Like a trio of princesses waiting to be served, Once a month, three German shepherds named Kratos, Xena and Zeus wait to be pampered.
First up is a doggy manicure, as they have their nails clipped and buffed. Stylists at Barx Pet Boutique in rural Franklin gently clean their ears and trim the fur on their legs and feet.
If the dogs are good, they close out the visit with a handmade treat — peanut butter bones made with organic honey and other natural ingredients.
“All they’ll eat now is these treats. They won’t touch any other kind, so we have to bring them here,” said Greenwood resident Monique Klinger, the dogs’ owner.
For many owners, their dogs and cats are looked at more as babied children than pets. The animals get tissue massages to relieve the stress of playing all day long. They are set up for photography sessions, given matching designer outfits and fed treats made of organic and human-quality ingredients.
Specialized businesses have emerged to provide those services, providing the royal treatment for the pets while giving owners the peace of mind that their animals are receiving the best care.
“We love our dog. It’s in a way where she’s like our baby,” said Justin Gash of Franklin. “It’s not so much about pampering her as taking good care of her.”
Gash and his wife, Andrea, will do almost anything for their miniature schnauzer, Phoebe.
They take her to the groomer to get her coat washed and trimmed. They drive 20 minutes out of their way to buy the dog special-made treats.
For special occasions, the Gashes have Phoebe wear special dresses and other boutique items.
“The boutique items are fun. We’ll dress her up when people come over, and they think it’s great,” Gash said.
Barx Pet Boutique and the sister business, Gerbeaux Gourmet Dog Bakery, have become the Gashes go-to place for babying Phoebe.
The Gashes discovered it soon after moving to Franklin in 2011. Since that time, it’s not just their dog who’s formed a bond with the business.
“We always use the same groomer, and she knows Phoebe very well by now,” Justin Gash said.
“We never have to worry about taking her in — they’ll call us afterwards even and check-up on her, to make sure everything is good.”
Pet industry statistics reveal that the Gashes are not alone. Owners are paying more and more to make their pets happy.
“The more they have them pampered, the more they like it,” said owner Jennifer Whitaker, owner of Gerbeaux and Barx. “It’s just like a kid. If your kid is going to scream for that toy or that treat, it’s the same thing as a dog.”
According to the American Pet Products Association, a pet-related trade group, owners spent more than $55 billion on their dogs, cats and other animals in 2013. Estimates for 2014 are set at $58 billion.
While a majority of that money is spent on food, medicine and veterinary care, 13 percent was spent on grooming and other extraneous services.
Businesses are taking advantage of that desire. On the southside of Indianapolis, Barkefellers upscale grooming and boarding provides a full spa experience for dogs.
The animals can get bathed, have groomers shave between their foot pads, get their nails trimmed and then be fluffed dry.
Hot oil treatments, gentle joint rubs and hour-long body massages are also popular treatments.
Greenwood’s Bath and Beyond Pet Salon features pedicures, ear cleaning and teeth brushing, as well as a doggy day care where dogs can socialize and interact with other animals during the day.
At Dogtropolis, a Center Grove area boarding and grooming business, pet owners can pay a little extra to get such luxuries as a warm blanket from the dryer for their bed, bottled water or a car ride to Petsmart for a shopping spree.
At Barx, technicians do everything from trims to washing to putting nailpolish on dogs’ claws.
Some pet owners want their dogs to have a more stylish ‘do, so the groomers can cut an edgy mohawk or shag cut.
One of their services is a dog facial. They use a blueberry scrub, specially made so it doesn’t hurt the eyes, to shampoo the dog’s face. The scrub soaks into the dogs pores and removes any dirt and other gunk that might be around the eyes.
In the bakery, Whitaker cooks up frosted and un-frosted treats using ingredients such as homemade peanut butter, carob and yogurt frosting. She had started baking all-natural treats for her own dogs — two shih tzus named Amos and Aspen, two German shepherds named Greta and Baron, and a bulldog named Vinnie.
Her concerns about what she was feeding her dogs were similar to what other pet owners were worried about themselves.
“I grind my own peanuts for the peanut butter, and there are only a few ingredients in each cookie. You or I could eat the same thing that these cookies are made of,” Whitaker said.
Klinger has found that her German shepherds have now become doggie treat snobs, refusing to eat anything other than what she can pick up at Gerbeaux.
The animals are partial to the peanut butter cookies, but also enjoy the bacon and cheese versions. When their breath is stinky, Klinger picks up a package of the mint and charcoal snacks that use peppermint, molasses and active charcoal for fresh breath.
The lengths that she goes may be extreme at times. But Klinger considers it a small token for the companionship her dogs provide her.
“These are my babies. I do anything for them,” Klinger said.