by Allison Ledwon
“It’s great to see him run down the hall and greet me when I get home,” said Dave Davies, a United States veteran and current student at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Davies’ comments could easily apply to any child, but instead they are about Teddy, a 15-month-old Yorkipoo, which is a mix of a Yorkshire terrier and a poodle.
“My wife and I joke that we’re the mama and the papa and he’s Teddy,” Davies said at a puppy playgroup organized by Kellogg PAWS, a platform for graduate students and their pets to get to know one another.
Many of the 79.7 million pet-owning Americans, like Davies, consider their cats, dogs and other critters a part of their families. Thus, many consumers have adjusted the way they spend money on their furry, scaly or feathered friends accordingly.
Pet owners, who make up 65 percent of the U.S. population, are on track to spend $60 billion on their animals this year, which is more than double what was spent in 2001, according to the American Pet Product Association.
Alan Beck, the director of Purdue University’s Center of the Human-Animal Bond, said he believes that American consumers are simply using money that could be used pursuing other non-essential objects or activities, like golf.
“If I spend one or two thousand dollars over two, three years on my dog people say ‘How can you do that?’” said Beck. “But if I said I spent $2,500 on a club membership that would go unquestioned.”
Despite the questioning of others, pet owners are willing to open their wallets a little wider for Fido or Fluffy.
This increase in consumer spending has benefitted retailers like the Happy Husky Bakery in Evanston. The Happy Husky sells pet treats made with human quality ingredients according to co-owner Steve Farmer.
“People like the special feeling that something was freshly made and people are spending more on their pets,” Farmer said. “It’s just like you would want to make sure your family members have the best, many pet owners today are really looking for their pets to have the very best.”
Human quality care is not limited to food. Licensed veterinary technician Diana Pop of Kindred Spirits Integrative Medicine for Companion Animals helps perform procedures ranging from acupuncture to massage therapy. According to Pop, the holistic treatment helps treat chronic conditions and allows the animals to live longer, healthier lives — a priority for all of the practice’s clients.
“We do a lot more for our pets than we do for ourselves most of the time, or I should say our clients do,” Pop said. “They’ll come in and get massages and acupuncture and chiropractic treatment more often for their pets than they would for themselves.”
Caring for animals like they are part of the family is nothing new to Ramie Gulyas, the owner of Follow Your Nose, an Evanston pet shop.
Gulyas said when she opened her store she wanted to provide products and services that she would be comfortable giving to her own pets.
“If you have to have dog toys laying all over your floor, I wanted to make sure they were things that were safe and not full of toxic stuff since they are chewing it,” Gulyas said.
In addition to toys and treats, Follow Your Nose sells high quality pet food.
“People are realizing their pet’s diet has everything to do with their long term health,” Gulyas said. “Cost is no indicator of quality. You can find food less expensive than what is at big box stores, but is better for them.”
Regardless of cost, Shiwei Qi and her boyfriend Sherwin Jiang said they are glad high quality options are available for their dog, Loki.
“We try to stick to two brands: Wellness and Blue Buffalo,” Qi said. “I work in management consulting and I actually did a project that studied pet food brands. Those two are identifying as the premium brands, like higher quality, good for your pup.”
Beck says the upswing in spending may correlate with the humanization of pets and the increasingly emphasized role they play in the daily lives of pet owners.
“It was really only about 10 or 20 years ago that if you were at a social gathering and started weeping because your animal just died there’s a good chance a person would say ‘Oh just get another animal,’” Beck said. “We’ve recognized pets play more roles than that. The economy is recognizing that.”