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Oh, You Lucky Dog!


Luxury products and services for pets proliferate.

Some 63% of all American households include pets, and they're expected to cost their humans more than $45 billion this year, nearly double the amount of a decade ago and 5.1% over 2008 spending, according to the American Pet Products Association.

The industry may not be recession-proof, but it's at least recession-resistant.

The fact is, it doesn't cost all that much to make a pet happy. And many of the services -- like grooming, day care, and boarding -- are making it easier for busy people to cope with their pets' needs.

And food? We're no longer talking about the kind of pet food you use a can opener to get at.

If you're socially-conscious, doesn't tolerate child labor and uses only tuna caught according to guidelines that minimize hazards to the dolphin population.

If your main concern is health, gives you a form to fill out so it can determine whether you should serve the farm-raised hormone-free turkey with russet potatoes or the oven-roasted chicken with sweet potatoes.

We're talking about pet food, you understand.

PetSmart (PETM) is the biggest name in the business, with a 13% share and a growing network of in-store services ranging from day care and boarding facilities to pet spas and veterinary care.

Other retailers like Walmart (WMT), Costco (COST), and Bed, Bath & Beyond (BBBY) are trying to horn in by increasing shelf space for fancy pet items.

But this is a category tailor-made for the entrepreneur who yearns to turn a personal passion into a full-time business.

How else do you explain Susan, the saintly cat lady who makes house calls to give my long-haired cat his sleek "lion cut"? Have you ever tried to give a cat a haircut?

So, many businesses that used to want nothing to do with cats and dogs are beginning to cater to pets, and their owners.

The Queen Mary II now has a kennel area for canine passengers on its transatlantic route. Although most airlines permit pets onboard, there are many restrictions. Big dogs are stowed in the luggage area, a stressful prospect for all involved.

Naturally, there's a solution for that, too: the first pets-only airline, Pet Airways, recently took off, serving a dozen US cities.

Many airlines now permit pets on board for domestic and international flights. Pets under 20 pounds can fly with their owners in a carrier for a fee of $100 or more. Most bigger pets can go cargo for $300 to $500. But snub-nosed dogs and cats aren't allowed to fly as luggage because they're heat-sensitive and might spend too much time outside on the runway. (That might give you pause whether your pet has a snub nose or not).

In any case, people who want to take their pets with them have to fill out an airline form, show proof of vaccination and a health certificate, and check for any additional regulations in their destination country. More information and airline forms are available at

Meanwhile, the (human) hotel industry has discovered that many of its customers prefer to take their pets with them on vacation or even on a business trip.

Hyatt Regency, Loews (L), and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide (HOT) are among the hotel groups that now welcome four-legged guests.

A searchable database of pet-friendly hotels is available at

On a grander scale, there are facilities like Wagsworth Manor, a "luxury retreat for the furry elite" in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

We couldn't resist and tested its facilities recently with the help of Sundance, a six-month-old Golden Retriever. Click through the slideshow to see how he liked it.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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