Susie Rushton: Is it time to invest in the dog market?

Urban Notebook
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The Independent Online

The recession must be over. Everybody I know is buy, buy, buy – or, at least, thinking about buying. Scouring the internet for just the perfect colour, style, shape of paw, the cutest eyes, the sweetest nature. I can only offer anecdotal evidence, no hard figures, but I sense the dog market is bouncing back.

The question is, is it the right time to invest? Any dog is a costly commitment, but city dogs are the dearest. They have to be cared-for and planned-for. They can't just be let out the back door. They have to be walked in the park, and, increasingly, not just any park – this week Nottinghamshire councils announced that certain public green areas are off limits, or owners will be liable to an on-the-spot £75 fine.

My ears prick up at any mention of canine costliness, because lately my boyfriend, too, has been lobbying for a dog, specifically a whippet. He nudges me whenever we see one in the street (they're a good, compact size for the city, so there are plenty in London), and might comment admiringly on colour, shape of nose, bearing etc. But we're buying a basement maisonette, I say, with just a small terrace; we might kid ourselves that 10 sq m is a grand garden (humans are dumb like that) but a whippet will not be convinced. We both know that we really don't have space. Or the money.

Certainly, there's food to pay for, vet bills, kennels. This is now also the age of the professional dog walker, who has allowed have-it-all career pet owners to indulge a weakness for wet noses. "At first I thought getting a walker wouldn't cost much," says one colleague who has also been weighing up the costs and benefits for several months, "Just £11. Then I realised that was a price per day."

Another friend recently confided he'd hired the services of a "dog whisperer" to help his beloved hound recover from the trauma of moving from one west London postcode to another. "More expensive than a term at Eton," he told me.

Doggy daycare – US-style

For the money-no-object owner there's doggy daycare, an American import only just catching on here; the website of Waggy Tails of Richmond shows photographs of golden retrievers splashing through shallow rivers, scampering across sunny fields. In New York, where such services are highly advanced, the emphasis is more on luxury, but in an odd way. A British friend who has just moved to Manhattan told me he was considering buying a small, stylish dog but had been put off by doggy daycare after paying a visit to one.

"You get there and they're all running on treadmills, really running, or they're swimming in special exercise pools," he said. "No wonder the dog is exhausted at night." Is it fair, or even really humane, to pay for your pet to be tired out, just so you can pat its drowsy head in the evenings? Even if a blow-dry and manicure (for the dog, dummy!) is included in the price?

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