Be my valentine, Rover: owners splash out on treats for their dogs

VALENTINES DAY is coming and Americans are splurging on little somethings for their special loves. Wrapped in red tissue will be diamond jackets, spa vouchers, nail polish - and the occasional rawhide chewy bone.

Dogs, not girlfriends or wives, will be getting all this attention on Monday. It is as if Cupid had turned canine.

Dog fever will soar even higher with the opening the same day of the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York, expected to attract millions of primetime viewers on television.

The Westminster Show, parodied in the recent mockumentary film Best In Show, is the climax of America's highly competitive pet exhibition calendar. Gathering this weekend for the two-day extravaganza in Madison Square Garden will be 2,500 of the most spoilt and groomed dogs in the land.

But it is not just competitors on the champion dog circuit who are getting carried away with their canine obsessions. Americans everywhere are spending more than ever on care for their dogs and other pets - $34bn (pounds 18bn) last year, double the figure of 10 years ago - and are getting crazier about the things they buy them. Throwing doggy a bone just won't do any more. Fido expects fashion accessories, at least.

In New York, dog owners have choice galore. How about the latest carry- bag for toy dogs from the shoe and handbag designer Beverly Feldman, whose boutique is in Midtown? It has crystals and pink leather with a natty leopard print pillow. Fido is worth the price tag, for sure - $665. Looking to furnish your doggy suite? Go online and for $4,000 you will find the perfect dog bed with matching dresser.

Alternatively, scour the pages of the latest magazine for devoted dog owners in Manhattan, called New York Dog. It features an advertisement this month for a Swarovski crystal doggie vest for the bargain price of $5,500. Bergdorf Goodman, New York's fanciest department store, has another dog carry-bag - perfect for sneaking Minny under the table at Le Cirque - which could be yours for just $5,700.

American pet owners are also spending twice what they were even just four years ago on pet services, not including taking them to the vet. This means treating pooch to a day at the doggie spa for grooming, bathing and varnishing of claws - special dietary needs are always taken care of - or perhaps a visit to the local dog psychic or pet "communicator", who will to tell owners what their dogs are thinking.

Is this a country gone to the dogs? Jon Katz, a well-known writer about dogs and author of The New Work of Dogs, suggests that some owners are going too far, forgetting that dogs are dogs, not people.

"I call it the over-emotionalisation of dogs, which is an epidemic in America," he said. "I think we're making dogs crazy by trying to turn them into people with fur. What I like about dogs is that they are not people. They're not devious, they don't have obnoxious political views. Their animalness is what's wonderful about them."

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