- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

LOS ANGELES

The recession is little deterrent for Los Angeles residents who insist on body wraps, massages and aromatherapy - for their dogs and cats.

“I definitely would first stop coloring my hair before not taking my dogs to get pampered,” said Adriana Merida, 36, owner of two Havanese named Otis and Zoe. She takes the dogs to members-only the Club Beverly Hills, where they can partake of yoga, Jacuzzi soaks and kosher meals.

Such indulgence contrasts with an increase in animals surrendered to shelters across the U.S. by owners who can’t afford their pets because of economic setbacks. Southern California has enough wealth to sustain companies that supply upscale pet care, said Joan Storms, a retail stocks analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities.

In Hollywood, LA Dogworks offers day care with aromatherapy and hydrotherapy, along with a so-called Fetchmobile to chauffeur pets for its 2,000 clients, who include actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Nicole Richie. It plans to open a second, 11,000-square-foot, facility in West Los Angeles later this year. LA Dogworks charges $45 for 12 hours of day care and $75 for a one-hour massage.

For felines, a bath is $39 and clipping is $60 to $100 at the Best Little Cat House, which has facilities in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Burbank. Playrooms have aquariums to entertain the guests. It also offers cage-free boarding and webcam links for owners to monitor their cat’s activities.

“A lot of young childless or same-sex couples consider their pets to be their surrogate children,” said Andrew Rosenthal, owner of LA Dogworks. “They will do anything to care for them to the best of their abilities.”

At LA Dogworks on a recent afternoon, pet owners checked out $400 Italian leather dog coats in the boutique as 10 small canines frolicked in a room with orange-pillowed bunk beds and a flat-screen TV playing animal movies. Larger breeds cavorted across and under plastic bridges and benches in an indoor run.

“The same way people would take their children to an extra outing to cheer themselves up during difficult times, they like to treat their animals to something special,” said Marjorie Lewis, owner of the Club.

At the city’s shelters, meanwhile, animal intakes increased 20 percent last year, mainly because of the housing crisis, according to the Web site of Los Angeles Animal Services.

“The current economic crisis has definitely worsened the situation,” said Martin Mersereau, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Norfolk, Va. “People whose homes have been foreclosed often evilly and cruelly leave their animals behind. We have seen this across the U.S.”

Sales of high-end pet food also are withstanding the economic crunch, said Michael Lasser, an analyst at Barclays Capital Inc.

“The types of customers that can afford these brands are less likely to change behaviors in difficult markets,” he said.

Sales of Hill’s pet products increased 14 percent in the fourth quarter to a record, New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Co. reported last month. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co. said sales at its pet-care division, adjusted for currency fluctuations, rose 4 percent in the fiscal second quarter.

At the Club Beverly Hills recently, Yorkshire terriers Bella and Elmo lounged on a miniature four-poster bed in a white-picket-fenced indoor run. A Chihuahua named Chloe was in the spa room for a massage, seated on a pillow surrounded by rose petals, at a cost of $30 for each quarter-hour. Red nail polish, a paw soak and shea-butter rub were optional extras.

“These are scary times, but being able to put Cadeau into the Club is an absolute priority,” said Jillian Spear, 34, a legal counsel at Grifols SA whose cocker spaniel attends day care. “I actually would rather cut out a Pilates class or other things.”

Diamond collars, including the $3.2 million Amour Amour model, are selling so well for Torrance, Calif.-based I Love Dogs Inc. that the Internet retailer is adding staff and considering opening a brick-and-mortar store in Los Angeles, said Kimberley Foley, general manager. She declined to provide details on its sales or clients.

Demand for fake testicles for neutered pets, including dogs and cats, is also holding up during the recession. Southern California is the biggest market for Kansas City, Mo.-based Neuticles, said Gregg Miller, the company’s founder. Sales in the 12 months through January were even from a year earlier. Its most expensive prosthetic testicles, for large dogs, cost $1,299.

“You would assume that with people losing their homes and jobs, the last thing on their mind is buying a pair of fake testicles for their pets,” Mr. Miller said. “Folks in California love their pets and are trendsetters. They’d do anything for them, no matter what the economy is doing.”

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