Whether they were naughty or nice, nearly 100 furry critters filed in with their pet parents this month to have their photos taken with Santa in Greensburg.
The one-day event represented about a 40% increase over similar photo sessions held in pre-pandemic years at the Petagogy pet store.
“We usually run 60 to 80 sittings,” according to Ben Huber of Hempfield, one of the store owners.
The store’s Shadyside location attracted nearly 150 owners and their pets, on par with previous years.
It’s a sign of how valued canine, feline and other nonhuman companions have become and how owners express that devotion at the holidays, especially when many people have spent more time at home during the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen an influx of new pet owners from the area,” Huber said. “It seems like a lot of them are making their pets full-fledged members of the family.”
One can only speculate what area pets were begging for during their visit with Santa, but it’s apparent their owners are ready to make wishes come true for Rover and Morris with seasonal treats and toys.
Some 78% of dog owners and 72% of cat owners buy special holiday gifts or treats for their pets, according to a 2019 report by market research firm Packaged Facts.
Rover.com surveyed 1,000 U.S. dog owners, finding that 89% plan to give their pets a gift this year — with 75% of that group seeking presents online and 18% planning to give homemade gifts.
Men (92%) are more likely to give their dogs gifts compared to women (84%). The survey also found 63% of owners plan to bring their pooches along on their holiday travels.
The Paws on Main pet boutique in Ligonier will join in the holiday photo fun, inviting pets to have their portraits snapped with Santa on Dec. 12.
“We sell a lot of stuffed animals, squeaky toys and pull toys,” staff member April Kinzler said. “They’re very detailed and different for the holidays. There are ones with yule logs, Santa Claus and chimneys.”
Kinzler also offers handmade crafts, including ornaments featuring dog portraits and wreaths shaped like paw prints.
Millennials — people born between 1981 and the mid-1990s — splurge the most on their pets for the holidays, spending an average of $51, according to a 2020 survey by statista.com.
Members of Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are a dollar behind, at $50, followed by Gen X (born between 1965-80), at $41. Baby boomers (born between 1946-64) are a bit more miserly, budgeting $28 to help their pets celebrate the season.
In addition to treats and stuffed toys, other popular choices to put under the tree or in stockings for Fido include blankets, sweaters and puffer-style jackets.
Cat owners can shop for feline fashions or may cough up the cash for more elaborate presents — cozy cat caves or structures that allow their pets to climb and scratch. Interactive toys the pets can pounce on also are popular.
Doting owners can even help their cherished canines or cats count down the days until Santa’s arrival with an Advent calendar stocked with doggie treats or cat food.
Gretchen Kuhns of Hempfield has been busy baking biscuits with holiday decorations to sell to fellow dog owners. Her bacon- and peanut butter-flavored treats are her most popular varieties.
But she’s not neglecting her own pets. She gets balls for her dogs to play with and orders a boxed assortment of presents for her eight rabbits. “There’s usually some hay and some bunny-friendly biscuits and toys,” she said.
Huber need look no further than his store shelves to find gifts for his two dogs, who indeed are part of the family. But he leaves the selection to his daughters.
“I let them do all the holiday shopping for the dogs,” he said. “They have three little girls filling up baskets for them.”