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Old December 24th, 2003, 03:38 PM
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Stores, groomers looking to capitalize on pet owners' Christmas consumerism

Canadian Press

Iguanas in Santa suits, stuffed antlers on kittens and photos of the family lapdog with the jolly old elf; pet stores are booming this Christmas as sentimental animal owners strive to include their furry -- and not so furry -- loved ones in their holiday celebrations.

"I find people treat their pets as well as they treat their kids," said Maurice Bianchi, manager of Petcetera in Waterloo, Ont. "It's unbelievable how much owners spoil their pets."

He said his sales saw an increase of about 25 per cent this holiday season, with customers spending about $100 per visit on everything from food and treats to stuffed antlers and Santa hats.

Animal lover Krissy Burton admits she has always involved her considerable brood -- reptiles, cats and rodents -- in the season.

"They can be a lot of fun at Christmas," said Burton, 20, adding she recently dressed her pet iguana, Krusty, in a Santa suit.

Burton said she decorates her reptile tanks with about $20 worth of holiday trinkets and spends another $25 on treats for the animals. Last year, one of her iguanas got a heating pad and extra vegetables.

Dog lover Brenda Monger said she recently spent about $20 on holiday toys for her golden retriever pup, Rianto.

"I also buy gifts for my son's and daughter's dogs," Monger said. She wraps the presents and puts them under the tree.

Jeff Kleber, store manager of Super Pet in Cambridge, Ont., said Santa hats, antlers and Christmas-themed stuffed animals are chic with pets this year.

Rawhide gift packs and pre-filled stockings, bell collars and Christmas bungee bones are the most popular items on pets' wish lists. Fashion for pets -- sweaters and booties -- are also hot this season.

Groomers are also banking on pet profits this Christmas.

"We used to have one customer who had us paint her Doberman's toe nails red and green," said Sandra Vautour, owner of the local pet-grooming salon, Clippers. She said business has doubled in the last month.

And in keeping with the festive season, Vautour said her staff tie Christmas ribbons on freshly groomed pooches.

Once pets are looking and smelling their best, many get a picture with Santa Claus -- another growing trend at Christmas.

Cats, dogs, birds and even a pot-bellied pig have sat on Santa's lap at Cambridge Centre mall, said Tracy Leonard, the mall's marketing director.

Canadian pet owners spend about $3 billion a year on their pets, according to Statistics Canada.
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