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Despite down economy, pet industry forges on

By ALLISON MILES
Oct. 16, 2010 at 5:16 a.m.

Stephanie Garza does a final trim on the shih tzu mix, Molly's, face while grooming her at Animal Palace, 1502 E. Mockingbird Lane. On top of providing a grooming service, the store also sells all-natural dog treats and even organic frozen yogurt for dogs.

NUMBER OF PETS OWNED IN U.S. Birds: 15 million

Cats: 93.6 million

Dogs: 77.5 million

Equine: 13.3 million

Freshwater fish: 171.7 million

Saltwater fish: 11.2 million

Reptile: 13.6 million

Other small animal: 15.9 million

Source: American Pet Products Association website

A shopping trip every once in a while can be good. Just ask Cricket, a curious Boston terrier who belongs to Betty Rokyta.

"Any time I come home with a bag, the dog is there, looking to see if there's a treat inside," Rokyta, a Victoria resident, said.

And, more often than not, there is, she said, explaining she enjoys pampering her pooch.

She isn't alone.

Even in a recovering economy, people continue spending money on their animals.

Pet industry spending is expected to hit $47.7 billion in 2010, up from the previous year's $45.5 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association.

A majority of that spending comes from food expenses but veterinary care, medications, grooming services and more also join the mix.

The "essentials" are the products that go over best at Northside Ranch Pet and Garden Center, said Jackie Parsons, who manages the Victoria store. Foods, collars and beds are all among the best sellers.

People love their pets and are willing to spend money on them, Parsons said.

"They're still spending money, they're just not going overboard any more on their pets," she explained.

Customer traffic at Victoria's Animal Palace never really slowed with the down economy, owner Eny Faultersack said. In fact, the business is looking to expand.

"People are getting their animals groomed just as much," she said. "I haven't seen that much of a cutback."

The only real slowdowns come from families with multiple dogs who are looking for cheaper foods, she said.

When it comes to industry trends, Faultersack said many pet owners opt for more holistic, organic items. Animal Palace boasts four organic food varieties and frozen items that draw shoppers from a 100-mile radius.

"People are taking better care of their pets than they used to," she said.

Main Street Animal Hospital saw a slight decline in business throughout 2009 and 2010, but nothing substantial, said Dr. Travis Schaar, the site's veterinarian.

Customer inquiries into what products and services cost went up, he said, but people still want to care for their pets.

"People are just trying to do a little bit less here and there," Schaar explained.

That decline might be over, however.

Schaar said that within the past month-and-a-half or so, business has begun to pick up again, but he can't explain why.

"Things have just started swinging the other way," he said. "Business has been very, very busy again."

Other changes have also come to the Victoria pet industry.

A Dog's Haven Day Spa, a facility that will offer grooming and bathing services, is slated to open its doors Nov. 1 at 1303 N. Navarro St., while Leo's Canine Cafe, a site that sold pet items and homemade dog meals, recently closed.

As for what the future holds, no one holds the crystal ball.

But Rokyta said she plans to continue caring for her animals, which include Cricket, as well as two donkeys, Millie and Annie.

With her children grown and out of the house, the retired Victoria school district employee said the animals are fun to have around.

"They're family," she said.

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