Pet Parent Price Tags


$41 billion.

More than the gross domestic product of all but 64 countries in the world.

That’s what Americans spend on their pets in one year – according to an article in Business Week.

This is double what it was a decade ago.

It’s a shocking number, yet not that surprising.

Today, 7:30 am, I took Nala to daycare. She’s been to the facility before, as a boarder for the weekend, twice, and she loves it because she can play with other dogs, which is her version of paradise. The only reason I don’t take her more often is because I’m a teacher, which means I’m poor, and $20 a day adds up fast (I know…  cheap compared to other places, but 20 bucks is 20 bucks.)

When I arrived I was one of two cars in the tiny parking lot. There was already a boxer inside, excited to start his day. A moment later, a lab, then a lab mix, then some sort of scruffy small dog, and then I lost count. All the dogs were more than a little excited to be there. Nala even pawed at the door to get to the back where she knows the other dogs are located. So much for the whole separation-anxiety-I-wanna-be-with-my-human-or-I’ll-go-crazy-thing. When there’s another dog in the room, I don’t exist.

As I drove away, I started counting on my fingers (I’m not a math teacher) the amount that place must make in a day. Five dogs would be $100. Doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve never driven past the daycare when there were less than 20 dogs in sight, and that’s just the “playgrounds” that are visible from the road. Now this isn’t to say that I think this place is making bank or ripping off the American public. It is only to make the point that not only do these places stay open and make a living, they are in demand. When researching doggie daycare two months ago, I realized very quickly that visiting the different options might be an all day process. There were just too many, each offering different services and care, and each with a slightly different price tag. A price tag all us pet parents are willing to pay for the happiness of our fuzzy children.

It’s easy to get caught up in it. Sometimes I think even more so for those of us who own a rescue. There is something in us that wants to give our little survivors the cushiest lives possible. It is the same drive that pushed us to rescue in the first place. It’s easy to forget that we have a dog, and a dog is not a person. In fact, the other day I was standing in Petsmart looking at the doggie Halloween costumes, seriously thinking about squeezing a wiggly Nala into a skeleton shirt. Eight bucks. Not bad. I pictured her walking around the planned Halloween party in her new spooky attire. She would make everyone smile. They would give her little treats and pet her, the star of the show. Then….. she would get excited about the attention, start to play with friends’ dogs, and the so cute costume would become a handle for the other dogs while playing. It would rip. Nala would see the little extra piece of fabric as a challenge and commence eating the cute little eight dollars off her own body.

I walked to the counter without the skeleton shirt and purchased what Nala DOES care about, rawhide bones.

Driving home I felt a little guilty. Maybe I didn’t love her enough yet to shove her into a costume, take her picture and slap it up all over facebook. But then my father’s voice kicked in, since he so often repeats himself, he sometimes lives inside my head. He hates (which may not be a strong enough word… loathes maybe?) when people dress up their dogs, for whatever reason, it doesn’t have to be Halloween. He says it is degrading to the dog.

He has a point. I’ve never witnessed a dog that looked happy wearing a costume. As a kid, I remember putting a t-shirt on our Golden Retriever; it was the only time her brown eyes glazed over into a kind of sarcasm. So why do we do this? Why do we spend the money? The dog sure doesn’t care if it’s dressed up or not. In fact, it most likely prefers not. If we love our dogs so much, why do we insist on making them uncomfortable for our own amusement? If we love our shelter dogs so much, why not take that eight bucks and send it to the local shelter, or buy some bones and send them to the local shelter?

In addition, take a moment to contemplate our economy, the 9.1% unemployment rate. How is the money we spend on our pets going up? All we have to do is turn on the TV or log on to our computer to experience the constant stream of economic alerts. People sitting on Wall street (and around the country for that matter), the president making frequent, desperate speeches, and, on a smaller scale, shows like Ten Dollar Dinners attempt to convince us we can sill feed our families.

But maybe I’m being too harsh.

And maybe I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

I recently spent $16 on a collar for Nala because it was more “her.” Like she cares. And I have slapped a bandana representing my college team around her neck. But I do have to say that the majority of the money I have spent on Nala (which is no small sum) has been for her and my genuine happiness, learning and comfort: organic food, dog bones, kong toys, bark collar (recall the crate barking post), training classes, invisible fence collar, and vitamin supplements.

Perhaps the cute collars and bandanas show we care. But show whom? The dogs know we care because we pet them, feed them, play with them, and give them a roof over their cute little heads. The stylish collar? That is showing everyone else.


Estimated 2011 Pet Sales within the U.S. Market

For 2011, it estimated that $50.84 billion will be spent on our pets in the U.S.

Part of the Estimated Breakdown:                                          

Food                                                     $19.53 billion

Supplies/OTC Medicine                   $11.4 billion

Vet Care                                                $14.11 billion

Grooming & Boarding                        $3.65 billion


The above was found on the American Pet Products Association Website.


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