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Santa Claus is coming to town ... for dogs and cats

November 28, 2009 | 12:00 pm

Santapuppy Dogs across the country can expect some bone-shaped presents under the Christmas tree this year.

An Associated Press-Petside.com poll shows 52% of pet owners plan to buy their animals a holiday gift -- up from 43% last year.

Gus and Molly, a pair of German shepherds, Rosie the bulldog and Zoe the cat will get treats and play toys, "the good sturdy stuff," said owner Norm Authier, 50, of Long Beach.

"We have always done this. We don't have any kids so we spoil our dogs," Authier said.

The bounce in pet gifts is expected despite the fact that fully 93% of Americans say they'll spend less overall or about the same as last year, according to a separate Associated Press-GfK poll.

The AP-Petside.com poll found that six in 10 of those who own only dogs planned on shopping for their pet for the holidays. Forty percent of those with only cats planned to pet shop.

Sawyer, a 9-year-old Labrador-border collie mix, will get something special because he was born on Christmas Day, said owner Pat Brown, 74, of Beloit, Wis. He can also look forward to his two favorite homemade snacks -- popcorn and ice cubes.

Plush holiday-themed toys are very popular with pet owners, as are candy cane-shaped rawhide chews, said Jessica Douglas, a spokeswoman for the PetSmart pet supply store chain based in Phoenix.

Popular clothes at this time of year include a Santa suit, a Mrs. Claus dress and reindeer costumes. A lot of boots are sold to dog owners in cold weather states. Bling-wise, collars and leads are popular.

"Some ID tags are decorated with sparkly embellishments and they can be personalized so it's not just for looks," she said.

According to the poll, 62% of female owners said they would probably buy their pet a gift, while just 40% of the men said they would.

Janet Rowlands, 53, in Tulsa, Okla., is planning a Christmas celebration for 29 people and pets, including her four dogs. Jack Russell and rat terrier Boodroe, 7, is the only one who steals gifts from under the tree.

"He sees it as part of the fun," Rowlands said.

According to the poll, 59% of owners say pets are only a minor consideration when picking out holiday decorations, even though 14% reported that their pets have gotten into the decorations before.

There are no cranberries, popcorn or gingerbread men on the tree at Erica Peterson's home in Vass, N.C., because of Logan and the starfish, an ornament she and her husband got on their honeymoon.

On his first Christmas with the family, Logan, a male Labrador-chow, knocked the tree over and everything went flying so he could get to the starfish -- apparently because it smelled fishy to him. All edible or scented ornaments were banned.

This year Logan will get a big butcher's bone, while Petersons' female Maltese named Bubbles, 13, will get rawhide sticks made like candy canes. Both will be wrapped and put under the tree.

Last year, Debra Jensen's Labrador named Nightmare and a German shepherd-Siberian Husky named Ticia got stockings with dog treats in them. This year, because her husband recently lost his job, there may not be a stocking, but there will still be treats -- they can count on leftover ham.

"The dogs are our only children. I love my babies," said Jensen, 55, of Tulsa, Okla.

Pat McCauley figures his 4-year-old Shih Tzu named Crystal can survive the holidays without a present.

"I'm not going to buy the pet anything," said McCauley, 54, of Princeton, Ill., "I have a daughter who is 17 and she will buy the pets something but I surely wouldn't in any way, shape or form buy my pet a Christmas toy."

McCauley may sound like a Grinch, but he concedes buying pet gifts is not the most ridiculous idea he's heard.

"If I just had a pet by myself and my daughter wasn't around, I'd buy it one or two things a year, like a ball or a tug," he said.

The AP-Petside.com poll was conducted Oct. 1-5 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. It involved telephone interviews on landline and cellphones with 1,166 pet owners nationwide, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points for all pet owners.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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