As featured in You Magazine
We have always been mad about our pets, but now the demand for lavishing luxuries on our cats and dogs has spawned a multibillion-pound industry. Adam Edwards explores the barking world of canine health farms, hotels and fashion boutiques.
Every Friday an air-conditioned Mercedes with built–in-beds, a state-of-the-art sound system and luxurious buffet sets off from West London to the heart of the countryside.
A tracker system monitors its journey along the M4 (stopping halfway for a ‘rest room break’) to ensure the safety of the occupants, most of whom live in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. After four hours the vehicle arrives at a 350 acre health farm tucked away in a valley in the Carmarthenshire hills. Each resident has an individual chalet with veranda. There is stunning woodland and meadows with lakes and streams, a host of smells, scores of rabbits plus unlimited grooming and pampering with advisers on hand for spiritual and physical needs. The luxurious retreat is called The Dog House, and at £400 for a minimum seven day stay, is a veritable Garden of Eden for bow wows.
Says Gillian Thompson, who with her husband Mark owns and runs the bolt hole for canines. ‘We have tried to create something that is an alternative to either leaving dogs in kennels or a dog hotel that is frequently aimed at owners rather than animals.’ This exclusive billet for the barking, whose clients are there by personal recommendation, is the latest example of spoiling puppy love that is currently being lavished on Britain’s pets.
Says Andrew Saville-Edells, owner of London’s Pet Pavilion, ‘Nowadays a dog or a cat is a proper member of the family. A dog in particular is often as important to its owner as a child.’ Pet Pavilion has four-legged clients who are under the hairdryer at least once a week, the majority of them dogs. (Cats are far less pampered with accessories, says Saville-Edells.) The company has specialist shampoos, made in Japan, for every type and colour of dog, conditioners and washes for specific jobs, and ‘groomers’ trained to work with 50 different breeds. There is a large range of perfumes and manicures ‘to achieve the truly pampered look’. It takes two hours for a shampoo and set and costs around £25 a session. ‘Most of our clients have their dogs bathed every week’, says Saville-Edells.
At the Ritz canine in Worcestershire dogs are offered swimming, massage, acupuncture and a photo album to remind them of their stay. At La Maison des Chiens in West Yorkshire, pets can stay in one of four themed rooms. Services include a grooming and cuddle session, a dog treat on the bed at night and TV. At Pets and the City, pampering is taken even further. It claims to be ‘the UK’s first pure pet fashion and lifestyle boutique’ offering reiki and dog parties – ‘celebrate in style with A list canine companions and a scrumptious, beautifully decorated liver and garlic cake’.
The dolce vita for the slack tongued and slobbering even extends to new technology. Dogbook, a spin-off of Facebook, was launched last year, and now has 1500 dogs joining every day across the globe (Catbook, started at the same time, has only half as many users). This anthropomorphic behaviour doesn’t surprise Marian Salzman, a New York trend spotter. ‘We are transferring our human neuroses to our mutts and moggies’, she says. ‘That in turn pumps up demand for luxury pet products and services. The pet market now includes Chill Pills and Pet Organics No-Stress behaviour modification spray, designed to reduce anxiety in dogs and cats’. It is the humanisation of animals that is, she says, turning toy dogs and designer mutts into the new status symbols.
The fashion for canine arm candy that fits neatly into a handbag has crossed the Atlantic. Sales have rocketed in London in the past year, and the cost of buying a toy dog has tripled. ‘I’ve seen ups and downs in the popularity of Chihuahuas in the past three decades, but this time it is different’, says Susan Lee, secretary of Britain’s Longcoat Chihuahua Club. ‘Stars are buying them because they look cute, and the public is following suit’. Influential owners include Madonna, with her Chihuahua Chiquita, Jordan also has one, and Rod Stewart’s wife Penny has a pair. Sharon Osbourne has a Pomeranian (and somebody to scoop up after it). Gerri Halliwell coos to her Shih-Tzu, and Lady Isabella Hervey has a Maltese in her handbag.
The trend for designer dos includes Puggles (Beagles crossed with Pugs), Jackadoodles (Jack Russells crossed with Poodles) and the Labradoodles (Labradors crossed with Poodles); while in the toy dog world, there are Porkies (Yorkshire Terriers crossed with Pomeranians), and ‘teacup Chihuahuas’ – Scarlett Johansson has one – bred to be both pocket sized and exclusive.
Such bespoke hounds, and more traditional mutts, need fancy shops and exclusive services to match their status. Mungo & Maud in London’s Belgravia, ‘a dog and cat outfitters’, sells hand thrown ceramic bowls and embroidered wool blankets for the pampered moggie. There are natty cotton dog carriers at over £200, a canvas dog bed at £300, silver dog tags, £100 leads and even a designer leather poop bag holder for the self conscious owner. It also sells what they claim to be the world’s first premium eau de toilette for dogs – Petite Amande.
Pets and the City, meanwhile sells dog sofas with names such as Modernist, Mansfield and Platform. While Poshpetonline has country shoes for paws and faux pearl necklaces as collars. It also offers tuxedos, bridesmaids’ dresses and wedding dresses for dogs. ‘The tuxedo and bridesmaid dresses are usually bought by couples getting married who want their dog to be dressed up at the ceremony’, says Stacey Hutchinson, owner of the online shop.
The indulgence is not continued to those with more money than sense; it is matched by the extravagant ecologically aware. Animal Pure is an eco-friendly pet company that sells hemp collars for cats and dogs, eco dog beds and herbal supplements, while the Canine Cookie Company in Essex is the UK’s first organic bakery for dogs. It also does aromatherapy coat freshener, a green tea moisturiser for paws and bone shaped ‘doggie day spa hamper’. The Mango Mutt Company offers holistic lamb and brown rice natural dog food and biodegradable poop bags. And Selfridges in London has just opened its designer pet department, complete with organic dog bakery and fashions for four legs.
‘There has been a massive increase in the sale of specialist pet food, pet services and pet accessories in the past few years’, says Melody Lewis of Pet London.
‘Dogs particularly in the cities are no longer treated as a notch or two below humans. Customers are demanding that they get treated as equals. The dog has become a reflection of the owner, and those owners want the best – better food, services and accessories’.
Her company, whose clients include Gerri Halliwell and Lady Victoria Hervey, was launched five years ago. It sells dog baseball caps, canine bandanas, dog bath towels, ski jackets and a pink stroller with matching umbrellas. ‘People laugh at the dog strollers, but they are brilliant if you want to g into a shop with your pet,’ says Melody, who claims her business has increased tenfold since it started. It now supplies many top retailers, including Harrods. ‘We have also discovered a big market for the strollers for elderly dogs, dogs with arthritis and injured animals’.
However, before the old and infirm beasts go to the great kennel in the sky, some will be put into care homes, the first of which opened in Japan. Saradi Care Home Corp has a home for 20 dogs in the resort area of Nasu, North of Tokyo. A vet is on call 24 hours a day. The dogs are given a little gentle daily exercise, eat natural foods and mix with younger dogs ‘to maintain their vitality’.
‘Many owners find it hard to cope with symptoms of ageing in their pets, such as night time barking’, says a spokesman for Saradi. ‘We have seen a strong demand for these services, partly because owners are ageing alongside their dogs’. Monthly fees are around £450 per dog.
In the US the Silver Streak Kennels in upstate New York offers a home for city dogs that are too old for the rigours of apartment living. ‘Your dog will spend quality time surrounded by trees, grass and rolling hills in comfort and love’, says the sales pitch. Britain is expected to follow Japan and America’s lead. At the Anrich Veterinary Hospital in Wigan, for example, a ‘pet calm’ to allow owners to watch pets convalesce is to be introduced.
And when the time comes for the last wag of a tail, modern owners want their pets to be dispatched in style. Britain’s oldest pet cemetery is at Claverhambury in Essex, part of Chingford Boarding and Quarantine Kennels. Burial costs £320 for a cat, £350 for a medium sized dog (it’s a bit cheaper if the pet is buried in its own blanket).
Poffins, the UK’s leading producer of pet memorials, say that nowadays many owners insist on funeral arrangements that would not be out of place for a human. ‘More and more people want elaborate headstones and memorials to remember their pets’, says Poffins support manager Tina Davis. The company offers ‘traditional pet coffins’ with mahogany stain that is lace trimmed with a satin pillow. It does a nice line in wicker coffins for eco friendly owners, and also produces memorial plates, figurines and statues, plaques, clocks and marble desk sets. Its piece de resistance is a DNA sample of the late pet that can be worn around the neck of the owner on a necklace (the sample is taken with a mouth swab before the animal is buries or cremated). It costs almost £300.
Meanwhile, back in Carmarthenshire, the dogs of the well connected and well heeled are prancing about the hills enjoying an unearned holiday. Most of them are chocolate brown, as that is the latest must have mutt colour. A good dog depends on the owner’, says Gillian Thompson. ‘And if the owner is working 24/7 and cannot give the time he or she feels the animal needs then we can step in and help’.
The Dog House and the other services that have lately come into being to ensure man’s best friends are happy, purring, tail wagging creatures are fine institutions, and for the most part are doing a necessary job. Yet one can’t help thinking that nowadays a dog is not just for Christmas – it’s for lifestyle.