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Dog owners accessorize with canine couture

| Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, 8:56 p.m.
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A look at the inside of the Zoomies store in New York which sells upscale dog clothing and accessories. Pictured is Chouchou, the owners' dog.

With National Dog Day coming up Aug. 26, what do you get the dog who has everything?

Surprise your puppy love with a satin bow tie, a gem-studded collar or a plush bed.

More and more dog owners are searching out upscale, luxury accessories to complement a pooch's look or make his or her life a little more posh.

“The pet-accessory industry is a booming,” says Heather Blum, who, with Ben Huber, owns Petagogy in Shadyside, which carries colorful dog collars, pet feeders made from reclaimed wood, printed bow ties, identification tags of the dog's favorite team and dog bed duvets — which you fill the insides yourself.

“And it's continuing to grow, because we are seeing more of a humanization of pets in terms of how important they are to a family,” she says. “Animals exude love and loyalty every day, without wanting anything in return.”

It's an industry that's nothing to bark at. Pet owners spent more than $13 billion in 2013 on supplies and over-the-counter medications, almost a 4 percent growth from the previous year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

It makes sense to pamper the one member of the family who is always by your side, never complaining or demanding more than a walk or a bowl of food, Blum says.

“Our business has steadily grown over the past 10 years,” says Bruce P. Haas, who, with Phillip Emigh, owns Tails in the City, a luxury pet boutique based in Illinois. “People consider their pets to be part of their family. People want the best for their pets. They expect their pets to live the same lifestyles as their owners. You appreciate the best and so does your dog.”

Tails in the City sells designer toys such as a Chewy Vuiton handbag, Jimmy Chew shoe, Grrrona Beer, Arfsolut Vodka as well as designer carriers, dog leashes and accessories. Haas says it's fun working with animals because they are so full of love.

“They light up when they see you,” Haas says.

Susan Bartholomew and Angelique M. Graux-Rufty, owners of Zoomies, a New York City boutique, agree.

“It is a happy industry,” Bartholomew says. “If people are having a bad day, they bring in their pet, and we give the pet a treat, and then the pet is happy and the owner is happy.”

With her fashion background, having worked for Christian Dior, Bartholomew wanted more than everyday accessories.

“I wanted to create my own brand,” she says. “And the pet industry was starting to change. I envisioned this store being the Bergdorf Goodman of pet stores.

“It is set up like a boutique,” she says. “When you walk in, you see bright and bold colors, and the items are fun and fashionable. Also, the quality of the product is high. People want to buy more and more items for their pets. When you own a pet, you know there is someone who is your best friend. They become part of the family.”

Gina Pollock, who owns puppykisses.com with sister Angela DiGennaro, carries some of Bartholomew's products.

Pollock started the business by making hair bows. The sisters constantly update their website with products inspired by fashion trends. For Pollock's wedding, she used excess fabric from bridesmaids dresses and made bandanas for the dogs in the wedding because she wasn't able to find anything like this. Puppy Kisses employs moms who can work on their own time and uses only high-quality products that are safe for animals.

“This is definitely a growing market,” Pollock says. “It is amazing to me that, even if times are tight, people will buy items for their pets.”

Today, people consider pets a member of family rather than a possession, says Tierra Bonaldi, spokeswoman for the American Pet Products Association.

“Just like parents want the newest and best for their kids, pet owners are demanding higher-quality toys, treats and food for their pet and are willing to pay for the peace of mind in knowing their pet is chewing and ingesting the best options available in the market,” Bonaldi says.

“Hi-tech is growing with items such as doggy cams, GPS tracking collars and health-monitoring devices,” Bonaldi says.

When buying clothing or accessories for a pet, make sure the animal is able to move its shoulders and legs and can execute a full range of motion without interference.

“You may be able to tell just by looking at the garment, but you may also need to try it on your pet and imitate motion while they're wearing it to make sure,” Bonaldi says. “It's also important to make sure their bottoms aren't covered so they can relieve themselves as necessary — most pet-clothing manufacturers are aware of this, but make double sure.

“You will also want them to have a little wiggle room but nothing too baggy, as it can sometimes chafe the skin if there are too many folds of loose material, in addition to running the risk of tripping.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7889 or jharrop@tribweb.com.

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