Our pets are our protectors and devoted companions. We spoil them with everything from gourmet foods, winter boots, cashmere sweaters, and diamond-studded dog collars to aromatherapy, doggie yoga, psychotherapy, cosmetic surgery and massages. Why are dog owners such pet pamperers? Why do we show our affection by lavishing them with opulent gifts and amenities?
“Pets are our four-legged children who never grow up and move away,” explains pet expert Charlotte Reed. “He loves you unconditionally. He seems to understand when your partner is mad at you and your mother just doesn’t get it. He never criticizes you or tells you you’re fat. When you talk to him, he knows exactly what you’re saying. When you’re sad, he licks your tears away. You cry when he gets sick. Why? Because no one loves you like your dog. The pleasure our dogs bring is so immense that we want to give them the best of everything.”
A recent study by Acosta showed that 94 percent of pet owners view their animals as part of the family, and four out of five people say they treat their pets like children.
According to Colin Stewart, senior vice president of Acosta, nearly 80 million households in the U.S.—that’s 60 percent of the country—have pets. Millennials and baby boomers have the highest rates of pet ownership, and there are more households with pets than households with kids. Those who have pets treat them like members of the family, celebrating their “furry babies” birthdays, including them in holiday cards and more. Nearly 63 percent of pet owners celebrate their dog’s birthday each year. Even the Obamas threw parties at the White House for their dogs, Bo and Cappy.
“When it comes time for dog lovers to celebrate the birthday of their furry children, or a ‘Bark’ Mitzvah for their dog’s 13th birthday—or even a doggie wedding!—these folks are willing to pull out all the stops to throw their pug or poodle the party of the century,” says Leah Ingram, founder of Pawsome Doggie, an online retailer that sells products to help dog lovers celebrate their dog’s important milestones.
Ada Nieves, a Certified Pet Fashion Designer at The Fashion Institute and Technology in NYC and Creative Director for the New York Pet Fashion Show, organizes many dog events—including Barkday Pawties. She has dressed many dog bride courts for human and dog weddings. “It’s a trend to have your pet participate at your wedding or have a wedding for your dog as a confirmation of friendship with another person who also owns a dog,” says Nieves.
‘We don’t like making her upset. She is our world. Our child.’
Michelin-starred Chef Thomas Keller caters to his four-legged friends with foie gras dog biscuits at Bouchon Bakery & Cafe, which is at The Shops at Columbus Circle in New York City. When you’re shopped-out and Fido has the munchies, you and your furry child can enjoy an indulgent pick-me-up at the bakery.
Are we getting out of hand by treating our pooches like people? Why would one of the world’s most accomplished and celebrated chefs, whose restaurants have been named among the best in the world, cater to pets?
“We love dogs at Bouchon,” says Keller. “A lot of our chefs have dogs and they’d talk about their dogs, so it was a natural progression. Our chefs, who like to come up with ideas to please customers, also want to create something for their beloved pooches. The Bouchon dog treats originally included leftover foie gras trimmings from my restaurant, the French Laundry. But we make so many of these now that we have replaced it with chicken liver.”
Keller’s foie gras biscuits cost $7 per package, but you can’t put a price on friendship. The cafe also provides canine-gourmands with a small bowl of New York’s finest water to wash the treat down.
New Yorkers are known for their high fashion and their pets are, too. The Shops at Columbus Circle provide many options for updating Fido’s wardrobe. Coach features dog collars in various colors with a playful signature design, accented with its iconic hardware. Adorable puffy dog coats in bright colors and woven leather leashes are sold at Cole Haan. Lucky Brand has handsome embroidered, embossed, or whipstitch collars and braided leashes.
Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan, Louis Vuitton, and other top designers offer dog clothes and accessories. “People want the best,” says Nieves. “Doggie gowns can run from $100 to $21,000—yes, a couple years back a famous Swedish designer had the most expensive Swarovski dog coat available at $21,000.”
Majell Yerenburg’s 4-year-old, 55-pound mixed breed (part pit bull, part lab, part beagle) named Sakura is not a New York socialite. She doesn’t wear a Louis Vuitton collar, cashmere sweaters, fancy clothes, or have aromatherapy sessions. But she is spoiled in many other ways.
Yerenburg says Sakura likes certain fish oil tablets. Fiji water is her norm and ostrich meat is her favorite. “In addition to her kibble, she eats our human food,” says Yerenburg. “I cook for her. She loves smoothies, dog ice cream, berries, kale, eggs—you name it. Her kibble is the Halo brand because it’s the only dog food that has not been recalled. And of course, her kibble is topped off with freeze-dried beef or turkey. She has her own couch, and it’s up to her if we can sit on [it]. She controls our sleeping habits; if she wants to sleep, we sleep. If she wants to sleep in-between us with her head on our pillow or her entire body on top of our heads, that’s okay. We don’t like making her upset. She is our world. Our child.”
Additionally, Sakura chooses between day and nighttime doggy camps. Her choice is Camp Bow Wow, in Bridgewater, N.J. Yerenburg pays $15 extra for 15 minutes of snuggle time and another $15 for individual playtime. Grooming is an additional $50. For a three to four night stay every other week or sometimes weekly,Y erenburg pays between $250 and $325 per stay. “Call us crazy, but this is what Sakura wants.”
Thirty-one-year-old Jessica, a financial analyst in New York City, doesn’t think she does anything excessive for her two dogs, Brad, an 55-pound Basset/lab mix, and Angelina, a 7-year-old, 18-pound Beagle mix. Nevertheless, she pays $900 a month for a dog walker, which is just under $11,000 a year. She spends $80 a week for dog food, including organic peanut butter from Whole Foods. “You have to be careful of those fake sugars hiding in the regular stuff,” says Jess. Pet insurance costs $75 a month. The vet bill to treat a bug that Angelina came down with was $735.
She only gives her dogs bottled water. “People think I’m crazy because I don’t give them tap water—but I don’t see the big deal. How much could a little extra Poland Spring be costing me?” she says. “I try to do what’s best for them. If that means cutting back in other areas for myself, I’m all for it.”
Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe for foie gras dog biscuits
- 453 grams (1 pound) sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch-wide pieces
- 370 grams (13 ounces) chicken livers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 130 grams (3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp.) fine cornmeal
- 450 grams (3 cups plus 3 Tbsp.) all-purpose flour
- 235 grams (1 cup) chicken stock
- Ketchup Glaze
- 50 grams (3 Tbsp.) ketchup
- 13 grams (1 Tbsp.) egg whites
Preheat the oven to 250 F (convection or standard). Line two sheet pans parchment paper.
Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until it has rendered its fat and is a rich golden brown. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
Pour off all but a generous film of bacon fat. Add the chicken livers to the pan and sauté, turning them frequently and smashing them slightly, for about 5 minutes, until broken down to a paste. Remove from the heat.
Place the bacon in a food processor and pulse a few times to grind it. Add the chicken livers and process to combine, then add the cornmeal and process until you have a coarse mixture.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour and mix to combine. Slowly pour in the chicken stock and mix until the dough begins to gather around the paddle and feels moist to the touch. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead it just enough to combine.
Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic wrap and roll it out to a 3/8-inch-thick sheet. Using a 2 5/8-inch-long dog bone cookie cutter, cut out the treats and arrange them on the prepared sheet pans. Knead the trimmings together, roll out and cut out additional treats.
Bake until the treats are completely dry, about 1.5 hours in a convection oven or 3 hours in a standard oven. Remove from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 200 F.
For the glaze, combine ketchup and egg whites. The glaze will be very thick. Brush it over the top of the warm treats. Return the pans to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the glaze has set. Place the pans on a cooling rack and cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer the treats to the rack to cool completely.
The treats can be stored in a covered container for up to one month.