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Doggie high tea? Today's pooches live better than I do

When I was 14, our Chihuahua Bambi joined the family. We loved him, played with him, gave him gift-wrapped rawhide treats at Christmas. We lathered him up with flea shampoo in the laundry sink and clipped his nails at home. Looking back, I had no idea he was so deprived.

This weekend, the first-ever Winter Woofstock, an offshoot of the annual doggie expo held every spring, is taking place at the Direct Energy Centre in Toronto. Marlene Cook, who founded Woofstock in 2003, says the spring event has proven so popular that a second one was created for the holiday season. The statistics back her up: According to StatsCan, annual average spending by Canadians on pets continues to get higher.

Of course, pooch-pampering products and services are nothing new, but the array available today can seem extreme, at least to non-dog-owners. There's canine nail polish, specialty skin creams, all-natural gluten-free "grrnola," miniature clothes hangers for tiny hoodies, school uniforms, cable-knit sweaters, designer reclining beds and doggles (sunglass goggles). Much of this stuff is on sale at Woofstock, which, in the past, has also arranged high tea for dogs and doggie weddings. The latter, which celebrate the union of doggie couples in holy "muttrimony," come complete with wedding attire, a (human) reverend and MC presiding and a reception at Toronto's King Edward Hotel. "We got a lot of flak from that," admits Cook, who says that a caller on a talk-radio show in the U.S. told her it was "blasphemy." It didn't faze her.

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"People [are]doing things for their dogs as if they were their children," she says, adding that rises in divorce rates and more housebound, solitary lifestyles are responsible for our growing desire for dogs. But is the fact that we may be lonelier, stuck in work cubicles more and facing disintegrating marriages in greater numbers the real reason behind, say, doggie couture? Perhaps. It may also be a matter of supply and demand, as we own more pets than ever before. According to a Canadian Animal Health Institute/Ipsos-Reid study, 35 per cent of Canadians own a dog; the number is slightly higher in the United States. Before so many families had dogs as pets, there was no need for dog parks, doggie vitamins and medication, flavoured doggie toothpaste and events like Woofstock. The increasing elaborateness of the products and services suggests just how integral dogs have become in many lives, even if it seems excessive to those who don't own pets. "There are two types of people in this world," Cook says. "People who like dogs and people who don't."

In truth, I might have lost my mind with glee if I had access when Bambi was around to what's available today, festooning our little guy, R.I.P., like a twinkling Christmas tree. But as it is right now, I suspect that, contrary to what Cook says, there may be a new, third type of person in the world, the kind of person who works away at her desk every day, without special treats or outfits. That person might even be a teensy bit jealous of today's pampered dogs. Anyone else feel that way? Maybe it's just me.

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