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Dear Santa, throw me a bone

A horsehair brush, a rhinestone studded collar and a miniature leather jacket: not exactly the typical items on a Dear Santa wish list. However, they are typical for the many Americans who take big bites out of their finances to pamper their pets during the holiday season.According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 54 percent of dog owners, 41 percent of cat “owners,” 25 percent of those who share their home with a bird and 23 percent who own hamsters, ferrets or other small animals will purchase holiday gifts for their companions this season.In a news release, the APPMA said Americans are spending more on their companions than ever. The association estimated that animal lovers spent $38.4 billion on their pets in 2006.It’s no wonder that many local businesses cater to pets, offering stocking stuffers for the treasured family members of the furry kind.Jeri McGinnis, owner of Gigi’s, The Animal Lovers Gift Shop, a pet accessories store in Manitou Springs, has been in the business of indulging animal companions for 17 years. She carries a variety of unique and extravagant items for animal lovers all year round, but she said the holiday season is one of her busiest.”Most of my customers’ pets participate in the holidays,” said McGinnis, who prefers the term “animal guardian” to “pet owner.”Dogs and cats alike could be dazzled by the vast array of pet pampering accessories found at Gigi’s. McGinnis sells everything from clothing for dogs and cats, including biker jackets and sweaters and shirts, to a wardrobe closet for storing those pet garments to pet car seats that range from $75 to $130 to $200 pet strollers.Cats tired of those litter boxes and looking for a way to make the David Letterman “Stupid Pet Tricks” segment might be interested in the toilet trainer product.If entertaining the neighborhood cats and dogs is fun for your pet (or you), McGinnis carries bone-shaped muffin and cake baking pans. And there are bone-shaped candles to light up Fido’s birthday party – just watch the tails.Getting in the holiday spirit is not just for humans. McGinnis said many of her customers decorate a tree just for their pet. She sells a caricature line of ornaments of almost every dog breed, as well as Christmas bandanas, Santa hats and Christmas stockings.Sherry Bilodeau, the guardian/owner of Digit, a 2-year-old Dachshund, said nothing is too good for her companion.She said her four-legged friend lives the good life. Digit has her own four-poster bed complete with an white eyelet canopy and a fake pink fur pillow, a car seat and stroller, all made by Bilodeau.”She doesn’t think she is a dog. She has a better life,” Bilodeau said.A better life than some humans: Among Digit’s more extravagant belongings are a life jacket for the family’s outdoor pool, a fan that attaches to the car window to keep her cool when she travels with her human companions, a T-shirt with a rhinestone crown that proclaims, “Always a Princess,” a pearl collar with a bone-shaped charm featuring pink rhinestones and a suede winter coat and a fleece coat.Although it appears that Digit has everything, Bilodeau said she will definitely have something new under the tree this Christmas morning.Digit might be a little out of place on the eastern plains, where horses rule. But local businesses cater to all kinds of pets.Although Farmer Jim’s is in the business of horses, dogs, birds, swine and poultry, for the most part, manager Jonathan Bayless has experienced customers who ask about “monkey feed, crocodile chow and lion chow.”Popular holiday gifts at Farmer Jim’s include everlasting treat balls for dogs, horse treats, inflatable jolly balls for horses to play with in their pens and horse grooming products. Bayless said Farmer Jim’s pet products range in price from a dog treat for less than a dollar to a $1,600 Tucker saddle.Renee Bartlett, who owns Bartlett Hay, sells merchandise for horses and dogs. She said horse blankets, bedding, wraps, warmers, shampoos and hair polishers are always great gift ideas for animal companions. Bartlett also carries holistic dog treats and dog toys. This season, she is making stocking stuffers for pets that she’ll sell in the store. And if Garfield or Fluffy are picky about their gifts, Bartlett is willing to help the human shopper. “If we don’t have it, we can certainly try to get it for you,” she said.A short ride north – by car or by horse – is The Ride in Horse Boutique, which sits on a third generation working cattle ranch. Owner Mary Welty describes the store as a “riders’ boutique for those who pamper their horses.”The horse boutique, attached to the Fly’n Cowboy Ranch Store, provides a hitching rack in front of the store for owners who want to fit their horses on site.It’s easy to lavish your horse with gifts at the boutique. Perhaps ole’ Nellie needs a Cactus saddlery, handmade in Texas; a Cactus rope, a wool blanket or wood-burned trophy leather bags.”I sell top-end items that you don’t often see anyplace else,” Welty said, “I try to bring in things that are very unique and unusual, and good quality.”Although many pet owners want to “throw a bone” to their pets over the holidays, Dr. Robert DeAngelo at Calhan Veterinary said owners need to be cautious about holiday hazards.”A lot of people give pets food they shouldn’t over the holidays like turkey bones, chicken bones or rib bones,” he said. Keep chocolates out of reach and electric cords hidden, he added.And holiday window dressings often peak a pet’s curious nature, DeAngelo said. Watch pets around trees and holiday plants. They often like to play with glistening tinsel, ornaments and ornament hooks or nibble on toxic poinsettia leaves or drink tree water, which often has added chemicals.DeAngelo also said it’s important to provide proper shelter for horses and dogs during the winter months and remember to store the antifreeze out of any animal’s reach.Whether it’s simply watching out for the holiday animal hazards or buying the poodle a pink rhinestone collar, most will agree that quality time – a walk, a game of fetch or lap time – is the best present money can buy.McGinnis thinks it’s all good. “People’s pets are becoming more and more part of their family, which I love.”

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