BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — Good boys and girls aren’t the only ones expecting a visit from Santa this year.
Half of all dog owners purchased Christmas gifts for their pooches last year, spending $11 on average per gift, according to the American Pet Products Association. And more than a third of cat owners put something under the tree for their cats, spending on average $8 for those catnip mice or treats.
Local pet specialty store owners say they do see an uptick in business as pet owners splurge on their four-legged family members during the holidays.
Karen Davis, owner of Penelope’s Pet Boutique in Salem, says her customers often buy winter coats for their dogs, like the bright yellow puffer vest she has for her Yorkshire terrier, George.
Davis, who also owns Coon’s Card and Gift shop around the corner, opened the pet boutique on Washington Street about 11 years ago. She got the idea for the boutique from her Chihuahua named Penelope, who needed to wear a jacket most of the time.
“They buy a lot of stuff for their pets, toys and treats,” she said of her customers, “because pets are unconditional. They love you no matter what.”
“Actually, my dog store does better than this store (Coon’s) at Christmas time,” Davis said.
Penelope’s manager Candy D’Agostino said customers buy toys, coats, collars, leashes and sweaters during the holidays, but it’s the treats that sell the best. And you don’t have to go overboard, she said. Dog cookies sell for as little as 75 cents, and packages of treats cost $5 to $10.
Pawsitively Marblehead, a pet boutique on Pleasant Street in Marblehead, prides itself in offering unique, American-made pet products that can’t be found in the big chain stores, said owner Brooks Williams. Many products are sourced locally.
For the holidays, there’s not only a wide selection of Christmas gifts for dogs and cats, but a selection of Hanukkah-themed pet gifts, such as plush toys and treats.
“We are very fortunate to live in a town with so many wonderful dogs,” said Williams. “There are probably 3,500 registered dogs in Marblehead alone.”
Williams knows the local pet landscape well. She has operated the Creature Comforts dog-walking, pet-sitting service for 20 years. She has had another pet specialty store on Atlantic Avenue for 12 years, which is the headquarters of the service end of Creature Comforts.
Come January, the store on Pleasant Street, which is 4 years old, the Atlantic Avenue store and the service end of Creature Comforts will merge into one location at the former location of Irresistibles on Atlantic Avenue, Williams said. The doggie daycare business will remain on Canal Street in Salem.
“I think most pet owners I speak to do purchase something for their pets,” said Marblehead resident Steve Luck, who drops by Pawsitively Marblehead with his 1-year-old son, Will, and 4-year-old golden Labrador retriever named Lucy, who has lost one of her front legs to cancer. “They are part of the family and you want them to be included in the day.”
His wife will probably buy Lucy a matching collar and leash and some chew toys for Christmas.
“The dog will certainly receive numerous gifts,” Luck said. “... My wife calls it Santa Paws instead of Santa Claus.”
At the 9-year-old Barking Cat Pet Emporium on Essex Street in Salem, owner Jeff McKee said his store is focused on high-quality dog and cat food and treats, gifts and supplies.
“We tend to be somewhat utilitarian,” said McKee, who said the store does not carry a lot of pet clothing, though it does have some high-quality, fleece-lined waterproof coats, which make practical winter gifts for dogs. The store also offers a selection of collars and leads.
McKee said “absolutely” pet owners buy gifts for their pets at the holidays.
“Dogs and cats have always been members of the family,” McKee said. “I imagine to a certain extent it started off as a practical consideration. Give the dog or the cat something to do while we are opening presents or having our holiday meal, so a treat or a toy. Probably now, the pets are more part of a family gathering around the holidays.”
“Sometimes the best gift for a pet at the holidays is just companionship and a little something special that is out of the usual,” said McKee, who said the store will sell plenty of holiday cookies that are carob and yogurt frosted for dogs.
He acknowledges that many of the gifts people buy for their pets are really something pet owners are buying to make themselves feel good. The antler hats he sells for dogs probably are worn only once a year for the family Christmas picture.
“One year someone came in, it wasn’t at Christmas time, and they asked, ‘Do you sell costumes for cats?’ And my first inclination, though I bit my tongue, was, ‘Do you really have a cat? Do you think your cat likes to wear a costume?’”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
Holiday pet spending by the numbers
Half of all dog owners purchase Christmas gifts for their pets. So do ...
Dog owners spend an average of $11 per gift
Source: 2013/2014 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey