CHICAGO - Coco's Christmas was doggone good last year.
The 5-year-old Shih Tzu got a stocking full of treats and found a pink wool sweater, pink mohair sweater, black fur-trimmed parka, and hiking boots waiting under the tree last December. This year, her owner is eyeing a $120 set of pearls with a sterling silver bone clasp along with plenty of edible goodies for the pooch who has almost everything.
"It's an expression of love," said Shannon Fay, a 38-year-old Chicagoan. "She's part of the family."
Pets rule at the holidays, especially dogs, and that helps keep many retailers' registers ringing.
US retail sales may be weak, energy prices way up, and housing prices way down, but experts say pets largely defy such economic indicators. Caring owners are no more likely to stiff their beloved animals for the holidays than Santa is to leave rocks in every stocking.
Overall, Americans are expected to spend an estimated $48.7 billion on their pets in 2007, nearly twice the amount of a decade ago and growing at more than 7 percent a year, according to Packaged Facts, a consumer research company in Rockville, Md. Already, spending exceeds the gross domestic product of about 120 nations.
In other words, whatever Fido wants, Fido gets - and then some, particularly in upscale areas.
"It's kind of recession-resistant where we're at," said Steve Coghlan, co-owner of Spoiled Rotten Pets in Chicago's posh Lincoln Park neighborhood. "People are going to spend on their pets no matter what. They're not going to cheat their dogs."
That's especially true when it comes to the holidays. Fifty-six percent of dog owners and 42 percent of cat owners bought holiday gifts for their pets last year, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
Doug Poindexter, president of the World Wide Pet Industry Association, another trade group, says the gift-giving trend reflects the growing humanization of pets in this country.
"If you're going to do it for your child, you're probably going to do it for your pet as well," he said.