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Monday, August 22, 2005

We Sure Love Our Dogs....

By LINDA SHRIEVES, The Orlando Sentinel

Amos, the birthday boy, jumped up and down, quivering with excitement. The other guests wore silly birthday hats -- as long as they could tolerate the elastic straps under their chins -- and chased one another around the party room.

And when a latecomer arrived, everyone gathered around for a sniff.

That is, until Amos, a black Labrador retriever-bloodhound mix celebrating his second birthday, wolfed down his cheeseburger and pet fries, then promptly burped while opening his presents at the HoundsTooth Bakery, a dog boutique in Winter Park, Fla.

His owner, Darlene Mabey of Deltona, Fla., laughed. "He doesn't have the best manners," she says "You know, he's only 2 years old."

Mabey, 46, a state tax auditor, and her husband, William, 51, don't have children. So she's thrilled to throw a birthday party for Amos.

"You want to love them and spoil them like they're your kids," she says.

The Mabeys aren't the weird neighbors down the street. They're just like millions of other Americans who are passionate about their dogs.

Everywhere you look, there are dogs.

Dogs in parks. Dogs dining out. Small dogs in carrying cases. Dogs in airports. Dogs -- and their masters -- checking into hotels. Big dogs riding in the backs of pickup trucks or riding in passenger seats, tongues wagging out of windows. Even dogs attending church. Presidential pooch Barney often flies with President Bush to Camp David for getaway weekends.

It's a dog's life

Although Amos celebrated his birthday with an oatmeal birthday cake and doggie-approved ice cream, he regularly feasts on sautéed eggplant ("I sprinkle some bread crumbs on top and fry it in olive oil," says Mabey), green beans, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and carrots.

Life is good for Amos. He visits doggie day care once a month and eats ice cream from a spoon. Before a boat outing, Mabey enrolled Amos at a doggie water-therapy business "to make sure he could swim."

"It's crazy, isn't it?" Mabey says. "But I love animals."

When this country was primarily agrarian, dogs were farm animals, kept outside and given little attention. But in the rough-and-tumble world of suburbia and big cities, dogs have moved indoors and become part of the family.

During the past 10 years, spending on pets has more than doubled from

$17 billion a year to $36 billion, according to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association.

There are several reasons, says Bob Vetere, the association's chief operating officer.

Empty-nesters are spending money on the only family member left at home -- Max the mutt or Buddy the beagle. College grads delayed having children and are opting for pets first -- and maybe children later. And, in a society where working at home is more common, people craving companionship are discovering a dog really is man's -- or woman's -- best friend.

"It's nice to have a pet that offers unconditional love, someone who doesn't talk back," says Vetere. "I love cats, but cats take you on their terms. My golden retriever could have a broken leg, and his teeth could be falling out, but if I walk in the door, he'll wag his tail until it hurts."

Exclusive dog parks are popping up, and a South Florida couple are trying to launch Companion Air, an airline for owners who want to fly side-by-side with their dogs. And some folks are drooling over the latest shopping trend -- "Pupperware parties" for dogs and owners to check out the latest in pet merchandise.

Dogs are dining on restaurant patios -- though health inspectors are cracking down on this practice in downtown Orlando -- and there's been an explosion in the number of owners taking their pups on vacation.

And, church services that welcome pets are starting to crop up. Dee Renda, a former dog trainer, organized a church gathering to reach out to dog owners who couldn't leave their dogs for regular church services.

The congregants included a West Highland terrier, Labradors, a German shepherd, two chow mixes, a Chihuahua and a dachshund that showed up late.

Dogs, Dogs, Dogs


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