Liz Dalton’s 2-year-old Maltese pups live a grand life.
Besides luxury digs and a ton of toys to while away their days, a groomer arrives at their north Scottsdale home weekly, indulging the two Dalton pooches with refreshing hydro baths, massages, toenail clips and a dab or two of un-doggie fragrance.
"If you believe in an afterlife, you want to come back as Liz Dalton’s puppies," her husband Howard said.
Dog lovers like the Daltons are fueling a burgeoning pet products and services industry that has more than doubled in 10 years.
Last year Americans spent $34.4 billion on their nonhuman companions, 6 percent more than they spent a year earlier.
Sales at Valley-based retail giant PetSmart are accelerating even faster. PetSmart’s 2004 revenue was $3.4 billion, about 10 percent of the whole industry. That’s up 26 percent from 2002. The company’s net profit nearly doubled in that two years to $171 million.
"It’s a great and growing industry," said Lynne Adams, PetSmart spokeswoman. "In addition to more people having pets, more people are treating their pets as members of the family and wanting them to have the very best."
PETS AS CHILDREN
Pets become surrogate children for many people, who shower them with humanstyle possessions from clothing to jewelry to Halloween costumes and holiday finery, said Bob Vetere, chief operating officer for the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, an industry trade group.
"There has been a general trend towards humanizing pets," Vetere said.
Baby boomers are finding pets fill a gap left by children who have left home to live their own lives, he said, and young professionals delaying having children to focus on building their careers also like the patter of little feet around the house.
"You have a great audience for pets — something to force you to get up and out of the house," Vetere said. "And these are people who have disposable income. Marketers are smart enough to cater to this market."
Among the most evident pet industry growth segment in recent years has been the boom in premium foods.
Even for the "pets are pets, not people" crowd. Janie Bauer of Mesa said she doesn’t humanize her two cats or her Old English Sheepdog Sophie.
"I don’t dress them up or anything," she said. "But I do pay more for better dog and cat foods."
In fact, the variety of meal choices in a PetSmart could rival those in the prepared food sections of your local supermarket.
Lauren Maloy of Mesa buys three kinds of puppy foods so her 6-month-old Bassett Hound Lollie — "We call her Lollipop," Maloy said — won’t have to eat from the same menu at every meal.
Lollie has already amassed a basket full of toys and a mini-sofa to lounge on.
Maloy is eyeing a bed trimmed in pink feathers.
"She’s a girl and I like to get her girly things," Maloy said.
LAP OF LUXURY
For the ultimate in pet pampering, gourmet pet food stores and stylish boutiques are finding a following among the well-heeled pet owners.
"The feeling is, ‘You like low fat food, your dog will like low-fat food. You like aromatherapy, your dog will like aromatherapy,’ " Vetere said.
Just Dogs Gourmet, which makes fresh canine cakes and cookies daily, popped up a few weeks ago at Paradise Valley Mall.
The shop carries highfashion pooch apparel in addition to high-priced grub. Doglovers can purchase Swarovski crystal-studded collars, hot-pink hoodies and faux mink stoles for their fourfooted family members.
One company has even developed a cell phone for Fido, Vetere said.
"It’s attached to the collar, and if you call, it rings once and automatically answers with a speaker phone so you can talk to your pet," he said.
Vetere admits that may have pushed the humanizing too far.
"My Golden Retriever would have a nervous breakdown trying to figure out where the voice was coming from," he said.
SPAS AND SUITES
Besides the plethora of stuff to buy, people are spending their money pampering their pets in other ways — often in the same ways they pamper themselves.
Scottsdale-based Dogs Are People Too Pet Massage not only offers rubdowns for Rover — the masseuse will come to your home in a specially outfitted van — but will also instruct pet owners on massage techniques.
"Pets share their love with us 100 percent, day in and day out. Just like people, pets also love the attention and relaxation a massage can give, and it will actually help their overall well being," said business owner Tracy Piatt, who claims the title of Certified Canine Massage Practitioner. "For pet owners, massage helps strengthen the bond with their pet. After about the third massage, your pet will begin expecting it and will communicate to you when it’s massage time."
Aussie Pet Mobile rolled into the East Valley a year ago with a few grooming trailers. Owner Errol Rafal has doubled his business in a year.
He has six trailers, four full-time groomers and about 650 pet clients a month.
Most are dogs and cats. "Every now and then we’ll clip a ferret’s fingernails," he said.
Rafal’s 15-point pooch pampering spa treatment includes pulsating shampoo, a blow dry, and a massage, among other beauty regimens.
"A year from now I’ll have nine trailers, and in three years I’ll have 15 trailers and 30 groomers," Rafal said.
PetSmart also is selling services ranging from obedience training to grooming to day care.
"Services are the fastest growing piece of our business," Adams said. Last year revenue from PetSmart services skyrocketed 20 percent from a year earlier.
The company recently rolled out Petshotel, with rooms and suites rather than kennels, TVs tuned to petthemed shows, lambskin blankets and a "bone phone," so pet owners can phone home to their pets. A human takes the call and assures the pet it’s not a voice from nowhere.
The company has 26 Petshotels so far, including versions in Tempe and east Phoenix, near Paradise Valley Mall.
Even newer is Doggie Day Camp, which is available at all Petshotel locations and a few selected stores, including a Scottsdale PetSmart at 90th Street and Shea Boulevard, Adams said.
Just like child care it provides pet owner with a place to send their dogs to socialize, Adams said.
Vetere said he doesn’t see the pet industry growth slowing any time soon.
In fact, the addition of more convenience products and services such as automatic feeding systems and mobile groomers are making it easier and more convenient for mostly anybody who wants one to have a pet, he said.
"With the general insecurity in the world, it’s nice to have somebody wagging a tail and giving you perspective on life," he said.