Many of us remember the images of service dogs being hoisted over the wreckage of the 9/11 terrorist attack, helping officials clean up the toxic disaster. For pet owner Diane McCraw of Marietta, GA, it was no surprise to see the animals playing such a key role. For animal lovers throughout America, the images were a testament to dogs’ capabilities.
Diane, who has long enjoyed the company of, and cared for, dogs and cats is among the 62% of U.S. households who own pets, an increase from 56% in 1988. Trends in pet product sales show that Americans will indulge their pets, feeding them “appetizers,” taking them to daycare and buying them haute couture. This robust industry is on track to pass $52 billion in 2012.
Recent articles in mainstream magazines including People, Success, AARP and Oprah describe the friendships and closeness Americans feel toward their cats and dogs. Taylor Swift and Ian Somerhalder are often seen with their feline companions Meredith and Moke, and Somerhalder has started an animal foundation to care for four-pawed creatures in need. Glenn Close has adopted two terrier mixes and confesses, “The unconditional love really calms and centers you.”
Close supports Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans. Oprah magazine featured a recipient of the program, a two-time Iraqi War vet. Stories abound about pets who heal, rescue and assist humans, often portraying skills of decision-making, reasoning, compassion and action.
Ricochet, a Golden Retriever featured in People, is an avid surfer who assisted a physically challenged teen with exercise therapy on the board. Pudding, an orange tabby cat, saved her human from a diabetic coma. AARP reports that hospitals now acknowledge the role of family pets in patient recovery, spurring the growth of PAWS, an organization that coordinates personal pet hospital visits.
Pick up a copy of In The Company of Dogs catalog to see the effects of the growth of the pet products marketplace. The catalog, featuring “great gear and gifts for dogs and the people who share their lives” contains 62 pages of clothes, beds, seat protectors, supplements and treats. The descriptions include live models including “Bonnie,” a Russell Terrier who models a female diaper garment, and “Josh,” a Golden Retriever who reclines upon a “feather top ortho bed.” At least a dozen more pet models grace the pages. Lest the humans who shop the catalog feel left out, 13 pages feature products for humans including sweatshirts, purses and jewelry that help dog owners profess their love of canine companions.
Pets often accompany traveling humans as well. AARP reports that DogFriendly.com, PetsWelcome.com and BringFido.com provide free listings of pet-friendly lodging worldwide. Even the pages of Success magazine acknowledged pet love this past summer, publishing “What My Dog Taught Me About Joy” within their June issue.