Karen Falconer visits the animal metropolis
The little white poodle sitting outside in the Mini Metro said it all. "Look," he flirted, "I've got a new red body warmer and a neat matching collar. And mummy and daddy have gone inside to pick-and- mix me some healthy bites and cheesie biscuits. Aren't I the lucky one?"

He jumped about contentedly in his warm car outside Pet City in Ashton- under-Lyne and woofed graciously at "the superstore devoted to pets". For although it's no Orwellian Animal Farm, Pet City is good grooming ground for the indulgent two-legged owners who spent around pounds 40 million pounds there last year. Nor is it such a raw deal, perhaps, for the parrots who may need labels on their cages to say "My name is Orville. I am an Amazon. I am micro-chipped!" but who nevertheless get to strut about cageless after closing time.

It's a good job the British like to indulge their pets for shelf-edge notices make tin-a-day owners look almost neglectful: "Small animals need toys for exercise and play," says one for cats; "Egg and honey bars and vitamins may be given as treats," advises another for birds. There's even a book called The Homeopathic Treatment of Small Animals. A mini-beast bought here is certainly "not just for Christmas" but a potential spending spree all year round: hence Pet Budget Monthly leaflets.

Indeed, 10-15,000 square feet are devoted to anything a pet lover might ever have wished for, all in sections clearly marked: Fish, Horse, Dog, Bird, Poultry... There are rat starter kits for those not already fearful of the pests in our midst; cat scratcher posts, complete with swing ball for perfect paw coordination; fresh tropical plants for fish tanks; dog baskets in a choice of colours to match your sofa; and price pledges on food.

Although most of the space is devoted to products, there's a section for small, live animals such as parrots, lizards, birds, chipmunks, fish, snakes, rabbits, hamsters, tarantulas, grasshoppers. "It's a zoo" children cry. But, just in case signs like "Buy a pair [of Zebra Finches] and save money" gives rise to tweaks of guilt about caged animals being sold like two-for-the-price-of-one cans of beans, there are free information sheets on the creatures and how to care for them; and each store has a livestock manager, with in-store vets promised soon. But, very definitely, no cats and dogs. "There are plenty of cats and dogs that need rehoming," says Giles Clarke, its founder and chief executive who objects to puppy farms and animal euthanasia. He points out that all his animals are bred domestically and are tame, and that Pet City provides food to rescue centres.

But, good animal welfare also means good trade. After seven years in the pet business (Giles previously set up Majestic Wine Warehouses) Pet City has 51 outlets, was floated on the Alternative Investment Market last year and has just merged with the 320-outlet US PETsMART. That the British are soft on pets means a solid bottom line.

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