Take New York City, for example. The same search returns 434 pet-related businesses, almost exactly twice as many — in a city with more than six times the population of San Diego. Los Angeles proper, whose population is about three times that of America’s Finest, shows 226 pet stores, while Chicago — about twice the size of San Diego — has 167.
Yes, it’s no secret that San Diego loves its pets — and its pet industry. The fact that pet owners make no bones about the way they love to dote on their furry friends — and how much they’ll spend to prove that — gives rise to a specific and unique niche for business owners.
Here, for example, you can head out for a personal training session with your dog (complete with doggy training — of the obedience and fitness kind) before taking a trip to the dog salon for some primping and the dog boutique for some new apparel. By this time, it’s lunch so head over to the market for some organic dog treats before finding your inner canine chi at a yoga class for dogs and their human companions followed by a session with your holistic pet healer to take care of those aches and pains. If you’re really in the mood for some pampering, you can end the evening at a five-star hotel (but only one of the ones that provides gourmet room service for pets). And when you return home, of course, there’s no need to worry about cleaning up — because you paid someone to come by and poop scoop the yard while you were out.
San Diego’s pet industry has taken on a life of its own, and many pet-related business owners in the area have a good idea why. Most of them cite a few common themes for why San Diego is a pet-owner’s paradise — weather generally being the highest on their list.
“Other people who have tried to start a business like mine in other parts of the country can only do it seasonally,” said Dawn Celapino, owner of Leash Your Fitness, a personal training business that incorporates human and canine fitness and obedience into a joint dog/owner workout. “If you try to do this somewhere cold, you can only do it in the summer, and if you try to do it somewhere like Phoenix, you can only do it in the winter.”
San Diego weather is obviously a draw for tourists and transplants, but it can’t be the only reason the local pet industry enjoys a perpetual boom. Though services like Celapino’s benefit from the outdoor activity-friendly climate, there are plenty of businesses that don’t need sunny days to operate.
Alisha McGraw, who specializes in pet photography through her business Some Like It Shot, agreed weather definitely has a hand in drawing pet owners to San Diego.
She admitted, however, weather couldn’t be the only factor. McGraw has lived in several different cities, some — like Los Angeles — with similar climates to San Diego. And none of them, she said, could claim a pet culture like ours.
“Here, there are dog beaches everywhere,” she said. “In LA, the closest dog beach we could find was in Long Beach — not an easy, short car ride away.”
Celapino, in turn, pointed out that pets in San Diego get the royal treatment — more so, perhaps, than in other cities. Where she grew up in Pennsylvania, she said, there was a clear delineation between what was suitable for a dog and what was suitable for a human. Not so in San Diego.
“Here,” she said, “the dogs in my classes lay on mats like their owners. They don’t even have to touch the grass.”
McGraw and Celapino are classic examples of how San Diego engenders the pet industry, making it a no-brainer for those leaning toward a pet-related business. Like Celapino — who was strictly a human personal trainer until she realized how many people were taking their dogs for a walk and then heading to the gym, instead of combining both workouts — McGraw didn’t set out with the purpose of creating fine art pet photography. Several years ago, she was photographing dogs for a boxer rescue shelter’s website when she realized she had a talent. The natural progression led to taking photos for owners who would pay for a visual memoir of their pet.
Other less-conventional businesses flourish here, too. Take Linda Troup’s business, Touch N Paws. Born out of a need to find an alternative way to treat her French bulldog’s spinal and nervous system ailments, the holistic healing business was founded after Troup heard about the Tellington T-Touch, a healing method designed to relieve pain by bringing the animal into “physical, mental and emotional balance.”
Troup has expanded her business to incorporate Reiki, aromatherapy and therapeutic massage and has helped animals locally and remotely, some as far away as Australia (“I don’t know why, but I’m still amazed when it works,” she said of the alternative healing methods).
San Diego, Troup said, is the perfect place to open pet owners’ minds to things like holistic healing.
“The thing I’ve noticed is that San Diegans are very in tune with taking care of their pets,” she said. “Their pets needs are going to get met, one way or another. They’re not just animals, they’re family members. People here are very loving and giving to them, and that’s very good for pet-related businesses.”