It's a Dog's Life

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Chihuahua Pete relaxes on a leopard-skin dog bed as his chow is delivered

You don't love your dog. Sure, you may take him for walks, pet him and even give him special snacks, but did you buy him a $190 designer shearling coat? Do you get him regular massages and manicures? Take him to dog singles mixers? Does he have a PetBrella? Do you have a heart?

With more single people now than in the past 30 years, a lot of human affection, and cash, is being spent on pets. "For people who don't have children, animals are as dear," says Steve Cohen, the owner of Miami Beach's Dog Bar, which offers organic food for dogs, such as $30-per-lb. beef patties. Less than a decade ago, Americans spent $17 billion a year on pet products and services. But that was an era before Animal Planet and its famous pet psychic, before Judge Joseph Wapner moved from The People's to the Animal Court and before last week's prime-time Miss Dog Beauty Pageant on Fox. This year pet purchases are expected to rise to $31 billion, despite the raise-free economy, with much of the money going to products that no one dreamed of 10 years ago. These days Clifford could sue his family for neglect.

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The leap from pet to companion has occurred not just in minds but in the legal system as well. A San Francisco city ordinance passed in January adds the word guardian to the designation of pet owner to acknowledge that pets are more than mere property, and a 2001 Oregon measure protects bequests left to dogs. You can forget leash laws; animal lovers are now lobbying their city councils for more dog parks. "This is part of a civil rights movement," says Alan Beck, professor of animal ecology and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. "It wasn't until 30 years ago we began to give up public space for basketball courts and soccer fields. Now we're beginning to realize that pets have similar needs."

The Bark started six years ago as a newsletter to fight for a leash-free park in Berkeley, Calif., but it has turned into the New Yorker for dog lovers. With 75,000 subscribers and the motto "Dog is my co-pilot," the magazine has featured writers such as Amy Tan, Peter Mayle and Lynda Barry, and has run a long article on canine blood banks and a regular column on animal behavior called "Both Ends of the Leash." And then there's the four-year-old Animal Fair, a lifestyle magazine that claims a circulation of 200,000, 70% of whom are women. Renee Zellweger, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Drew Barrymore have posed for the cover with their pets, and Wendy Wasserstein and Steve Martin have written pieces. Summing up the magazine's ethos, editor Wendy Diamond says, "I have a bag for my dog that matches every outfit I have."

Earlier this month Animal Fair threw a fashion show, Paws for Style, to benefit the Humane Society of New York, that was sponsored by Grey Goose Vodka and L'Oreal and featured a giant ice sculpture of a fire hydrant and a dog. The World Canine Freestyle Dance Organization opened the show, performing a kind of ballroom dancing between human and dog that club founder, Patie Ventre, vows to get into the Olympics. The runway showcased Pomeranians Pumpkin and Sugarplum and Papillon Marshmallow in custom-made outfits by J. Lo, along with other well-groomed dogs in outfits designed by Kate Spade, Vera Wang, Vivienne Tam and BCBG Max Azria. Gossip columnist Cindy Adams walked the runway with her Yorkies, Jazzy and Juicy. "My dogs have my car and driver take them to a play date, and I walk to the theater in the rain," she said, elaborating on her devotion to them. "Jazzy keeps me warm in the winter, and I don't have to be nice to any in-laws." Lawyer Edward Greenberg, who came to the event, said of his mixed breed, Carnie, "She's better than kids. No college to pay for."

J. Lo may be considering entering the dog-clothing business, but she is a bit late to the party. Burberry's has made headway with its collars and doggie trench coats, and the industry already has its own Guccis and Chanels sold in dog boutiques — not to mention its own supermodel, Moonie, who appeared in Legally Blond, travels with an entourage of two trainers and two stand-in dogs, and commands $1,500 a day. At Fifi & Romeo in Los Angeles, $172 cashmere dog sweaters hang on tiny wooden hangers next to $135 polka-dotted raincoats. The store also carries the Chic Doggie line, which includes a very popular $95 necklace of faux white pearls with a rhinestone ball.

At Dogmopolitan, a store in Newport Beach, Calif., miniature dog sofas range in price from $400 to $2,000. "Pet consumers will buy things for their pets before they buy for themselves," says co-owner Lex Gable. Dog furniture also includes the PetaPotty, a 34-in. square of grass with a drainage system that, for $230, plus $30 a month maintenance, allows your dog an indoor bathroom of his own. But real, full-size dog rooms are also being built. Sunrooms Plus of Albuquerque, N.M., is doing a significant portion of its business building additions for dogs, at about $20,000 per unit. And Pierre Deux, a black French poodle who lives in a condo in Indianapolis, Ind., has his own human-size, Paris-themed bathroom equipped with disposable diaper pads.

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