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Marketers tap into a lucrative market: pets

American pet owners spent about $48.5 billion on their pets in 2010.
REUTERS/Nicky Loh
American pet owners spent about $48.5 billion on their pets in 2010.

The level of love, care and money that people lavish on their pets has ceased to amaze me.

When I worked at newspapers, it was a given that a happy pet story — or a sad one — was a strong candidate for front-page play, and would probably draw more letters and phone calls than anything else in the paper that day.

Marketers have known this for a long time, of course. Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a proliferation of gourmet pet food, upscale pet accessories — even health insurance plans for pets.

American pet owners spent about $48.5 billion on their pets in 2010 — a jump of 70 percent in a decade. That’s about $665 for each of the 73 million American households with at least one pet. So I wasn’t surprised when I got word of an upcoming fashion show for dogs — and their owners.

“Doggies on the Runway” promises to showcase “the smartest looks for your pets and yourself.” And, of course, pet vendors will be on hand offering pet wear, pet care items and other accessories. The runway fashion categories will include fall and winter walking outfits; play clothes; holiday and party outfits, and travel ensembles.

The fashion show, which will benefit the Animal Humane Society, isn’t until September. But auditions are being held this week in Woodbury and next week in Minnetonka. For more information, visit www.doggiesontherunway.com or call (612) 636-5598.

Our household has two cats, and I’m very fond of them. But other than keeping them fed, I don’t like spending money on Ozzie and Comet. Whenever there’s an unexpected trip to the vet — and a bill of a few hundred dollars — you can be sure I’ll be grumbling about it.

But I’m not at all dismissive of events like a doggie runway show. It’s a free country, and if people find it rewarding to spend on their pets, I say more power to them — and to the marketers who’ve figured out how to tap into what is undeniably a lucrative niche.

After all, there’s lots of evidence showing that pets are good for their human companions — lowering blood pressure, boosting immunity, reducing depression and providing an outlet for exercise.

There’s a big German shepherd that lives in my neighborhood, a fierce-looking dog whose owner passes by our house at least a couple of times a week. But this imposing creature always appears clutching a stuffed bunny in his jaws.

That dog-and-bunny show has given endless pleasure to me, my wife and daughter, and the story always draws a smile and a laugh when we tell it to others.

So the $10 that the owner might have shelled out on a stuffed toy for her dog? Money well spent, if you ask me.

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