In the 21st century, pet ownership appears to be on the rise. Many people now regard their pet as one of the family, and are prepared to spend large sums of money to keep it healthy and happy. It has been suggested that as numbers of households with single people or childless couples increase, pet animals sometimes become substitutes for children – ‘fur babies’ – and are indulged accordingly.
Babies versus fur babies
A 2007 comparison between costs of raising a baby and a puppy for the first year showed that the baby was only about $500 more expensive.
The essential costs of keeping a pet are paying for food and medical care, including vaccinations. For dogs, there are also registration and microchipping costs. However, many pet owners also pay out for grooming, garments, toys and other luxuries. In 2008 it was claimed that the New Zealand pet industry was worth $400 million annually.
Once, pet owners had to treat illness or injuries in their pets themselves, if possible. There were very few veterinarians in New Zealand until the 20th century, and many were employed by the Department of Agriculture or farmers’ cooperative practices known as veterinary clubs. In 1945 there were fewer than 50 vets in New Zealand. However, most were in towns and cities where pet owners were the dominant market.
Owners’ expectations of medical treatment have risen in recent years, and veterinary care is becoming more sophisticated. By the early 2000s it was possible, for instance, to treat diabetes and cancer in animals – for a price. Pet insurance is available to cover these expenses.
In 2008 there were around 2,000 registered vets in New Zealand, of whom about 75% were in private practice. Most of these had to deal with a variety of animals needing surgical or medical treatment, but companion animals – particularly cats and dogs – were the major source of business, especially in cities.
Animal boarding facilities
There are catteries and kennels around New Zealand, often on the outskirts of towns or in the country. Many vet practices also offer pet boarding facilities as one of their services. Standards are set by the Boarding Kennel and Cattery Association of New Zealand and premises that pass annual inspection are endorsed by the AsureQuality logo. In 2008 a code of welfare for animals in boarding establishments was being updated by the Companion Animal Council to create a legal standard.
The trend towards names such as ‘pet lodge’, ‘feline retreat’, and ‘canine homestay’ suggest that many owners demand a luxurious standard of care for their pets.
Other pet services
In the early 2000s services for pets proliferate. Pet shops can be found in most towns, and pet products can be bought online. There are pet grooming businesses with names like Hound Dog Hair Design and Transfurmation Cat Grooming, and mobile dog washing vans make house calls. Some animal spas offer aromatherapy baths, massages and ‘pawdicures’ (pet pedicures).
Natural animal health is a new trend, providing herbal and homeopathic remedies, hydrotherapy, naturopathy and even reflexology. At-home pet minding is available for people who do not want to put their animals into kennels or catteries, and there are day care facilities for dogs in some cities.
Owners can take their pet to special photography sessions or ‘doggie dancing’ classes. Animal behaviourists can be called in to deal with pet personality problems such as incessant barking, and puppy pre-school gets training off to a good start. And when it is time for the final farewell, pet funeral services offer cremation or burial in a pet garden of remembrance.