- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

Once, dogs got a single bone for Christmas. Of course, this was from the time — the early Paleolithic period, perhaps — when dogs did not rule the entire known universe. The dog was content to receive the femur of some beast, or maybe a box of Milk-Bone, and call it a day.

Cats. Well, cats maybe got a can of tuna if they had not shredded the good sofa or completely unrolled the toilet tissue, while birds, fish and assorted scuttling creatures got nothing.

Time and pet owners, however, have marched on. A mere bone? A can of tuna? Bah.

The real swag this year is not going to Junior, dear old dad or mom who is in a crisis. The dog is getting it all, along with the nation’s cats, birds and furred, finned, scaled, hoofed or shelled animal companions. According to Pet Supplies Plus, the nation’s third-largest pet store chain, 96 percent of America’s conscientious and possibly guilt-struck owners plan to purchase a little something for their pets.

Little? The survey of almost 800 found the owners planned to buy at least five gifts — per animal — and spend about $55. Per animal. Six out of 10 will put fake antlers or other “holiday apparel” on their pets, and one in five say they would be offended if they received a holiday greeting card that did not include their pet’s name on it.

All told, we’ll spend $39 million on pet gifts this year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, which is quite sympathetic to owners who stand dithering before a floor-to-ceiling display of pet presents.

There’s the SnackShotz Treat Launcher from Dogmatic, the dog or cat Advent calendar by Rodi Petfood and the Crunchkin edible greeting card. There are pet strollers, pet air beds, pet hammocks, pet carriers made of sheepskin or velvet. There are pet yarmulkes, prayer shawls and kosher treats for pets of the “Chewish” faith, according to one waggish retailer.

This might thrill even the pickiest female human: “A rich blend of cocoa butter and shea butter with the scent of coconut,” priced at $16 for 8 ounces. By Revlon, maybe? No, this is Pig Butter, part of the “spa collection” for potbellied pigs found at Petafour, a Georgia-based pet boutique that also makes goodies for horses, including horse necklaces.

Petco — which has built its empire by welcoming skittish dogs and a few peeved cats in stores — also is brimming with suggestions for “pet parents,” a vaguely disquieting term in its own right.

Chic dog “hoodies” are a must, along with something called the Jeep Rubicon Vintage Red Pet Jogger, which might have a future role on the Afghanistan frontier. It is a device, Petco advises, for toting small animals and older pets through “rugged terrain,” among other places.

And speaking of rugged terrain, the company also is touting the Super Pet Hamtrac Master Racing Kit, actually a banked speed track for hamsters, which run around inside clear plastic balls, plus little racing flags for the humans who watch them do it.

But these all pale in comparison to luxury pet gifts — often bestowed upon the pets of the rich and famous. Donald Trump, Celine Dion and Shaquille O’Neal have given their dogs an $895 CinePet Lounger — a personalized dog bed meant to complement in-home movie theaters, complete with a “pupcorn” bowl for snacking.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer has ordered a $25,000 doghouse for his trio of canines, to arrive in time for Christmas, says Stacy Small, who is “Chief Barketing Officer” of Doggie Mansions in Palm Springs, Fla. The 50-square-foot doghouse has 7-foot ceilings, a mahogany door, slate floors, air conditioning, dog furniture and a plasma TV with DVD player, just in case the Palmer dogs get bored.

“Every dog deserves a beautiful home,” Miss Small observes.

Perhaps Mr. Palmer also might consider gold-and-diamond dog collars at $6,595 each from the Pet’s Jeweler, a $25,800 dog spa from Pet Spa USA or a $1,771 Louis Vuitton dog carrier — the inimitable “Sac Chien 50” — though logic would dictate that the pug-sized carrier is way too small to accommodate anyone in the Palmer household.

Some theorize that goofy baby boomers are driving the pet gift industry, fueled by empty nesters whose parenting instincts are still very active. Hey, why not give Rover/Fifi/Ralph five Christmas gifts? Why not, as Petco advises, “make all their winter dreams come true?”

Yeah, well. There is something to be said for the single bone or can of tuna, perhaps. A new British survey of 1,300 dog owners found that the Brits will buy more gifts for their dogs than for their own fathers; one in four fix a special Christmas dinner for their dog and one in 10 insists that the dog sit at the family table on Dec. 25.

“Dogs are a part of Christmas,” Chris Price, who sells pet insurance, recently told an incredulous press. “The family gathers around the tree, assuming the dog hasn’t already ripped the presents up. But dads don’t do themselves any favors. They are difficult to buy for, and if you ask what they want, they won’t tell you.”

Funny. Ask a dog what he wants, and he won’t tell, either.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and treat launchers for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at jharper@washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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