This season's mutt-haves

Bones, they're so last year. Now, a pet party, private jet or funeral are the only ways to show your dog, cat or even rabbit that you really care. Ed Caesar reports Party animals
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The Independent Online

Pet parties are big news in the US and Japan, but have yet to catch on in Britain. It's strange because Britain's 5 million pet-owners spend a whopping £294m on their pet's birthdays every year, which goes largely on treats and presents.

What's not to like about a pet party? You can dress them up in silly costumes and flirt with other owners. What's more, the party opportunities are limitless. New Yorkers have even started holding Bark Mitzvahs for adolescent pups. Companies in the US will organise a pet's party from inception to clear up for about £10 an animal up to £25 an animal for a "luxury package".

The key to a pet party's success, says Charlotte Reed of Good Housekeeping magazine, is the guest list. "Dogs that are already familiar with each other will be most likely to play politely,"says Reed.

Pet passports

There was a time when a thrice-daily trip to the park was good enough for a domestic animal. But 21st-century pets demand more. They want to see the world, stay in expensive hotels and sniff foreign smells. And who are we to stop them? The number of companies with a focus on offering "pet-friendly" travel advice has sky-rocketed, but none has surpassed Heathrow-based Air Pets, who offers a charter jet for "stress-free pet travel" around northern Europe. Air Pets recently chartered a jet for a great dane travelling from Swindon to Guernsey return, for £2,000 each way.

"The charter service is not a gimmick," Martin Brown of Air Pets says. "If an owner needs to repatriate his cat or dog, and they are nowhere near a commercial airport, then it makes sense. But most pets are able to travel on normal commercial services, which is a lot cheaper."

Virgin Cargo carried 1,250 dogs, cats, ferrets and other animals in 2005 - double the previous year's total. At the end of last year, Virgin launched its Flying Paws scheme, for frequent flying pets, with rewards including blow-dries, pedicures, and designer clothing.

Well beings

Ever feel like you're constantly on the treadmill? Like your life is going nowhere? Some pets do. That's why in Britain, there is a greater-than-ever demand for places where stressed-out animals can Zen out.

Dog massage has become popular in the UK with some resorts, such as the Ritz Canine centre in Worcestershire, offering massage, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture packages for mutts who want the whole treatment. Six half-hour hydrotherapy sessions at Ritz Canine will set an owner back £173.

And if a pet's problems can't be solved by swimming in a heated pool, then it's probably time to turn to a pet psychologist. Roger Mugford, who runs the Animal Behaviour Centre in Chertsey, in Surrey, will deal with such diverse problems as aggression, inappropriate toileting, livestock chasing, phobias, faeces eating, and "compulsive disorders such as shadow chasing." Although he is frequently called on to do freelance work with any number of different species, Mugford's first passion has always been dogs, because "it takes so little to make a dog happy."

Cool for cats (and dogs)

There is no fashion item, it seems, too absurd to be worn by an animal. It is now perfectly acceptable for cats and dogs to sport everything from monogrammed robes to Swarovski diamonds. Celebrity petters such as Gisele Bundchen and Paris Hilton have spearheaded the recent pet bag craze, carrying their miniature mutts in $1,000 Louis Vuitton sac chiens. But it has been human imitation pet clothing that has really started to take off in Britain.

It is not uncommon now to see a Kensington westie sporting a Barbour jacket, or a suburban chihuahau decked in the same Paris Hilton chav-pink of its owner.

Karen Easter, who set up Pucci Petwear in 2003 says Britain is "definitely catching up" to America in the pet-wear craze. Easter describes her brand as an "upmarket Topshop for dogs". Their trademark Pucci hoodie costs £19 and the Parka jacket is £29.

Accessories are fast becoming must-have items for cats and dogs too. Forget personalised dog collars, at Hampshire-based emporium Millie and George, owners can treat their loved ones to a glittering necklace with diamanté studs or a regal £23 crystal tiara.

Dog hotels

The British pet-set are increasingly turning up their noses at traditional kennels, as dog hotels become fashionable. Lucies Farm, a "luxury dog resort" in Worcestershire, has everything a precious pooch could need. At Lucies, for £35 a night, dogs get personal attention, their own room with under-floor heating and air-conditioning, soothing background music, the choice cuts for dinner, showers, and a grooming expert.

Craig Walsh, who runs Lucies Farm, says: "Good luck checking into a hotel and getting four hours of personal attention, lots of love and cuddles, and three home-made meals for £35. You'd be lucky to get a pillow for that. Even though we're near Worcester, 82 per cent of our customers come from inside the M25."

America's W Hotels have pioneered high-class hotels around the world where pets are made as welcome as owners. For $25 (£14) above the room rate, and a further $100 cleaning fee at the end of the stay, your pet can stay with you and enjoy pet-pampering, concierge, and entertainment services. They'll even take your pet for a walk.

Dog's dinner

The craze for specialist human-style dog food started in 1989 with the inception of the Three Dogs bakery, still the leading purveyor of dog treats in the United States and Japan. But Britain is catching on with outlets like the Dogs Dogs bakery in Brighton. Particularly popular, at Dogs Dogs, are the Puppy Pizza, baked with tomato and oregano, and the Giant Bones, peanut butter treats dipped in carob.

One American entrepreneur sells Chilly Dawg, dog-friendly ice creams that are safe for humans, too, so owner and pet can share the same bowl. "The gourmet dog treat market is extremely competitive," says Chilly Dawg-founder Kelly Marshall. "There is a steady stream of new products for dogs' daily whether it be treats, foods, leashes, or other products... [and] people try to find ways to distinguish their products from others."

Dead pets society

Gone are the days when old pets mysteriously "went to live on a farm" while Dad disappeared into the garden with an oddly-shaped bag. Now there's no excuse for a cheap funeral.

The notoriously pet-obsessed Americans have been holding state funerals in honour of deceased furballs for decades. But it is only recently that the industry has taken off this side of the Atlantic. Already 140,000 pet funerals are being held every year, and companies are vying to provide pets of every size and coffin shape with a "human-style" funeral.

Most UK pet funeral businesses focus on understated cremations at out-of-the way dog kennels (handy for mourners keen to browse for a new pet). But some pet undertakers will throw in a full ceremony replete with satin-lined coffins and weepy eulogies, for around £500. "If a person wants to say a few words, bring in a clergyman or whatever, it is up to them," says Elma Porter, who set up Ireland's first specialist pet cemetery, Ziggy's Sleeping Garden, in 2002.

You can even get kits for home burial. Debbie Orme set up Goodbye My Pet in October, after realising many people prefer private services. Orme's "farewell set" includes an assemble-it-yourself biodegradable coffin, a grave marker, and a ceremony book.

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