Creature comforts: Dog owners increasingly spare no expense to spoil furry family members

Katrina Clarke | May 10, 2013 | National Post


Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At Jet Pet Resort in Richmond, B.C., dogs can stay in a luxury suite with a chandelier, plasma TV and a webcam that allows their owners to check up on them 24/7. They can use a doggy treadmill, enjoy massages, and even eat steak dinners — with the option of being hand-fed.

The owners of three dogs once paid nearly $25,000 to have their pets live at the resort for three months.


Handout/The Jet Pet Resort in Richmond, B.C. has two of these rooms priced at $127 a night.

“There’s just no expense spared for them. It’s very important to people,” said Cam Dahl, owner of Jet Pet Resort.

A 2012 federal consumer trends report found more owners were ‘‘humanizing’’ their pets, but that only hinted at the revolution that has come to modern dog ownership: Canadians are increasingly bestowing untold extravagances upon their animals, treating their pets as if they were human: They are buying them jewellery, getting them pedicures, and spending many thousands of dollars on medical treatments.

“Oh, we’ve had [owners request that] when you put my doggy’s coat on you start with the left foot first and then you to the right foot,” Ms. Dahl said. “One lady asked for her dog to be carried around the entire time.”

A third of Canadian households owned dogs in 2011; one Ipsos Reid study found eight in 10 Canadian pet owners considered their pet a family member. And, families, as any parent knows, can be expensive.

“I don’t have kids so this is my kid,” said merchandiser Caroline Barrett, 34, of her 9lb fluffy redish-brown Pomeranian, Jake, who was with her at My Pet Boutique in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville neighbourhood. “Everyone says I spoil him too much but that’s all I have right now.”

Jake’s most recent trip to the groomers involved a ‘‘lion cut’’; he emerged shaved, except for a mane of fur. Jake also has his own doggy pool and he regularly spends the day with Ms. Barrett at her office, where he has his own bed.

My Pet Boutique is filled with high-end products: dog treats with ingredients like duck liver, organic food products and doggy truffles, cashmere dog sweaters that retail for around $150.

“If you as a customer wear cashmere, you want your dog to wear cashmere,” said owner Judith Pagnier. “We have a customer who matches her dog to what she’s wearing.”

Ms. Pagnier certainly doesn’t consider her customers to be “crazy pet owners.” In some cases, the things they’re buying are necessities, she says. For instance, in the winter, small dogs may need clothing or boots to protect them from the elements and road salt.

Some people famously take it well beyond that.

In the U.S., hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley left her white Maltese, Trouble, $12-million when she died in 2007. A judge later knocked this amount down to a mere $2-million.

Michelle Siu/The Canadian Press

Michelle Siu/The Canadian PressA Chinese crested dog works the runway during a fashion show at Woofstock in Toronto in July 2012. An Ipsos Reid study found eight in 10 Canadian pet owners considered their pet a family member.

Paris Hilton, the socialite who popularized the dog-in-a-purse look, reportedly has a 300-square-foot, $325,000 doghouse for her Chihuahuas. It is a miniature of her mansion, designed with the help of an interior decorator and comes complete with miniature furniture and air conditioning.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian even bought testicular implants for her dog, Rocky Kardashian. The company that provided Ms. Kardashian with the prosthetic testicles, Neuticles, says implants help neutered pets “retain their natural look, self esteem and aids the pet’s owner with the trauma associated with altering.”

U.S. veterinarian Doug Kramer recently said in an interview with Vice magazine that medical marijuana helped his dog after she was diagnosed with untreatable cancer. He advocates for the legalization of the drug for dogs.

When Torontonian Karen Sandford learned that her six-year-old English cocker spaniel Bangle had cancer 20 years ago, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye. She ended up spending $10,000 on chemotherapy treatments and the dog’s life was extended by two years.

Postmedia News files

Postmedia News filesA pair of Border Collies model their Doggles — goggles for dogs.

“She meant a lot to me,” Ms. Sandford says.

She acknowledges that although she could afford it, the decision to help her dog was an expensive one. “Could have fed a lot of hungry people,” she said. “But that was my choice, that was what I wanted to do.”

Not all pet owners may agree with how others treat their animals, but most choose to refrain from passing judgment on their fellow pet-lovers.

“They push them around in strollers or they dress them up in clothes – I’m not going to do it but it makes me smile when I see them do it,” says Colleen Peddie while walking with her husband and their two giant schnauzers in Toronto, all on their way to a barbeque.

“I’m sure they’d laugh at some of the things I do,” she says — when she’s away, she’ll have pictures sent to her of the dogs.

“Good for them, whatever makes them happy.”

At the Pet Shop Boys luxury boutique, spa and daycare in Vancouver, dogs can get chiropractic therapy sessions, pet psychic readings and doggy makeovers including painted nail pedicures. The before and after makeover pictures are available on the Pet Shop Boys website.

Even if the modern consumer society offers many new ways to spoil a dog, the phenomenon of treating pets like humans is not unique to the 21st century.

“It’s not new, there’s just more of it,” says Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at UBC and author of Do Dogs Dream?He talks about Queen Victoria’s tendency to allow her white collie to sit with her during tea, and sip its own sugared tea from a saucer. Egypt’s Ramesses the Great, slept with his dog, while Frederick the Great of Prussia built a special wing of his castle for his dog. Eugene O’Neill, an Irish-American playwright and Nobel laureate born in the late 1800s, had a leather raincoat and four-poster bed made for his Dalmation, says Mr. Coren.

The biggest modern demographic he’s noticed embracing such generosity include childless couples, couples whose children have left home, and single women in their 20s and 30s.

‘Everyone says I spoil him too much but that’s all I have right now’

There’s good that comes with spoiling a dog, he says:  “The dog comes in and they’ve got sort of a brand new bow in their hair and everything and everyone in the room cracks up because this is a fun kind of thing.”

And then there’s bad: “If a parent doesn’t go to activities for their child because they want to stay home with the dog, I mean, I’d start to consider that as a warning sign,” he says. “If you’re an average person and you go out and spend $5,000 to get something with diamond studs on it then I’d start to worry.”

Barbara Steinhoff, executive director of the Toronto Humane Society, says people should realize it’s not the dog who is benefitting from most pampering.

“A dog doesn’t need, nor have any conception of why they would want a $1,000 collar,” she says. “It’s something we’re doing for us. It’s us who gets a kick out of, ‘Oh, look how cute my dog looks with his pretty little pink ears.’”

National Post

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images files

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images filesSiberian Husky Saskia relaxes in her own hotel bed next to owner Elaine Goldston before they visit Crufts Dog Show in Birmingham, England.



About Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto- and Vancouver-based freelance reporter. Her work appears in the National Post, the Toronto Star, CBC Life and J-Source. Reach her at or on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.
This entry was posted in National Post and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s