News Column

Pet Gifts Under Tree Are Common

Dec. 20, 2011

Rex L. Troute

Shopping for Christmas presents doesn't stop at buying a gift for children, Granny or Uncle Floyd. A little more than 50 percent of American pet owners will purchase something extra for their four-footed family member during the yuletide season.

According to an poll, pets can expect a present under the Christmas tree. Toys lead the way as 68 percent of pets will get a new play thing, 45 percent will receive food or another treat, 8 percent new bedding, 6 percent clothing, 3 percent a leash, collar or harness, and 3 percent new grooming products. Many pets will get more than one present.

Two popular local pet stores have seen firsthand the growing Christmas trend.

Horse & Hound

To say partners Steve Miller and Jennifer Sterne know a thing or two about pets is an understatement. At their home just south of Nauvoo, Ill., they have eight Shetland ponies, seven Morgan horses, three Sicilian donkeys, three alpacas, five cats, two dogs and a chinchilla. In their Horse & Hound Country Store, they've also adopted a cockatiel.

Sterne also has trained horses for 35 years, and was a world champion at age 17 in park saddle competition on a Morgan horse.

Miller, a former teacher, and Sterne, a former social worker, were looking for feed for their horses and having trouble finding what they wanted. A horse feed producer suggested the pair open their own store catering to horses, but noted horse owners typically own dogs, cats and other pets as well.

Thus in 2005, they built a free-standing building for Horse & Hound Country Store at 3620 Flint Ridge Drive in Burlington.

"We've adapted the pet side. It has been remarkable," Miller said.

The dog section of the store draws the most interest come Christmas time.

"Yes, we have people that buy treats and toys for their granddogs," Sterne said.

Grandparents actually will buy presents for their grandchildren's dogs, and Horse & Hound has shipped those gifts all over the country. Miller said even neighbors will buy gifts for their neighbors' dogs.

Sweaters, Windhorse coats and different colored collars prove to be a popular dog gift most holiday seasons. The dog section at Horse & Hound has plenty of Christmas-themed items such as jingle collars, antlers, leashes, Santa hats, stockings, toys and treats.

Cats are a tougher pet to dress in clothes, so the Christmas items are largely toys and stockings.

"We've made a conscious effort to have a cat section," Miller said.

Since a love of horses was the first reason for starting Horse & Hound, the store carries a few items popular at holiday time. Jolly Balls are a toy where the horse can kick it, nudge it with its head or grab a handle with its mouth and toss it around. A treat, Stall Snacks, comes in apple, mint and molasses flavors, and hangs from a rope in the stall.

"Every year has been better than the year before, and the same holds true for Christmases," Miller said.

Jen & Kenra's

A star exists in Fort Madison. It's not Jen Hall, the owner of Jen & Kenra's at 731 Avenue G, but a 10-year-old Shih Tzu -- Kenra -- who rules the store.

The Shih Tzu greets customers and sleeps in different dog beds, but that's not what makes the store entirely unique.

"It definitely has a boutique feel," said Hall. "It's always been about the clothing."

Hall, a Montrose native, grew up on a farm around horses, pigs, chickens and the family's big Doberman Pinschers. So dogs always have been in her life. When she went looking for clothing for Kenra, she couldn't find what she wanted online or in franchise stores like PetSmart.

That was the impetus for Hall to open her boutique six years ago. In most cases, she wants items that sell in the $20 price range or less.

Most of her customers buy stuff throughout the year, but will spend a little more during the Christmas season.

"They always buy the toys," Hall said. "Anything with a squeaker. They love that."

Finding toys for larger dogs can be a hard chore for their owners.

"They want anything that's tough," Hall said.

Large dog owners want something that won't be taken apart in a week. A bone with little nubs has proven to be a favorite of larger dogs.

Treats are a favorite of all dogs, and during the holidays, pretzels and pretzel twists with yogurt coating are a store favorite. Another popular treat -- Buddy Bites -- is a soft, chewy treat shaped like a bear, and comes in chicken, beef, lamb and bacon flavors.

Blingy stuff in the store moves well, especially collars, sweaters and dresses. A black and velvet dress sold out in two weeks.

"They are going to dress little girls more than boys," Hall said of owners and dog gender. "Just like little kids."

One splurge item in the store for Christmas is Swarovski crystal collars that sell between $50 and $100.

The holiday season also is a time where puppies are given as presents. Thus, Hall said the store will sell its share of beds and crates in December.

"I do work hard on bringing new stuff into the store all of the time," Hall said.

Pet owners shouldn't have trouble finding presents for their four-legged friends. With stores like Horse & Hound Country Store and Jen & Kenra's around, plenty of gift ideas are available.

Source: (c) 2011 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)

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