The king is here

Pets get the royal treatment as more products, services become available to treat them as members of the family

Pets get the royal treatment as more products, services become available to treat them as members of the family

May 18, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Debra Hunt had her cat Mattie when she was single. He went on the second date she had with the man she would later marry.

Mattie is in some of their wedding pictures.

The cat developed diabetes, and Hunt gave him two insulin injections every day. She had to be there for him.

When the retail clothing store she managed closed in 1993, Hunt wondered what she would do. Mattie provided the idea for a pet-sitting business. Hunt figured there were other people in the area who were attached to their pets, who didn't want to board them at kennels, who wanted someone to come in and walk them, feed them, play and care for them in the comfort of their own homes.

Hunt researched the idea, sought advice from her veterinarian, got herself bonded, insured and became a member of a national and international pet sitters associations.


Now in its 10th year, Pet-Agrees Professional Pet Sitters works with 125 to 150 pets. Hunt typically works 10 hours a day, seven days a week - sometimes more.

One night she drove to a vacationing client's home to comfort elderly dogs she knew would be afraid of a thunderstorm. When a very ill client worried about what would happen to his beloved black Labrador after he died, Hunt agreed to adopt the dog. "I can't lose you both," she told him.

There are other pet-sitting services in the region, and other options for taking care of - yes, pampering - some would say spoiling a pet. A scan of the Yellow Pages for Washington County reveals listings for 21 veterinary practices, four pet-sitting services, 10 boarding kennels, 18 grooming businesses and one pet cemetery/crematory.

There's a PETsMART at the Centre at Hagerstown. The company started with two stores in Phoenix in 1987 and now operates 560 stores - "where pets are family" - in the United States and Canada. PETsMART also has a large pet supply catalog business.

There are more than 60 million pet dogs and nearly 70 million pet cats spread among 280 million Americans, according to statistics on the American Veterinary Medical Association's Web site at And dog-owning households spent almost 38 percent more in 2001 than in 1996.

The pet industry is growing.

Americans are expected to spend a record $31 million this year on pets. Products available go way beyond leashes and cedar-shaving beds. To keep a pet cool, comfortable and safe this summer, Best Pet Products offers water fountains, pet umbrellas, pet seat belts for vacation, lighted collars for camping and night walks, and "shea butter" spa treatment for battling dry skin," according to Ann Noder, director of public relations for Orca Communications Unlimited. You can order online at

Shea butter is made from the thick, white fat of the seeds of an African tree.

Stephanie Bock of Hagerstown grew up with collies, but now has Oscar, a 112-pound black standard poodle. He succeeds Alex, another of the breed. Alex dined on sirloin tips sauted in garlic and wine.

While Bock works, Oscar spends his days at "doggie day care," at a friend's kennel. He also is walked every day by pet sitter Hunt.

"He's a dog," Bock's brothers tell her.

"No, he thinks he's a person," Bock laughs.

She admits to pampering Oscar. She recently ordered him a heart-shaped name tag with garnets.


"Because he's my baby," she says.

Bock doesn't subject Oscar to extreme fancy poodle haircuts, but he is professionally groomed.

So is Maggie, Sue Watts' nearly 5-year-old cocker spaniel, about every six weeks.

Watts says her dog is not really pampered. The pooch eats dry dog food and gets no food from her owners' table. But, Watts says Maggie does get to sleep on the sofa and bed.

Maggie is groomed at Margaret Bennett's Ponderosa Snips Nails & Puppy Dog Tails in Smithsburg. Among the services offered are flea treatment, medicated shampooing, nail trimming, conditioners and cologne and a HydroSurge Massage Bath - a system similar to a shower massage for humans.

Bennett, who's had dogs all her life, breeds beagles - working, not show dogs, she's quick to point out. She's traveled far for beagle competitions. "They're judged on the way they trail the bunny," she says.

Bennett's beagles may be working dogs, but Troubles, a beagle pup born with a cleft palate and rejected by his mother, was an exception.

Bennett hand-fed him through his infancy, and Troubles became a house pet. During the last three years of his 14-year life, he had seven cancer surgeries - to the tune of more than $2,000.

Why would Bennett spend that kind of effort and money on a dog?

"I loved him," she says. "He was my child."

After he died, she had him cremated. She has his ashes at home.

Maggie the cocker spaniel succeed a springer spaniel and toy poodle in Sue Watts' life. "It's really, really hard to lose one," she says.

But having a pet is worth the grief. "You get so much out of a pet," Watts says.

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