When the weather turned frosty this November, Jeanette Bond of New York City went straight to the Web to find a camouflage puffer jacket with a fake fur-trimmed hood for her King Charles spaniel. "It's really cute and totally stylish," said the 31-year-old Bond. "If it fit me, I'd borrow it."
Patterned puffer jackets were not the only big dog trend of 2008. Below, Laura Bennett, a pet trend expert and the CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance, weighs in on all dog-related things 2008 -- and makes some predictions for 2009.
Pet Products Go Green According to Bennett, the green movement hit the pet world big-time in 2008. "Dog parents want to feel they're making choices that benefit the environment," she says. This year, pet product manufacturers responded by using recycled materials and sustainable products, like jute and hemp, to make dog accessories. These included everything from bedding to clothing to leashes. "This is one trend that will continue into 2009," Bennett predicts.
Budgets Put on a Leash Even before the September collapse of Wall Street, canine companions were tightening the financial leash. The year 2008 saw the end of the ubiquity of Louis Vuitton dog carriers and other high-end designer doggie duds. "People are still spending money on their dogs, but they wanted value this year. They want a leash that is functional and that lasts, not necessarily a big name brand," Bennett explains. She adds, "This, too, will continue through 2009." To take advantage of the economic downswing, large discount chains like Target and Wal-Mart are expanding their pet aisles with a wider selection of leashes, bowls and clothing.
Grooming Goes Mainstream "People are shopping at large chain stores because they're less expensive, and those stores are working to expand their reach," says Bennett. Wal-Mart is the first to test store-based grooming salons. If these are successful, other chain stores are likely to follow their lead in 2009. Cautions Bennett: "These stores can successfully sell goods for less, but for services, you have to wonder."
Veterinarians Get Specialized Pet health care is getting more sophisticated. As chemotherapy and complicated surgeries become viable options for dogs in distress, more veterinarians are specializing. "People are being referred to these specialists when something happens. It ranges from orthopedic surgery to nutritional or behavioral specialists," says Bennett. While urban areas have seen more specialization during the last five years or so, it was in 2008 that more rural parts of the country started to see the growth of this trend, which will also continue into 2009.
Dogs Hit the Road With international travel becoming prohibitively expensive, domestic travel is on the rise. This means more people are bringing Rover on vacation. "Hotels are catering to pets," says Bennett. "Not just $25-a-night motels, but also higher-end hotels [such as Comfort Inn and Quality Inn] have packages for pets. They're trying to appeal to people in unique and different ways." Some auto insurance companies, like Progressive, are also adjusting accordingly by offering pet injury coverage.
Pet Health Insurance Makes Progress Pet owners dubious of pet insurance plans that have historically covered very little needed to rethink their judgment in 2008. "2008 was the year of pet health insurance. It became more visible, as big brands got into the industry," says Bennett. "Newer brands are providing better offerings, and word of mouth is becoming more positive."
But what is Bennett's biggest prediction for 2009? She thinks the popularity of adopting a shelter dog will skyrocket. "Shelters and rescues will be the big thing after the Obamas move into the White House. Everyone will want to say, 'I got my dog from the same place the president got his.'"
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