Pampered Pooches: How Much is too Much?

Before dyeing a poodle pink, hear the "dog lady" Monica Collins explain how to sensibly pamper your pooch.

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CALLIE CROSSLEY, host:

I'M Callie Crossley, in for Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead: For the first time, Nielsen ratings show black and white viewers are watching the same television programs. Have the shows changed? Or have we changed?

But first, here at TELL ME MORE, we want to keep you up with the next big thing and let you know whether what you're doing is ahead of the curve and on top of the trends. Today, we're going to talk about spoiling Fido to the utmost: extreme pet pampering. It's big business, big enough to land on the cover of BusinessWeek magazine.

To paw over this issue, we spoke with dog's best friend, Monica Collins, author of the column "Ask Dog Lady." I wanted to know what she thought of stores that sold luxury goods for pets.

Mr. MONICA COLLINS (Advice Columnist; Author, "Ask Dog Lady"): Well, they're trying to get in on this $41 billion market, and good luck to them. Most of the high-end dog stores are selling your Savarsky Crystal collars and you're full-leopard raincoats and maybe even offering a dog manicure. But I doubt whether that is what people really want for their dogs.

CROSSLEY: But they're spending the money on it.

Ms. COLLINS: They're spending the money, and there's a sense that because my dog can't speak to me, because he has these eyes that melt into me, I want to give him everything I possibly can.

CROSSLEY: What the pet owners seem to be giving their dogs particularly are the stuff that we humans want. So is there some transferring going on?

Ms. COLLINS: Exactly, exactly. I think that our dogs give us this sense of love and contentment that some of us may lack. Some of us may yearn for innocent times before BlackBerrys and email, and that our dogs give us this kind of unfettered sense of nature, of yearnings fulfilled. But I don't think the dog sits there and hankers for a raincoat.

CROSSLEY: We've talked about the Savarsky Crystal. We've talked about the feather boas and, you know, all the other kinds of extreme things that people are doing for their pets. But one of our staff members actually have a question for you. It's about pet massage. Who knew such a thing existed?

Ms. COLLINS: Yeah.

CROSSLEY: Is this real?

Ms. COLLINS: Yes, it is real. There are pet masseuses and masseurs. I think that if your pet is lying down and you just give it a good rub on the shoulders, around the head, around the ears so the ears stand up, I think that that is a wonderful bonding exercise, and you don't need to pay $80 an hour for a masseuse.

CROSSLEY: So it's ixnay masseuse?

Ms. COLLINS: Ixnay.

Ms. COLLINS: Monica, so many people are single with no children, and so why not spend this kind of money on your pet if your pet is really your family?

Ms. COLLINS: Yeah, why not? But you have to set a certain limit for yourself. You just can't go overboard. Indeed, I pamper my dog, and you surely know I pamper my dog incredibly. I let my dog sleep in the bed, I - he's my muse. I founded a whole syndicated column around my dog. But I also know the limits of that pampering.

CROSSLEY: Now, do you think this extreme pampering stuff like this is possibly harmful to pets?

Ms. COLLINS: Yes. I once tried to put something on my dog - I forget what it was, maybe a tartan hat or something like that years ago - and he went ballistic. He hated it. I once tried putting cut up rubber balloons on his feet when it was really icy outside. He would not let me go there.

I think that dogs, they want to be pampered in a way that it's hard for us, i.e., they want to have a big long walk. They want to chase the squirrel up a tree. They want to go where they can sniff other dogs and just to hang out with them. That's what they like. They don't want to be isolated and alone and dressed up.

CROSSLEY: But we have to mention, though, celebrities who are walking around with dogs dressed up and they seem - those dogs seemed to be fine with it.

Ms. COLLINS: But Callie, that's Paris Hilton. Come on. I…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CROSSLEY: Okay. All right.

Ms. COLLINS: Well, the dog, then, is a promotional accessory. The dog is something that you tote around to get attention. And certainly, a lot of us don't do that with our dogs.

CROSSLEY: So I'm curious. Do men who are dog owners engage in the same kind of extreme pampering that women do?

CROSSLEY: Yes. I think there are a lot of men that do, yes.

CROSSLEY: They're just a little bit more quiet about it?

Ms. COLLINS: They're a little bit more quiet about it. They're a little bit more discreet about it. There are men that are fashion designers that are designing things for dogs. I think that men are not as on board of this whole thing as the women are.

CROSSLEY: Where do you think this trend is going to go? Is it going to end anytime soon, or is it just going to get bigger and bigger?

Ms. COLLINS: Well, it's funny in this Business Week article that prompted, I guess, this whole segment as well as this whole discussion, and there's a wonderful line in there, which says, when is this going to end? Is it going to end when the economy turns sour and suddenly you look at Fido and go, uh, forget it, I can't buy you anymore stuff.

I think where one aspect of the pampering certainly, and this is where I am very guilty, is in buying and finding new treats. These areas in food and probably dog bed - I mean, they'll continue to grow and grow and grow. But I'm thinking all the fripperies, that it can't last long.

CROSSLEY: Monica Collins is the author of the column "Ask Dog Lady." She joined us from member station WGBH in Boston. Monica, thanks for joining us.

Ms. COLLINS: Thank you, Callie.

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