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Pampered Pets, Hungry Kids

When Fido Can Enjoy $170-a-Night Hotels and Lavish Health Care

LONDON, DEC. 18, 2005 (Zenit) - Spending on pets is skyrocketing. Animal owners in the United Kingdom will spend around 85 million pounds ($150 million) on Christmas gifts for their pets, the Scotsman newspaper reported Nov. 19. The figure came from a survey conducted by Churchill Insurance. The firm estimated nearly 70% of pet owners will buy gifts for their animals this year.

And for owners planning to go away for the holidays, there is always the option of a pet hotel. In Japan a five-star hotel for animals opened recently, the British newspaper Guardian reported Dec. 1.

Located at Tokyo's Narita airport, the Pet Inn Royal has 170 rooms, as well as cages for those on a lower budget. Veterinary and grooming services are available, as well as an exercise field and staff who will look after the pets 24 hours a day.

The rate for a standard cage starts at around 4,000 yen ($34) a night, rising to 20,000 yen ($170) for a deluxe suite -- about twice the price of a room at a midrange hotel for humans, noted the Guardian. All rooms have air conditioning and purifiers. According to the report Japan has around 19 million pets -- more than the number of children under 15 -- and the pet care industry is worth around $8.8 billion a year.

Pets can also find hotels in the United States. PetSmart had set up a string of 20 Petshotels in its stores, according to an Aug. 3 report in the British-based Financial Times.

In fact, the United States is seeing a veritable boom in the pet industry, the New York Times reported Nov. 16. The lucrative sector is attracting large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target, in addition to smaller specialized firms such as Petco and PetSmart.

Petco has about 765 stores and 17,000 employees and will have opened 90 new stores by year-end, according to Kevin Wayland, a company spokesman. PetSmart has more than 750 stores and is opening almost 20 new ones each quarter.

According to the New York Times, the pet supply industry is now worth $37 billion. U.S. retail sales of pet supplies, not including food and services, were $8.5 billion in 2004, compared with $6.2 billion spent on baby-care supplies. Pet supply sales are growing 7% annually, while sales of baby supplies are decreasing. And the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, a trade group in Connecticut, now has nearly 900 members, compared with just over 500 three years ago.

The Times noted that when Hurricane Katrina forced the evacuation of New Orleans, many people refused to leave without their pets. Since then, several members of Congress have proposed legislation requiring consideration of pets in future evacuation plans.

Health services

Big money is also being spent in health care for pets. In Australia some owners now have the opportunity to use the country's first dedicated magnetic resonance imaging machine for pets, the Melbourne-based Herald-Sun newspaper reported Oct. 20.

From the machine's arrival in July to the time of the article, more than 60 cats and dogs had gone through the apparatus, at a cost of more than $1,200-Australian (US $908) a time. One of the customers, Steve Kastelic, used the images from the scanner to treat his German shepherd for a tumor. Kastelic estimated that he would end up paying about $12,000-Australian (US $9,082) for the scans, surgery and chemotherapy.

"We spend on our pets as if there's no tomorrow," commented Rachel Johnson in the Oct. 8 issue of the British weekly Spectator, "and we lavish on them a level of care and comfort that the elderly in our care homes can only envy." In fact, she noted, there is a leveling of status between owners and their pets, or, as they are increasingly called, "animal companions."

In some cases pets are even better off, as pet medical insurance covers almost everything. Human medical insurance, by comparison, covers an ever-diminishing amount of ailments. Animal medical coverage will even extend to treatment for behavioral problems. And when it is all over, there are even pet crematories and cemeteries.

But even with insurance, pet owners face hefty bills. Veterinarians' fees are rising at an average of 12% a year, and insurance costs are climbing, the British newspaper Telegraph reported April 27. Premiums for dogs range from 50 to 500 pounds ($88 to $881) a year, depending on the breed and age of the animal, and the level of coverage.

Cats are also costly. The Telegraph cited a survey by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, showing that the cost of owning a cat is about 9,500 pounds ($16,800) over its lifetime. This includes all costs, not just health expenses.

And costs are set to rise, as ever-more sophisticated treatments appear. Darrell and Nina Hallett of Washington ...

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