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Puppy Love, at a Price

Rebecca Kalch is the owner of Four Paws Bakery in Occoquan, Va., which makes Barkday and Bark Mitzvah cakes for dogs. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Post)
Rebecca Kalch is the owner of Four Paws Bakery in Occoquan, Va., which makes Barkday and Bark Mitzvah cakes for dogs. (Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Post) (Jahi Chikwendiu - Twp)
By Jenalia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 11, 2005

Sherry Shumaker has grooved to "Dancing Queen," "Wild Thing" and "Doo Wah Diddy" with her dancing partner Heidi -- a Doberman pinscher.

At a Woodbridge studio, Heidi has taken lessons in standing on her hind legs, walking backwards and spinning, all in time to music and in sync to Shumaker's dance steps.

Shumaker, 43, a systems analyst who lives in Fairfax County, confesses to spending a "ridiculous" amount of money on her three dogs, giving them such luxuries as acupuncture therapy and organic food.

"I just wish I could use them as a tax deduction every year," she said, laughing. "They're worth every penny."

Last year, pet owners across the country spent plenty of pennies -- $34.4 billion -- caring for their pets, more than double the $17 billion a year spent a decade earlier, according to American Pet Product Manufacturing Association Inc., a Greenwich, Conn.-based trade association.Much of that cash went for routine veterinary visits and over-the-counter food, but more owners are paying for toys, gourmet biscuits and a nice haircut, as well. Cats outnumber dogs, but more of the money is going to the dogs.

Reflecting the trend, services for dogs have become big business in the Washington region, where suburbanites caught up in long commutes and unable to spend much time with their dogs make it up by shuttling them to day care, dance lessons and swimming classes.

"The owners are treating their pets more like family members," said Robin Bennett, who owns All About Dogs Inc. in Woodbridge. Her business specializes in obedience and agility training, including the freestyle dance class that Shumaker takes her dog to.

Besides special services, people also splurge on pricey products for their pets.

That's why companies that once served only humans now consider their animal companions their customers, as well. Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks and Harley-Davidson are among the companies extending their brands to pets by offering shampoos, treats and attire, respectively.

Rebecca Kalch carries brand-name pet clothing, leashes and collars at her Four Paws Bakery Inc. in Occoquan. For example, there's the Ruff Wear clothing line, including boots. "This is for the canine that's going places," said Kalch, who also sells polos to match an owner's shirt.

Her bakery, which opened in November, makes Barkday and Bark Mitzvah cakes for those special occasions. Kalch is trying to get other boutique pet stores to carry her homemade treats -- with names like Pupparoni and PNut-Butter Pudy-Tat's -- and pet meals that she learned to make for her cat Mouse, who suffered from diabetes.

Kalch is breaking even on her expenses and sales, which she didn't expect to happen until the end of this year. She attributes some of her sales to couples with fewer or no children, along with senior citizens purchasing treats for their "grand dog" or "grand kitten."

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