their animals as family members and buy products accordingly.
“It may seem to outsiders as something of a luxury,” he says of increasingly popular items like purifying water fountains and holistic pet foods, “but for anyone who’s considering lengthening the life span of their animal companion, it could be quite fundamental.”
Shabatowski says even though these pet products are not available in the wild, in many cases pet owners are trying to simulate a natural environment.
“If we’re talking about a natural spring source of water in the wild versus the standard home setting where you’ve got a bowl of water out, you start making the line a bit fuzzy on whether this is really a luxury or a better understanding of what the needs of the animal are,” he explains.
Hana Hossenbux of Natural Pet Foods says it’s important for pets to have organic foods and holistic diets because a lot of popular pet foods today are full of chemical preservatives.
“People are better educated, so they know now if they spend on good quality food, it’s going to pay off in the long run,” she says, adding that she has seen customers come in from as far as 40 kilometres outside of Ottawa.
“There will be fewer veterinary bills and your animal’s life will likely be extended,” she adds.
FORKING OUT FOR QUALITY
These quality foods are not cheap, however. Hossenbux’s mother Geri, who owns the store, says a five-pound bag of dog food sold at Natural Pet Foods ranges from $9 to $15, but can only feed a small dog like a chihuahua or toy poodle for a month. The largest bags of dog food cost anywhere from $41.99 to $64 for 30 pounds of food, and generally feed one large dog for a month.
Even owning a cat can be expensive these days. A six-pound bag of cat food can cost up to $22 for a high-protein, gourmet blend, while a 15.5-pound bag can set an owner back by almost $50, says Geri Hossenbux.
These prices are significantly higher than popular dog foods like IAMS and Purina. Most brands of dog food range from about $10 for an eight-pound bag to $20 for 20 pounds; cat owners can expect to pay from $9 for a 3.5-pound bag to $25 for a 20-pound bag of food.
While food is almost always the largest expense for pet owners, people are becoming more interested in shelling out for costly services such as pet grooming, massage therapy, and even pet birthday parties.
Lynn Tomalty, who owns the Ottawa pet grooming and day-care centre The Wizard of Pawz, says her services are popular because of her “under one ruff (or roof)” concept – she also offers dog obedience training, a cattery where boarding cats are given room to play and run around freely, and a “barkery” which offers owners a place to sit and have coffee while their dogs enjoy some homemade treats.
A DIFFERENT SORT OF FAMILY
Tomalty says many people today are professionals with no children or baby boomers with grown-up offspring, who think nothing of paying a $55 bill to groom their “children in fur.”
“Instead of having kids, they have pets,” she says. “Their pets give them the same love and affection, without as much responsibility as with kids, where you have to get them to school and so on.”
With people spending as much on their dogs as they would on their children, there is a large and lucrative market for pet-pampering products.
Tomalty charges about $125 for a doggie birthday party, including cake, treats, favours and hats for a minimum of six dogs.
Meanwhile, animal massage practitioner Kathleen Collins offers pet massage therapy, Bowen treatments (a healing technique similar to acupressure), and reiki through Natural Pet Foods for $45 a session. Owners make appointments with Collins whenever they feel their pets are in need of some tender loving care, and some, like Gillian Pearlstone, are regular customers.
However, Hana Hossenbux acknowledges that not everyone is going to spend large amounts on these specialty goods and services.
“There’s always going to be some people who don’t want to spend on massage. They think dogs and cats don’t need it,” she says. “I think it all depends on your outlook.”