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Despite Economic Downturn, Americans Continue to Shower Dollars on Pets

The declining economy has discouraged many Americans from spending money on anything, even on the pets so many people in the United States love. But consumer research shows Americans still are spending on average $1,000 a year on their beloved animal companions.

Some Americans are willing to pay a dog walker $26 a day, per dog. In fact, Americans' love affair with their pets costs a total of $41 billion a year, according to a U.S. consumer research company - double what they spent a decade ago.

While there are reports many Americans, facing economic difficulties, have given up their dogs and cats, Silvia Fubini is not one of them.

"I think it is kind of the reverse," she says. "I think people will often use their last money to make sure their pets are taken care of."

In fact, she was at a local pet store on Valentine's Day, looking to adopt a second cat to keep her and her dog company. Fubini admits that some can go overboard, such as her own sister, who she says has 65 dogs and 10 cats.

An Associated Press poll found that one in seven pet owners in America reported spending less on their pets since the recession began last year. But Vince Malanphy, director of a PetSmart store, detects another trend in these times.

"We see a lot of people saving money by staying home more. So, since they are home more, they want some companionship, and we are seeing more people coming to our store and adopting cats and dogs."

Malanphy's store provides a variety of services for "pet parents," such as "doggy day camp." At PetSmart, the largest American pet store chain, there is also veterinary care and grooming available.

When owners are out of town, they can indulge their pets in private suites in "PetsHotel" - spoiling them with ice cream, with raised platform beds and televisions tuned to the Animal Planet Network.

And there is "phone bone," so that the absent own can talk to their pets. The price - $41 a night for this suite.

Retired school teacher Felicity Olaf explains why so many Americans are willing to shower such attention and money on their beloved pets.

"They say that when you are petting a dog and having a dog near you, it lowers your blood pressure. And they have proven that in universities - that they are very good for old people. They calm them down and they make them happy."

According to a national survey by American Pet Products Association, Americans own about 75 million dogs and 88 million cats. There is a pet in six out of every 10 households - and not just cats and dogs.

Richard Parsons owns "Friendly Feathers," where he sells pet birds.

"I have people that have 50 pet birds in their homes. So, bird people are pretty fanatical," he says. "Some people spend as much as $30,000 on hand-fed [birds]."

At PetSmart, they say there has been a rise in the ownership of a variety of exotic reptiles - including huge snakes - and small pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, chinchillas and tropical fish.

The love and affection that Americans of all ages shower on their favorite animals does not appear to have diminished in the face of hard economic times.