Most people consider their pets -- be they dogs, cats, birds or bunnies -- part of the family. And according to a recent AP-Petside poll, more than half of pet owners in America will give holiday gifts to their pets this year, spending around $46 on toys, treats and other goodies per pet.
Local pet stores are stocking their shelves with plenty of items for Fluffy and Fido to receive from Santa Claus ... or is that Claws?
Pet Food Express, which boasts several locations throughout the Bay Area, including in Palo Alto and Redwood City, offers a variety of supplies to keep pets warm and snuggly through the winter, including heated, energy-efficient beds, furniture covers, boots and sweaters (ranging from $4.99 to $119.99), according to an email from Mike Murray, director of community relations. The store also offers all-natural chew treats and a line of "retro toys" featuring sock monkeys and classic characters such as Lambchop and Gumby ($6.99 to $8.99).
Pet Food Express offers holiday-themed toys ($2.99 and up), including reindeer and dreidels and -- perhaps more to the delight of pet owners than to the pets themselves -- holiday pet apparel such as "Santa and Mrs. Santa sweaters, elf suits and head gear," Murray said.
The Pet Place in downtown Menlo Park offers many organic treats and toys manufactured by local and/or independent companies, owner Lynn Macy said, including tasty snacks with seasonal flavors, such as pumpkin pie and sweet potato.
"Typically it's our busiest time of year," Macy said of the holiday season. "People are thinking of more comfort for their pets for the winter," purchasing blankets, beds, sweaters and raincoats.
"There are some products by a local, Karen Johnson's catnip toys, that are really popular. And the 'PURRfect Cat Toy,' a wand-based toy for chasing and pouncing, is one of her favorites," she said. "We've had the same one for I don't know how many years, with so many kitties."
"A lot of the stuffed ones are usually pretty popular because some of them grunt, squeak or make a crackly noise. And some you can stuff with treats," she said of the canine toys.
At Palo Alto's Pet Food Depot on El Camino Real, customers can pick out a selection of treats, accessories and toys and have them gift wrapped in a variety of holiday-themed packaging, such as baskets and bags, with the special wrapping costing around $5 to $10, store manager Heghnar Balian said. Festive gift bags are also available for $1 to $3.
"Usually people want it in a pet-themed wrap; ribbons with bones and paws, we offer that," she said. "We usually order a whole bunch of Christmas and Hanukkah toys, like squeaky things for dogs and cats."
For the high-end pet, Palo Alto's McRoskey Mattress Company offers the $360 "Lucky Dog Pillow," a dog bed filled with Hungarian goose down, encased in 300-thread-count cotton sateen and covered in Sunbrella or soft vinyl. Designed to be durable and easy-to-clean -- as well as stylish -- the beds come in chocolate-brown or black vinyl, or damask, herringbone and stripe. Habitat Design on Palo Alto's Staunton Court offers a $60 cat ticking mattress ("nine out of ten cats mistake it for down," the website boasts) along with a $40 mattress cover.
Pet's Delight on State Street in Los Altos offers a line of Five Paw Treats (gourmet, local baked goods for pets) in a variety of flavors including "cheese moons," "liver lover," "peanut hearts" and "puppy pizza," which are available in gift bags or tubs ($5.95 a tub; $9.99/lb).
Even aquatic pets can benefit from some holiday cheer. While most aquarium or terrarium-based pets have everything they need, according to Sabrina Bauer of downtown Mountain View's fish-and-reptile store Seascapes, some patrons purchase live worms, feeder mice or brine shrimp this time of year as special delicacies for their fish and reptile friends.
"When you feed them fish food it's kind of like feeding them hamburgers. Live food is like filet mignon; it tastes better," she said.
While actually purchasing pets as presents is generally discouraged, Bauer said Seascapes sometimes offers a holiday sale on crested geckos and their habitats, as they're excellent starter pets and easy to care for. "They're wonderful pets," she said.
Of course, animal lovers with already-privileged pets can also donate money or time to local animal-related charities to help less fortunate pets.
Pet Food Express, Pet Food Depot and The Pet Place, among others, all offer opportunities for patrons to donate to pets in need.
"All year round we do collections and donations for shelters, and we've had adoption fairs here for almost 20 years now," Macy said of her Santa Cruz Avenue shop.
Pet Food Depot also offers a donation bin year round.
Pet Food Express is holding its annual Giving Tree promotion during the month of December.
"We collect Kong toys and monetary donations for pet-rescue groups and animal shelters," Murray said. "Kong toys are the only ones approved by the Bay Area shelters as being safe enough for all animals to use," he added. Customers are offered a 20 percent discount on purchases of donated toys.
The Peninsula Humane Society accepts donations year round, but for $20 sponsors can order a special "Cool Yule" holiday shirt featuring festive animal images (www.peninsulahumanesociety.org/donate/holidayshirt.html). Humane Society Silicon Valley also accepts donations of money, food and supplies (hssv.convio.net).
Local pet lovers are often happy to help others, Macy said. "We have such a compassionate community here."