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      Why Americans love spending money on their pets

      COLUMBIA (WACH) - Americans spent $55.7 billion on their pets in 2013 and will most likely shell out close to $60 billion this year. The reason is simple... they're part of the family.

      Another reason is the growing number of products and services specifically designed toward pet lovers, and let's face it... pet fanatics. There are aisles and aisles of premium food for every dietary need and desire, and owners have become savvy about reading lables. The word "by-product" is a no-no for many and shelling out a few extra dollars for food that will keep them healthier and happier is easy to justify.

      So is health care. We are no longer limited to veterinary clinics. If your furry friend is diagnosed with a disease or suffers a massive injury, there are specialists. We are fortunate here in Columbia to have access to these specialists at South Carolina Veterinary Care. From emergency care to oncologists, cardiologists and internists. Pets now have the same access to specialty care as their owners. And that's a good thing. But it can get costly, so check out insurance companies that are now offering coverage.

      Food and health care are "need to have's" but we pet lovers spend hand over fist for the "nice to have's" ... like pet clothes, holiday costumes and elaborate accessories. I bought my cat a tiara once. She kept it on just long enough for me to take a picture, which is all that really mattered. And then there are the fancy toys to keep them entertained. Nevermind the fact that they'd much rather just play with the box and packing materials it came with.

      There are also extravegant services like grooming (beauty parlor services like pet-i-cures and shampooches) and pet resorts that will spoil your dogs and cats with private rooms, personalized attention, and camera access so you can check in on them whenever you want. However, you don;t even need to leave them there if you don't want because increasingly more hotels are allowing pets of all kinds to check-in with you... for an extra fee or deposit in most cases.

      The point is this: pets offer us years of unconditional love, and with the exception of a few household potty problems, chewed up shoes or clawed couch cushions, they don't bring a lot of stress. They celebrate when we wake up or return home, they live to please us, and give us adoring attention and ask for very little in return. Is that worth a tiara now and then? Yes, and with matching pearls.