It's no secret that people love their pets, but it might come as a surprise to hear that pet owners are spending more money on their furry, feathered and scaly friends than ever before.
Given the nationwide economic setbacks of the past few years, the growth in the pet services industry is nothing short of remarkable. According to the American Pet Products Association, in the U.S., people spent $28.5 billion in pet services in 2001, but that amount has almost doubled in 10 years, with consumers spending $51 billion in 2011. That number is expected to increase to $52.9 billion in 2012.
Such statistics don't really shock Walter Cook, owner of the Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery, which has a storefront on Main Street in Waynesville and a thriving online wholesale business.
Specializing in homemade dog treats and other locally made products for dogs (and a few things for felines, too), Cook has been in business for about five years, and he said every year has been better than the last.
"Each year has been an increase," he said, adding sales are up 40 percent over this time last year.
Cook credits the increase in pet spending to people's changing ideas about the role pets play in our lives. For some, pets become almost like children, and they are treated accordingly.
"Pets aren't just something you keep in the backyard anymore. Pets are a member of the family now," he said.
That attitude is certainly the case for John and Charlotte Stevenson, from Georgia, who stopped by the Dog Bakery while they were on vacation in the area. Although the couple doesn't have dogs themselves, the did pick up some treats for their "grand-dog," who they were on their way to visit.
"We like the dog, and the sign out there just drew us right in. A dog bakery -- I never saw such a thing," Charlotte said.
"Pets give us a lot of feedback from what we do for them," Cook said of the reason people want to treat their pets.
"And they never grow up, and they rarely back talk you," he added with a smile.
That unconditional love is definitely part of the appeal of pets, and it's one of the reasons people are willing to spend money on them, said Amanda Garrett, a registered veterinary technician at the Animal Hospital of Waynesville.
"Even if things are going wrong, and you lose your job or are suffering from the bad economy, that pet, that cat or dog, they love you just the same," she said.
In the six years since she entered the animal care field, she has noticed a big change in the way people treat their pets. Not only are people more conscientious about their pets' basic health care, but she said they are also trying to make sure their pets will live long, full lives.
"I have seen an increase in people wanting to got the extra mile for their pet. I think now they're not just pets, they've become family members," Garrett said.
Advances in technology in medical care have also had an impact, making things more convenient and available to pet owners. Garrett said the clinic now uses ultrasound to help diagnose some problems, and they can take dental X-rays and provide preventative teeth cleanings as well.
"There are more opportunities and ways to keep pets happy and healthy," she said. "And (pet owners) get a feeling of doing something good for something that they love."
Business hasn't been booming quite so much at Fetch the Dog groomers in Waynesville, but they haven't been in a decline either.
Owner Kathy Porter said she has as much business as ever, but she has noticed people are a little less regular in getting their pets groomed these days.
"Instead of being really regular, now they're stretching it a little more," she said, explaining that rather than monthly visits, people will extend it to every couple of months.
Still, the practice of spending money on pets doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
In fact, PetSmart, the big box pet retailer, is among the top 100 fastest-growing retailers in the country, and according to the National Retail Federation, it has been on that list for the past seven years.
A new PetSmart opened its doors last week in the Waynesville Commons shopping center, and during the store's grand opening Saturday, the parking lot was packed with cars, indicating that in Haywood County at least, people's enthusiasm for pet pampering continues. It's no secret that people love their pets, but it might come as a surprise to hear that pet owners are spending more money on their furry, feathered and scaly friends than ever before.
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