Pet owners are putting on the dog

In Toronto, luxuries for your dog or cat are a business, and business is booming

Toronto’s fashion retail is going to the dogs, in a good way.

According to Statistics Canada, there are five million registered dogs in this country, and on average, Canadians spend about $300 per year, per pet, to feed and care for them. That’s an industry that earns $1.5 billion per year.

However, it seems like it should be even more than that considering all the trendy pet boutiques cropping up around the GTA.

All the fashionable dogs are donning collars and leashes reflecting the latest trends, with bigger wardrobes and more outfit choices than some people have.

When did people become so obsessed with dressing up their animals, and when did it become normal to spend the money to do so?

Paul Ryu and Georges Khayat co-own Timmie Doggie Outfitters, a shop that specializes in ‘everything for the posh pooch and glamour-puss.’ The Queen Street West store carries an array of hip and modern clothes, accessories, toys and even baked goods made especially for dogs.

Ryu says the reason there are so many people now willing to pay the premium for pet wear is because they aren’t seen as mere pets anymore. Rather, they’ve become members of the family.

When does wanting nice things for your dog turn into going overboard with expensive trivialities? Ryu says that for some customers and their pampered pets, a simple collar just won’t do.

One woman wanted a Swarovski collar

“One woman came in and asked if we carried crystal collars for her dogs. We do carry crystal collars, but what she wanted was a huge, blinding, eight-row Swarovski crystal collar.” Ryu says she was prepared to pay several hundreds of dollars for the collar.

Chloe Salerno, owner of a pet couture shop called Puppy Love on Bayview Avenue, says the craziest thing anyone has ever come in asking for was a stroller for her dog.

“Five years ago, it would have been like ‘what’s your dog doing in a stroller?’ and now it isn’t so out of the ordinary.” She says that it was only a few short years ago that this kind of spending became more acceptable.

“I think the media has had a huge affect on this market; Paris Hilton made having little dogs a fashion statement, and made buying them clothes and ‘bling-bling’ collars popular.”

Salerno says that as recently as five years ago, before Hilton introduced her Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, to the world, it would have been considered silly to put clothes on a dog, beyond basic winter coats to keep short-haired canines cozy.

Now, she gets requests for things such as party dresses and even bridal gowns and tuxedos for dog weddings.

Larger disposable incomes

“Most of our clientele have larger disposable incomes,” said Ryu. “They are educated and successful, and enjoy sharing their spending money with their pets as if they were children. Most people who shop here are hip, Toronto condo-living people who are into fashion.”

Salerno caters to a very similar clientele, that being mostly the ‘double-income, no children’ variety. “I’d say half my customers don’t have kids. They seem to be mostly married couples who are without children, so their money and their attention turns to their pets.” said Salerno.

Jessica Holden, 23, and her fiancé Ryan Whyte, 26, share a Queen’s Quay condo together, and their dog makes three. They fit the profile of the trendy young couple with two incomes, and live comfortably together with no children. But you won’t find them in little pet specialty shops spending their extra dough buying dresses for Brody, their Pug.

“I don’t know how people can waste their money on things that their dogs probably don’t even like. We think it’s ludicrous how much people spend on this ridiculous stuff. I make fun of my friends who just have to have their dogs in Louis Vuitton and Gucci carriers,” said Holden, who adds she has better things to buy.

“That stuff gets expensive when you add it up, and I would rather spend money on things we need.”

‘Pets aren’t just pets anymore’

Danielle Eaton, 30, agrees. She shares an apartment with a friend in the Forest Hill area, and has a German shepherd named Daisy Duke. “We spoil Daisy with new toys all the time. She sleeps in my bed and she goes everywhere with me. She’s practically a third roommate,” said Eaton.

“But I think some people feel that the more money you spend on a dog, the more it shows you love it. I disagree. A dog doesn’t care if it has a more expensive collar than the next dog. All they care about is being comfortable and cared for.”

According to a 2003 study done by Lieberman Research Worldwide, 78% of dog owners consider their canine an equal part of the family, and more than half of Canadians will buy their dog a present on Christmas.

“Pets aren’t just pets anymore; they are our children,” said Ryu, who keeps his two dogs, Tess and Timmie, in the store at all times for inspiration.

“If a person would spend money on his or herself and their appearance, then they would spend money on their dogs and cats. Pets are becoming more humanized all the time.”