Pets 'R Us: Touring the Perverse World of Pet Excess
by Yvonne Seng for Digital Living Today

I have a confession to make. I'm from Australia (raised by dingoes and all that), so the American obsession with pet alter egos is something new and often bizarre to me. There seems to be no end to the extent to which people will pamper their pooches and puddy cats. Not surprisingly, pet obesity has reach epidemic proportions in the US. More and more, the pet world almost completely mirrors the human, with pet therapists, pet couture, gourmet bakeries, spas, pet-centric music, etc. If you can think of it, some pet fanatic has probably brought it to market.

Just to see how far all this has all gone, I made a tour of online pet emporiums. Not feeling entirely qualified to do this alone, I assembled a small K-9 focus group and asked them what sort of pampering they prefer.

First off, we talked to Alfa, a contemplative mutt from Seattle. At the end of a long day curled up under the desk at his master’s Internet start-up, Alfa likes to unwind with his massage therapist and a 3-CD set of stress reduction and meditation music ($20 at PetSmart). He also recommends slipping into a mood-ring dog collar ($40) or one of the eco-friendly hemp numbers ($20) and chillin’ by the Dog Zen Fountain (from $98; all from In the Company of Dogs). Or his master may treat him to a relaxing dip using Earthbath’s Premium Spa Package with mango-tango shampoo and conditioner and oatmeal rehydration bar ($45 at Petopia). Alfa’s secret passion? Canine cuisine. For dinner, he digs All Natural Vegetable Bones with a chaser of Vita-Yums (from the Natural Shop at PetsMart). This is usually follow up with Puppy Patch’s all natural, certified organic, Carob Chip Treats ) made from human-grade ingredients (and delivered in recycled bags, of course).

Next there’s Jocko, a muscle hound from upstate New York. Every chance he gets, Jocko’s out the doggie door to chase other people’s cats and the hapless snail mail carrier. He preps for his intimidating antics in his customized doggy gym, taking a few laps on the turbo-tube agility tunnel ($70 at k9 Sports). For his X-treme sports outings, Jocko throws on his Lotus Designs Critter life jacket ($65 at Northwest River Supplies), straps on his Handi Drink Portable Waterer ($6 at PetsMart), then loads up a backpack rig with his pup…er…pet tent Cool Pet Stuff). These are all universally available, but Jocko’s two-legged companion recommends REI, one of the original catalog stores for human trekkers. For organizing, Jocko’s keen on the Stylie Dog Travel Pack ($17 at Interplanetary Pets) and the Outward Hound Weekender ($45 at In the Company of Dogs). Forget the Purina on these jaunts, Jocko’s owner packs gourmet power bars from PetsMart’s Natural Store and REI’s high-energy doggy biscuits in chicken and beef flavors.

Miss Gigi, a fussy little French number from Palm Springs paws an aloof, painted-toenails hello. Her human has made a killing in Internet IPOs, so Gigi always flies first class. For that recent jaunt to the Riviera, she checked out the line of Fifi and Romeo accessories at Petopia, especially the chic wool and Italian leather pet travel bags (starting at $550) and the pink, hand-beaded cashmere sweater ($185). Woof, dahling. Always the clothes-hound, Gigi’s been known to go the full Imelda, with booties and hats (see the selection at Pet Expressions). Sparkly tiaras and collars are de rigeur this season, and thankfully, designer bows are now available by the hundreds at Bardel Bows. As for Miss Gigi’s penthouse, the fab, faux-leopard print day bed is her fave du jour ($385 at PetsMart).

All silly pet excesses aside, commercial super sites like Petopia and PetsMart offer great information, support and community for dog and cat owners of all persuasions. For those who like their pets to pull a little of their own weight, there’s also Working Dogs Cyberzine Working Dogs), an online publication dedicated to watch dogs, seeing eye dogs, hunting dogs and the like. The Electronic Zoo & Net Vet ), out of Washington University in St. Louis, is a comprehensive site for great veterinary resources and links to useful dog sites. For pet health FAQs, look to CAT FANCIERS for cats. There’s no shame in being kind to your four-legged friend, and pampering them once in a while, but for heaven’s sake, do them a favor and try to leave them with at least a shred of their animal dignity.

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