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There are children starving in Africa - but I'll still spoil my dog Add to ...

This week's sign of the apocalypse: a doggie spa/nightclub, complete with aromatherapy, mud masks, a disco ball and a $300 (U.S.) annual membership fee.

Given its location - in the heart of New York's financial district - perhaps it's a sign that the economy has turned a corner.

Or perhaps not. The market for luxury pet products, by all rights, should have bottomed out a while ago, along with the global economy. Hawkers of jewel-crusted collars and luxury dog shampoo should be crying into their soy lattes. But the pet-products bubble is one that hasn't burst. Our appetite for spending on our furry loved ones seems to be limitless.

At a certain point, it all starts to feel a bit obscene. While people are losing their homes and relying on charity to feed their families, dog owners are paying $45 a day to places like Fetch Club, the aforementioned destination, so their animals can chillax in the lounge area and enjoy a glass of "Barkundy" or "Sauvignon Bark" (both of which are apparently gravy, not wine).

Fetch Club may be an extreme example, but pampering pets isn't just an urban thing, and it's not just for people with too much money and too little sense.

Otherwise rational, level-headed humans are buying organic dog treats and investing in cat scratching posts that could grace the cover of Architectural Digest.

Our culture's current level of pet-craziness makes an easy target for moralizing. Isn't it wrong to spend so much time, energy and money on our pets when there are children starving in Africa, quake victims still homeless in Haiti, and needy people in our own cities and towns?

No.

It's not wrong to spoil our pets because love is not a zero-sum game. We can care about our pets,maybe even too much, and still have compassion for our fellow humans.

While it's true that some people may take refuge in the world of animals as a way to avoid dealing with people - and perhaps they have good reason for doing so - most of us find that loving a pet makes us more engaged in the human world around us, not less.

On a purely financial level, the extra money a pet-lover spends on luxuries is comparable to the $4 latte that so many people purchase to jump-start their days: No, it's not a necessity, and yes, it may be a little silly, but it makes us feel good. Until we all become Mother Teresa and start giving away our worldly possessions to the less fortunate, there will always be a reason to splurge on treats that make us happy - even if those treats are for the dogs.

Of course, it's not all about spending money. All the fancy chew toys don't mean much if we don't take time to pet our dog, cat or ferret. It would be nice if we could remember on our own to slow down and appreciate life, to connect with the ones we love, to simply breathe now and then; but often, we need our animals to remind us.

They remind us how to be human, in the best sense of the word.

Do they need (or deserve) fancy spas or designer duds? Frankly, they don't care. But it's not wrong to show them love, even if it feels silly. So have a laugh at Fetch Club and every newfangled pet-luxury scheme that comes along, then kiss your pet and smile at a stranger. There's enough love to go around.

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