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Joni Hirsch Blackman

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Boomers Help Pet Services Boom

Posted: 03/14/2012 5:07 pm

Nicknamed after a human baby phenomenon, baby boomers have now created another, albeit smaller, baby boom. Now that our babies are grown up, we've got pet products booming.

The American Pet Products Association recently reported Americans spent more than ever before -- almost $51 billion -- on our pets last year. I'm not surprised -- 25 years ago I was worried about leaving my first baby to take a trip and now I whine about leaving our dogs.

The reason I refer to our nest as not empty, but half full, is our two dogs reside there. Apparently the claim they have on us is not only emotional, but financial.

Nearly 65 percent of the billions we spend on pet products are spent on food and vet costs. But the category that grew the most recently was pet services, which includes grooming, boarding, pet-sitting and day care, up 7.9 percent to $3.79 billion.

I'm glad to hear my husband and I are not alone in spending a whole lot of money when we leave our darling pooches. The article did not suggest why this category in particular has been growing while pet ownership seems to be flattening out, but I have my theory.

As the largest segment of the population ages and our kids leave, we travel more and need help watching our "other babies." Our kids, and our neighbors' kids, used to fill in when we weren't home. The fact that the kids are no longer home after school might help explain the increased need for doggie "day care" too. With the original kids gone, we need help. Expensive help. Thankfully we're almost done paying college tuition.

We had the same neighbor/pet sitter for years until she inconveniently got a job and moved out of her parents' home. We are still trying, months later, to sufficiently replace her.

Meanwhile, my husband rightfully notes that for many years I didn't want to join him on the occasional business trip because I didn't want to leave the kids, promising that when they grew up, I would be more flexible. Now I don't want to leave the dogs. Hey, any sort of overnight care is tough on mom, whether it's for her human or canine. And it's tough on the pocketbook.

The shift from baby-care to dog-care starts gradually, when moms switch their socializing time from PTA meetings to the dog park. One of my best friends and I, who spent our early years socializing with kids in tow at the playground, switched a few years ago to dog-walking for our catch-up sessions.

But most telling was my get-together last month with the women who were my college roommates. The four of us suddenly stopped our long conversation about Max, Sophie and Lola to laugh. It had happened, we realized. We had left our old topics of men and kids in the dust and were now spending time talking about our dogs -- and their issues!

Forget parenting techniques -- for half an hour we shared dog trainer tips. We tried to draw the line at exchanging cute photos, but the photo albums on our iPhones were too tempting.

The kicker to all this angst? Thankfully, it's not a fifty-something TV show about couples hanging out with their dogs. No, it's pet-friendly hotels. When you can't leave them, have them join you!

The number of hotels allowing pets, at every price point, seems to increase each year and some even greet the dogs with a treat. But to bring the dogs, you'll need a travel crate, pet seat belt and car-friendly water dish, all packed in a paw-print boat bag. And we thought our diaper bag days were behind us long ago.

All of this does make me wonder how I can invest in what is sure to be a hot development of the near future: retirement homes that welcome full-time pets. At least then we won't have to worry about doggie day care.

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