The UK’s known as a nation of dog lovers, but with ever more opportunities to spoil our best friends, is the “pooch pound” getting out of control?
“Living the life of a wealthy, middle-class dog must be wonderful. If I’m reincarnated I hope it’s as that.”
Victoire Frencia is a 25-year-old living in London and working in marketing. She’s talking about the lifestyle enjoyed by her 18-month-old dog Kiwi, rescued from Cyprus.
“It definitely falls into the category of ‘my-dog-eats-organic-and-better-than-me’, new toys and treats every month,” she says. “It is a high cost, her doggy day care alone sets us back close to £5,000 a year.”
In total, what she and her partner spend on food, toys and the rest equates to roughly half of what they spend on their mortgage – or put another way 5% of their joint incomes.
“Yes, I think it’s definitely over the top,” she admits. However, she adds: “It’s nice to provide ‘the best’.”
Victoire is not alone in wanting to pamper her pooch.
Euromonitor estimates the dog food market this year is worth just under £1.6bn, about 1.7% down on 2017. However, the premium dog food sector – brands like Lily’s Kitchen, Royal Canin and The Rockster – has risen 2.2% to £379m.
One factor driving the market is what’s known as the “humanisation” of pets, according to Trishna Shah, senior market analyst with Euromonitor. “The idea that we’re not thinking about pets as animals: these are actual family members. These are our children,” she says.
“People almost equate their love with how much they’re spending on their pets. People are spending more on better quality products for their pets.”
Harder to put a value on are all the services available to dog owners. With nine million pooches in the UK, doggy day care, dog walkers and dog grooming in particular have proliferated, says the Pet Industry Federation, catering for people who are working.
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So why do people like Victoire Frencia spend so much on their dogs?
“It’s just nice to care for something other than ourselves,” she says.
Spool back a few months and Victoire’s story might have surprised me.
Now though, as the new owner of Bertie, the Portuguese Water Dog, a whole new world of puppy paraphernalia and pampering has been opened up to me.
A quick search of the internet revealed fountains flowing with Evian water, Fortnum and Mason food and a Japanese Ofurô bath designed to relax aching limbs.
Not a luxurious spa holiday for humans, but just some of the services offered at The Little Lord Barkley dog hotel in Surrey.
It charges between £55 and £75 a night, and offers services including a “dog nanny” and a chauffeur-driven pick-up and drop-off in a Range Rover.
Denise Soares set up the business after finding it hard to find a “reliable, safe and happy environment” for her Dachshund.
She admits they’re at the top end of the market. “We’re not trying to get 80% of the market we’re trying to get 20% of the market.
“We have had clients that just wanted their dogs to drink chicken water, which means to boil the chicken in water – in this case, organic chicken from Harrods – remove the chicken and let the water cool down – then give it to the dog, our guest.”
‘All they need is attention’
However, Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko, warns against going too far.
“Dogs don’t need luxury treatments, fashionable clothes or extensive pampering.
“People may think that feeding their dogs lots of rich, tasty food is a nice thing to do for their pet, but it may not suit their dietary requirements and could actually result in an upset stomach or the dog becoming overweight, which brings with it a host of health concerns.
“Taking them for walks, providing social and mental stimulation and giving them lots of attention is all the indulgence they need.”
So what persuades clients to book their dogs into a hotel like The Little Lord Barkley?
‘Peace of mind’
Crispin Luxton, 43, owns an IT consultancy in London and spends 10 days a month in Los Angeles. He books his two-year-old Pug Percy into the hotel while he is away.
Percy’s 10-day stay costs on average £450 every month. Crispin says it gives him “peace of mind when I’m abroad”, and he finds the collection and drop-off service very useful. “They’ve got it all sorted. I’m paying for the convenience.”
In general, he reckons he spends about £7,000 a year on Percy, including the hotel stays, on food, insurance, toys, coats, treats and leads.
Of course some people would say that’s over the top, but Crispin says: “I think it’s all relative. People spend ridiculous amounts of money on holidays, gardens and clothes. It’s about what you get out of that.”
He admits some of the things on offer at The Little Lord Barkley are a “bit excessive” though. “At the end of the day he’s a dog.”
So does Denise Soares ever feel the concept is slightly ludicrous? “It’s done in a light-hearted, good-spirited way,” she says.
“A lot of owners want to feel they’re giving their dogs something a bit over the top – they feel guilty because they’re away.”
‘A dog can forget it’s a dog’
Of course it’s not necessary to go to these lengths and most dogs don’t get this level of pampering.
The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals estimates the minimum monthly cost of caring for a dog is between £70 to £105, depending on its size and says 69% of owners underestimate this cost.
While the Dogs Trust says: “We do not encourage people to treat dogs like humans as this risks the dog forgetting what it is to be a dog and can cause him to behave in an unnatural way and even potentially develop behavioural problems.
“Whilst it is nice to occasionally pamper a pet, whether that is by grooming it, giving it the odd treat or allowing it to sleep on the bed with you, there are limits and the animal’s comfort and wellbeing should always be the priority.”
So how does Victoire Frencia respond to people who say “a dog’s a dog”, don’t go over the top?
“Each to their own. I would never let it get in the way of my dog behaving properly and doing what’s it’s told.”
With Christmas around the corner I ask Victoire if Kiwi can expect any gifts.
“Embarrassingly, yes. She’s got an advent calendar.”