LIMA — Baxter has a full wardrobe.
Booties. Outfits for jogging. Shoes. A sailor costume for Halloween. Coats — one for rain and another for winter.
As his owner Melissa Turner explained, the first clothing purchase was a practical one. Baxter came home from the rescue shelter shaved. So Turner bought some pajamas for the shih tzu to stay warm.
“I laughed my tail off at him,” Turner said. “He was so cute.”
Today, Baxter can almost always be found by Turner’s side. The small lap dog accompanies her on errands, and she often buys special food — eggs, Wheaties, milk, mashed potatoes — just for his diet.
“He’s my world, and I would do anything for him. I love him to pieces,” she said.
Turner may not be your average dog owner, but the average dog owner is trending closer to Turner. While there’s always been dog super fans, premium products and specialized services for pets have been on the rise in the last decade.
From 2010 to 2019, the size of U.S pet industry has grown by 50% up to $75 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association. Pet ownership is also on the rise with an estimated two-thirds of households reporting a pet a home. Three decades ago, just over half of households could say the same.
And it’s that growth that has created local business opportunities. From pooper-scooper services to dog portrait paintings, businesses are finding that people with pets are more and more willing to splurge for their furry companions.
When a dog and its owner come through the door at That Place for Pets, co-owner Marcy Kraner can usually tell if the dog training will go well. Some owners are just better behaved.
“You can tell when they’re not really paying attention or don’t want to put the effort forth,” Kraner said.
Kraner has seen all sorts of owners come through the door. Some are “diehards” for dogs. They’ll come in for advanced training services and then bring their dogs everywhere afterward. Others are less hands-on, and while they’ll might bring their dogs with them in public, the animal almost acts as a show piece.
Other owners are more worried about having a well-behaved dog for the families. Such animals benefit from being exposed to a lot of different stimuli at a young age. By the time they age out of puppyhood, dogs trained in such a way will be less likely to snap out in fear if they feel threatened.
And then there’s the owners who give their dogs a little too much lead.
“Some dogs forget that they’re dogs. They’re destructive a little bit, biting, mouthing, playing too rough, playing a little too aggressively,” Kraner said. “They need to be knocked down a few pegs by the older dogs.”
For such cases, Kraner encourages a dog socialization program that lets dogs get away from the owner and spend a little time in a pack to recognize its place in the pecking order.
But even when a dog forgets its dog behaviors, the root of the issue is usually the owner.
“You need to train the people to react properly to their dog’s behavior. For one, a lot of people come in, and they’re very nervous,” Kraner said. “If you’re tense or nervous, that’s a sign of something wrong (for the dog).”
Similarly, the reasons for the growing pet industry are rooted in the behaviors of pet owners.
Take the increased demand in premium dog food products as an example. As the human owners lean toward healthier foods and CBD-infused products, more and more pet stores are stocking healthier and CBD-infused dog brands.
The latest trends, Dot’s Pet Center Owner Evan Nieto said, are “ancient grain” dog foods that feature chai seed, buckwheat and quinoa as replacements for the more standard corn fillers used in dog foods. Higher dog food protein quality has also become more popular.
Part of the reason for the demand, Nieto said, are owners working to better tailor dog food to their particular animals. For example, certain breeds benefit from particular brands of dog food. Some dogs may also be allergic to certain ingredients.
“People really are listening to their vets,” Nieto said. “Vets are encouraging their patients and owners to try different brands depending on the breed.”
As for clothing and other luxury items, Nieto has seen a trend of more people looking for outfits that might complement their own style. Larger, more comfortable beds have also trended upwards alongside purchases of upscale dog treats.
“People are really treating their animals like they are a part of the family. Past generations looked at them like companions — they say a dog is man’s best friend. People are really gearing their purchases for their dog as if they were a child,” Nieto said.
A death in the family
While many pet services and products are bought by owners to help increase a pet’s quality of life, others are geared more toward alleviating some of the more uncomfortable aspects of owning a pet.
Pooper-scooper services are one example. Sheri Luptak, owner of Doody Free Yards LLC, has been professionally clearing lawns of dog poop for the last 17 years in the greater Cleveland area, and she just set up shop in Allen County.
“I was a dog groomer … and the idea popped into my head,” Luptak said. “I was just outside cleaning up from my own dog, and I thought: ‘Gosh, I should be getting paid for this.”
Not long afterward, Luptak found out others had had the same idea. Today, she’s built up a six-household customer base that she visits on a weekly basis. Doing so helps eliminate storm water pollutants and any undue health effects caused by dog waste, which can be harmful.
“You can’t let it sit on the ground. It’s not like a fertilizer. There’s a lot of bad nasty stuff,” she said.
Another example is pet-centric “end-of-life” services. A number of funeral homes in the area — Chamberlain Huckeriede and Chiles-Laman are at least two — offer pet cremation services. Presley Odom, a funeral director with Chamberlain, said the funeral home sees roughly one to five pet cremations a month.
Some are from people living within the City of Lima who may not have a yard to bury a pet, Odom said. Others are looking for a sense of closure for a family pet. The funeral home offers mementos and keepsakes for such events, and sometimes, the pets are returned in small wooden urns that can be more easily buried.
Herb Vondreau has seen such familial relationships between dogs and their owners in the type of paintings some in the area have commissioned from the Shawnee-based artist.
“Sometimes, it’s living dogs, but normally, they’re about always somebody’s dog that passed away,” Vondreau said. “It’s easier to do than somebody’s portrait. For instance, certain people have different color variations in their skin that’s hard to get perfect. Well, with dogs, they’re black or white or brown. That’s about it.”
More and more, Vondreau said his customers are looking for dog portraits as gifts or tokens of remembrance for family animals that have recently died. The process takes about three days from start to finish, and Vondreau will use a photograph to ensure he can capture the right look.
“It doesn’t matter man or women, young or older, people are really looking at their pets as part of the family. I’ve seen that regardless of age of gender,” Nieto said.
“It is the dedication, the caring, the way they’re interactive, the way (dogs) act with humans, especially the unconditional love,” Turner said.
“I just love the companionship that you get from them, the innocence that they have, their need to be taken care of,” Luptak said. “You have to provide them with — they’re almost like babies — you have to provide them with food water and love. And you have to do the gross stuff.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.