Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beyond puppy love

Is there anything we won’t do for our pets?


Most of us talk to our little munchkie poopie sweetums doggy-wogs, don't we? We give them treats after dinner and take them for walkey-walks and ridey-rides, tolerate their hogging most of the bed and blankets at night, and sometimes even dress them up in little jackets and sparkly collars before taking them to doggy daycare.

Pet pleasing has been around since Fred Flintstone allowed Dino in the family rockomobile. And it continues to grow even in today's uncertain economy, according to the American Pet Products Association, which estimates that Americans will spend $47.7 billion on their pets this year. That's roughly a $10 billion increase from just five years ago.

A quick chat with the folks in the pet business around the valley reveals that pet owners here are contributors to this trend with their demands for swanky designer pet clothing and bedding, pet acupuncture and massage, psychics, specialized playgroups and prosthetic dog testicles, for looks only of course. One family even has a seeing-eye dog for their other blind dog.

Then there's my friend whose older cat refuses to drink from a bowl, so she leaves a faucet running 24/7 as a fountain and says it's forced her to cut her morning showers down to every other day to handle the larger water bills.

As someone who comes from a family of pet pamperers, I understand. My father, Pat Murphy of Ketchum, takes his Labs out for a nightly ride because, he says, "they like to see the lights of the city." I sleep with a dog on one side and a cat on the other, and have made up songs to sing to my pets.

How we choose to please our pets is as diverse as the pets themselves. But, no matter how we do it, it's really all about love.

Vickie Rivera and Cricket

Cricket’s owner Vickie Rivera sometimes dyes her pink.
Photo by David N. Seelig

Cricket is only 3 years old and six and a half pounds, but she's a Chihuahua with chutzpah. You might have seen the little dog and her owner, Ketchum resident Vickie Rivera, riding around town on a cruiser, with Cricket in the basket wearing goggles and perhaps a little outfit.

"She's like the daughter I never had," says Rivera, who likes to dye Cricket pink, paint her toenails gold and dress her up for various occasions.

On the Fourth of July, Cricket wears a red, white and blue dress; for Christmas she sports a red velvet dress with caribou trim; and for Halloween she might wear a chicken outfit.

"But no pants on a dog, because that's just silly," Rivera says, adding, "Half my coat closet is her clothing."

You can hear in Rivera's voice how much she adores her dog just like a kid. Cricket has her own one-dog popup tent for camping and a bed in every room in the house, and gets to sleep on a heating pad next to Rivera at night.

"She's a real diva and kind of bossy," Rivera says, noting that Cricket can be rather crotchety toward others.

To help her temperament, Rivera gets her massaged every month. For meals, Cricket gets only organic food and yak milk chews for treats. Rivera used to cook all Cricket's meals, but stopped when she noticed Cricket starting to get "too chunky."

Rivera admits that Cricket doesn't particularly like playing dress-up.

"I have to be sneaky with the clothing because when she sees it she hides. At least I'm not really out there, like I dress her in pajamas or anything."

Emilie Wark and Zorba the parrot

Zorba the parrot has her very own indoor tree, which helps her get in position for a love scratch from Emilie Wark.
Photo by David N. Seelig

It's one thing to rearrange a bit of furniture to make room for a dog bed. But when you move a 10-foot-tall dead aspen tree permanently inside your house for your pet bird, that has love written all over it.

Emilie Wark of Ketchum says Zorba, her 15-year-old double yellow-headed Amazon female parrot, hangs out in the tree most of the time, except when she is wandering through the house clicking her little talon nails on the cement floor, or perched in Warks' shower enjoying a steam bath and singing "Do, re, mi" to herself.

Zorba talks and laughs like a person, and loves to take road trips, especially when the sound system is cranked to the right music.

"She doesn't like techno or electronic music," Werk says.

Wark pampers Zorba with smoked trout and an occasional salad from Atkinsons' salad bar, which makes the bird purr like a cat. She says Zorba is a cuddler and loves it when Werk fluffs up her head feathers and rubs her around her eyes.

"She loves the excitement of a party and enjoys having people around. She also gets super entertained by the dogs wrestling.

"She's got a big personality and is very spoiled, but I love her."

Lillie Lancaster and Monty

Monty dreams big in Bellevue

Lillie Lancaster has a 3-year-old English bulldog named Sir Montgomery Basil, whom Lancaster calls "the most expensive dog I've ever had." It's not so much because she pampers him, but rather that she is committed to giving him the best care that money can buy. And Monty has certainly tested those waters. He's had pneumonia, has breathing problems and sun-sensitive, itchy skin, and his tail has been removed. Once he ate a poisonous foxtail plant, which landed him in $700 worth of nasal surgery.

"Bulldogs are expensive and a pain in the ass," she says, noting that her vet bills during the first year were double what she paid to buy the dog. "But they are awesome companions and I love him. He's my boy."

At first, Lancaster cooked for Monty but says that if his diet fluctuated from day to day, his flatulence level went up.

"I love my dog more than anything, but he's the most embarrassing dog in the world. I will bring him to work and he will fart and clear a room."

She now feeds him specific food from the vet.

To prevent sunburn, she slathers sunscreen over his wrinkles before every hike. Speaking of wrinkles, Lancaster washes Monty's face every day.

"Bulldogs can get skin infections in their face wrinkles and it starts to smell like cheese," she explains matter-of-factly. "Not everybody has to do that with their dogs."

Lancaster pampers Monty with a trip to day care or by taking him to hang out on Lefty's deck, where Monty can belly up to a bowl of half water and half beer. He also gets to wear a Louisiana State team jersey during LSU games, and gets to dress up for Halloween.

The fact that her boyfriend is deathly allergic to Monty doesn't shake her devotion to either one of them—she just vacuums her house a bit more often. There was no way she would have gotten rid of Monty.

"I had him first," she says with a laugh.

"The way I look at it, a good pet owner goes in with the idea of taking good care of an animal," she says. "Color coordinating little outfits and bags for a dog is not my cup of tea. But I bring my dog to the bar at Halloween, so who's to say someone doesn't think that's strange?"

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