Forget about all those Range Rovers and Hummers cruising around the neighborhood. Forget about all those million dollar homes and record sale prices. You know what really means that this has become a trendy, upscale place to live?

We have more pet-related businesses than ever before.

Seriously. That’s one of the hallmarks of the resurgence that has been going on around here for the past seven or eight years. We’re looking at teardowns, and we should be looking at pets. People in neighborhoods like ours own lots of pets, spend lots of money on their pets, and use an array of pet services, from MRI scans to dog washes to pet sitters, that our parents would have never imagined (or paid for).

A trade group that does a bi-annual study about these things says people like us make more money and spend more of it on their pets than people elsewhere in the . We’re also younger and more likely to have young children at home. Sound like your block? Because it sure sounds like mine.

None of this is news to Jennifer Lavender, DVM, who opened Metro Paws Animal Hospital at Skillman and Live Oak last May. In fact, business has been better than expected, and she and partner Kathryn Junkins Sarpong, DVM, expected business to be quite good.

“If you look at the geographic distribution of vets, there has always been a huge gap in this area,” says Dr. Lavender. “When we put pins on a map, we couldn’t believe the gap that was there.”

Which was because, in the old days, nobody saw all that much money in it. We had a couple of vets, a pet store and a groomer. And that was it. Today, there are at least a couple of more vets, a self-serve dog wash that is part of a seven-location chain, a bunch more groomers, and three more pet stores. This doesn’t include the services that many of them offer, from hotel-style boarding to doggie daycare (I’m not making this up) to obedience training. You can get a chip implanted in your pet so it’s easier to find in case it gets lost, call a mobile groomer who will come to your home, or take your pooch to play at the city-run dog park. Many vets offer the same sort of cancer treatments that humans get, and they have plenty of takers — and price is usually not a problem. There is so much interest in these businesses that private equity firms are getting involved, buying pieces of regional vet chains.

About the only thing that hasn’t turned up over here is the pet boutique, a fast-growing retail concept in other upscale parts of the country that sells designer clothing, jewelry, and the like. (How about a $195 dog bed at Nordstrom’s, in case you want to cross Central Expressway?)

Some of these changes are part of a larger national trend, as Americans change their attitudes toward pets from seeing them as property, well beloved though they were, to members of the family. That same trade group study found that the number of dog owners who would buy their pet a casket has tripled this decade, while almost 1 out of 10 dog owners would give a birthday party for their pet. I am too embarrassed, by the way, to report the number of those of us who let their animals sleep with them. Let us just say that only one percent of Americans make their pets sleep outside.

That change in attitude dovetails nicely with our neighborhood’s new status. The other thing that surprised Drs. Lavender and Sarpong when they wrote their business plan? Our demographics. “That was a big part of it,” she says. “The income distribution was impressive. When we took our loan application to the bank with those census numbers, they thought it was a pretty affluent neighborhood.”

Any dog could have told them that.


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