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Pet-Conomics

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Cute kitten
Cute kitten
A kitten is a juvenile domesticated cat. The young of big cats are called cubs rather than kittens. Either term may be used for the young of smaller wild felids such as ocelots, caracals, and lynx, but "kitten" is usually more common for these species. | Photo: Associated Press | Litten, Cat, Animal, Cute,

How the non-human sector is faring in these financial times

They say that pets mirror their owners in looks, and the adage also rings true when it comes to financial trends. Consistent with the welfare of their human keepers, economic recovery from the recession has contradictory results for furry companions.

According to Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA's Adoption Center, people have been more reluctant to rescue shelter animals in recent years. She stated, "The economic recession seems to be a key negative driver; taking on a pet requires additional expenses and many people are not in a place where they can afford the extra costs."

Paradoxically, pet spending is on the incline. Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA in Los Angeles, noted that people are opening their wallets for pet supplies despite the dip in adoption rates. "We do see that people are spending more for their pets than ever before. People are buying accessories and things for their pets that they never used to.... that's one end of the economic spectrum," she stated, "at the other end, there are people who are not able to keep their pets."

Statistics show that the pet industry truly is big business these days. Americans will spend $53 billion on their four-legged friends in 2012, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Craig Rexford, vice president and publisher of "Pet Business," "The Pet Elite" and three other industry magazines, has seen the rise of pet supply sales firsthand. He pointed out a trend towards upscale products, and notes that mainstream chains like PetCo are reserving more shelf space for gourmet treats and higher-end toys.

Still, according to Rexford, pet extravagance is not what it used to be. He launched "Pet Elite," a trade magazine for upscale pet boutiques, in richer times "when Paris Hilton was walking around with her pet chihuahua," and the now-defunct Pet Fashion Week was all the rage in New York City. In those days, a $20,000 mink dog bag had a solid market. "Pet Elite" used to compete with two other magazines of the luxury genre; both are now defunct, victims of the waning pet couture fad.

The paradoxical data for pets is consistent with human economic trends. Kiplinger reports that consumers are making retail purchases more readily in 2012. However, In a 2011 year-end report, RealtyTrac claimed that one in 69 homes had a foreclosure filing, and they predict that number to grow slightly in 2012.

When foreclosure happens, animal residents are evicted from the property just like humans. And as people are left scrambling for a new roof, there may be dogs, cats and other creatures with no place to go. Motels, emergency shelters and apartment buildings often don't allow pets.

In some instances, former homeowners simply leave their animals behind. Stories abound of realtors opening the front door of a foreclosed home to find dead or near-skeletal dogs and cats. The Humane Society has denounced such abandonment as inhumane and illegal, and set up a fund to help shelters deal with animal victims of foreclosure at the height of the housing crisis in 2008.

Healthcare also plays into the pet-conomy as domestic animals, like their owners, are living longer lives. Rexford stressed the impact of improved nutrition, pointing out that there are now "whole lines of senior pet products'and added supplements like chondroitin, and all these things to help dogs live a longer, healthier life."

While owners may want their fuzzy companions to live as long as possible, Bernstien said that as an animal grows older, "the pet becomes geriatric, develops cancer," and generally becomes more expensive to provide for. As with an aging mother, grandfather or aunt, families may be left with tough economic decisions to make for ailing pets.

In another twist, these animals might actually be cutting health costs for their human companions. According to Buchwald, "scientific data now confirms that pets improve our health, lowering blood pressure, stress levels, resting heart rate, and even helping us lose weight." All this means that pets just may help stave off medical bills for their owners ' a potential pet perk that doesn't occur to the average would-be adopter.

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:59 AM EDT | More details

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