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Pampered Pets : For Great Danes or Goldfish, Trade Show Has Everything

Times Staff Writer

In booths that held dazzling displays of high-powered hair dryers, stew-flavored bones and other pet products, manufacturers welcomed retailers who carried shopping bags. The only animal in sight, except for fish in aquariums, was a poodle in a polka-dot dress.

The poodle and its owner, designer Patricia Henderson of Silk-N-Satin pet fashions, also wearing a polka-dot dress, were of little professional interest to Claire Sanford of Whittier at the pet industry’s annual trade show at the Long Beach Convention Center.

“That’s a specialty, something for people who live in Beverly Hills,” Sanford said. The owner of a tropical-fish store, Sanford is changing to dogs and cats, and looked mostly for cages as she walked among the 400 exhibits last weekend.

But, like everyone else, Sanford laughed as Henderson dressed her poodle, GiGi, in outfits to match the clothes of pet owners. The little dog posed calmly, but upon hearing a squeak, GiGi--clad perhaps in a flowery Hawaiian number through which her tail vibrated wildly--would scamper away and disappear into a toy booth.

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Mink Coats for Parrots

Although Henderson, attending the trade show from Colonia, N.J., had no bird models, she told prospective buyers that she also enjoys making imitation mink coats for parrots.

“It’s not easy,” she explained. “You have to cut the coat in a certain way so they can move their wings.”

The trade show was held in Long Beach, not only for its convenient location, said Thomas McLaughlin, executive vice president of the Western World Pet Supply Assn., but “because we’re largely a family industry, and there are a lot of things for a family to do here.”

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Sanford, who has a cat, dog, turtle, tarantula, tortoise and frog at home, called herself a typical pet person. “It’s a nice business,” she said. “Most of the people you meet are nice. You get few bad checks.”

Although boutique companies such as Henderson’s have been entering the industry, most of the exhibitors showed the basic equipment required by operators of pet shops, grooming shops and feed stores.

There were colorful arrays of bowls, collars and leashes; scientific-looking displays of flea-fighting shampoos and medications, and pyramids of natural dog food and low-ash cat food.

As he pointed out the exhibits, McLaughlin offered some observations:

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“We call (pets) ‘companion animals'--that’s the term coming into the culture.”

“Twenty percent of the pet industry’s sales are in California.”

“Twenty years ago there were twice as many dogs as cats in the United States, but now there are 55 million cats and 52 million dogs. That has to be caused by more people moving into condominiums and apartments, and (because) cats are easier to keep.”

Yuppie Puppy Treet

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But products for dogs still have an audience. At the Carousel Industries booth, Patti Page appeared on a television screen to sing “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” to introduce a video promoting the Yuppie Puppy Treet Machine. Next to the TV was a gumball-type machine, designed to discharge a snack when a dog presses his paw on the bone-shaped handle.

“We’re moving them,” said salesman Brent Kaplan of Des Plaines, Ill.

Though he had no numbers for them, McLaughlin noted that birds and fish are rising rapidly in popularity.

Since fish are hot, the aquarium people looked confident.

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“Fish definitely are the big thing,” said Mike Calli, owner of American Aquatics Inc. of Paramount, as he stood before a row of softly bubbling tanks. “I haven’t seen a child yet who isn’t super excited about aquariums and fish.”

Fluorescent Shipwrecks

Aquariums of all sizes, some elaborately housed in tall wood furniture, beckoned in almost every aisle. They were filled with living reefs and bright fish that once might have lived off Key West. The fish swam among fluorescent shipwrecks and sea monsters in clear, clean ocean water.

One company sold not aquariums but videotapes of fish swimming in beautiful tropical waters. Set to classical music, the tapes are big with Chicago yuppies, said Allen Brelig, president of Petvision of Oak Park, Ill. Colette Fairchild, the firm’s vice president, mentioned that a study at an Eastern university had proved that watching fish can calm people.

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The weekend included a dog-grooming contest and seminars on “great business ideas” and “managing stress in fish.” Saturday night the pet people danced and drank beer, rum-and-Cokes and 7-and-7s at a party at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Over the party’s loud music, Richard Peterson, 66, a distributor from Pebble Beach, recalled selling horse meat for dog food in the late 1940s. The pet industry was just getting started about that time because of a parakeet craze.

“It’s come a long way,” Peterson said. “It’s a great industry, and it’s so small that I can go from booth to booth and know everybody.”

By late Sunday afternoon, the show had begun to wind down.

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Over near the dog training videos, one salesman said to another: “Let me out of here. I’m out of literature, I’m out of cards.”

He wasn’t the only one ready to call it a day.

GiGi, pooped from two days of posing, lay serenely beneath a display of bird hats. She seemed happy, even though she didn’t have a stitch on.


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