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Is this pampering really necessary?

I sat down at my computer and typed www.dogster.com. One of my dogs sidled up next to me.

"Woof, and welcome to Dogster!"

Profiles of Kozmo, Zeke, Riggs, Touki, Binki and Bazo popped up, all very handsome canines. But my dog didn't look interested. He refused to click.

Not his type? Or just not in the mood?

I took a tour despite his apathy. Just like MySpace and Facebook for humans, Dogster — allegedly for dogs, but requiring the aid of human fingertips, checkbooks and concepts of time — offers a place to post profiles, share photos and videos, join groups, make dates, give a dog a virtual treat. ...

Come again?

"Make a dog's day, give 'em a treat!"

I stared at the pile of virtual dog bones and tried to imagine the beast patiently salivating all over my keyboard suddenly shaking his hindquarters and approaching dog delirium as my mouse inched toward a virtual bone on a computer screen. Unless they could get their site to smell like raw meat, I had a feeling this wasn't going to generate much of a stir. To be sure, I pointed and clicked on the biggest bone of all. "How 'bout that, boy?"

Squeak-a, squeak-a, squeak. He had found his favorite squeaky toy and couldn't be bothered with my fake bones.

"Show a pup she makes your tail wag."

My tail wag? Or his tail wag? Is that code for something, I wondered, looking over my shoulder to see if my wife was watching. Is Chris Hanson going to ring my bell for this?

I navigated on. My dog curled up on the floor and yawned. Squeak-a.

"Make pup pals."

By now the pooch was snoring. Judging by his utter lack of enthusiasm, or even consciousness, it was apparent he had no interest in friends, virtual or otherwise.

No doubt about it, this is absurd. But it was only a month ago that Leona Helmsley, the "Queen of Mean," left $12 million to her dog, Trouble. Pet industry sales are anticipated to climb to almost $41 billion this year, second only to electronics as the fastest-growing retail category. And that's just in this country.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported that even the president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, Bob Vetere, has seen a few surprises when it comes to pet products.

"I just got a brochure from a company that makes wigs for dogs," he told the Times. "I don't know when my dog ever walked past a mirror and said, 'Gee, my hair is ugly, I need a wig.'"

But you must admit, it's unlikely that a dog with a wig collection won't also have a Dogster profile.

Not long ago, I walked by a bakery that specialized in dog fare. Treats, biscuits, baked meals, including dessert. A woman sashayed in with a beautiful boxer and said, "OK, Jack. Pick one of anything you want." Jack promptly put his front paws up on the counter and drooled all over the glass. It was apparent he'd been there before.

More and more people are pampering their pets — from doggie day care and play dates to pet hotels that feature dog suites with themed movies like "101 Dalmatians" and "Lady and the Tramp." Not to mention products. PetCo Animal Supplies now offers a $225 bed that heats or cools to adjust to your pet's body temperature. Rachel McLennan, a spokeswoman for the company, told the Times, "We really cater to the pet parent."

And the pet parent loves to party. With their pooch, that is. These days, deep in the 'burbs, "Pet Pawties" rage into the late afternoons. And what's a party without a salesmanperson? Pupperware is the new Tupperware.

But it's not just fun and games. It's also image.

"With Neuticles — it's like nothing ever changed!"

According to their Web site , www.neuticles.com, Neuticles is a safe and inexpensive neutering option that allows your pet to "retain his natural look and self-esteem."

I looked down at my sleeping dog and his slobbery toy and felt confident that his self-esteem was firmly intact, even though his testicles aren't. Exploring the Neuticles site, I couldn't help but wonder whose self-esteem was really in jeopardy.

While much of this excess is technically harmless, it's hard not to notice that in the same year that $41 million will be spent on America's pets, 6 million to 8 million pets will enter U.S. shelters. And only half will leave. With all this money and so much love, I can't help but wonder why so many get left behind.

Woof!


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to dearuncle.gazette@unclematty.com or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.