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Tokens of appreciation: When it comes to holiday shopping, Whidbey Island pets find place on Christmas lists

Evee, a 16-week-old yellow lab that likes to scarf its food, tries out the Slo-Bowl at Island Pet Center in Oak Harbor Monday. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Evee, a 16-week-old yellow lab that likes to scarf its food, tries out the Slo-Bowl at Island Pet Center in Oak Harbor Monday.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

In the living room of Jason and Jorae Blackwell’s home in Oak Harbor are six Christmas stockings.

One for each of them and one for each of their three young children, Sophia, Paxton and Gabriel.

The sixth one is for Ana, the family dog.

“She’s part of the family,” Jorae Blackwell said.

Inside that stocking soon will rest a flat, furry weasel-like toy called a Mini Skinneeez.

It’s one of the favorite toys of Ana, who’s a mix between Catahoula and Labrador.

She likes to rip into it, flip it inside out and remove the bell inside its tail.

“If you put it back together, she gets upset for a little while and won’t take it and won’t look at you,” Jorae said.

Upsetting a dog, cat or even a bird is the last thing on the minds of many pet owners on Whidbey Island this time of year.

Instead, the spirit is to reward.

Many pet owners include their loyal companions on their holiday shopping list, wanting to ensure they also have something to tear into on Christmas.

“You’d be surprised,” said Brian Knoll, owner of Island Pet Center in Oak Harbor. “People consider all types of pets part of the family. Snakes, iguanas.

“There’s a real attachment. If you’ve got a hamster, hamsters love Christmas, too.”

Knoll has been around the family’s pet business for 36 years, trying to stay on top of the industry’s trends and customers’ shopping habits.

Holding a soft spot for pets around Christmas time is nothing new.

Knoll remembers his mother putting up stockings at Christmas time for their pets.

Jorae Blackwell, who works at the Country Store in Oak Harbor, said her mother got gifts for their pets when she was growing up.

Both are carrying on the family traditions.

“They got something,” Blackwell said. “Even if it was one dog bone apiece.”

The dog bones of Christmas past are now replaced by more elaborate options.

At the Country Store, Chuckits and knotted ropes are some of the more popular gift items for dogs. Chuckits, which range in price from $7.99 to $13.99, allow pet owners to throw balls without throwing out their arms.

Cat owners often get away cheaper.

At the Country Store, a furry mouse with a feathery tail is a big seller at 79 cents apiece. Catnip also remains popular.

Dog toys are common purchases at Island Pet Center, however, a couple of more sophisticated products are gaining attention as well.

The “Dirty Dog Doormat,” which sells for $24.99, is helping keep carpets cleaner. And a product new to the store, the Slo-Bowl, is creating howls at $18.99.

The bowl’s interior contains a maze-like configuration, forcing dogs that eat too fast to slow down.

“It’s for dogs that inhale their food,” said Lindsey Johnson, an employee at Island Pet Center.

The bowl was popular with Evee, a 16-week-old yellow lab who got to sample some food at the store.

“I might have to get one of these for her for Christmas,” said Roxanne Culver, Evee’s owner. “She scarfs her food down.”

Bird owners also frequent the store during the holidays in search of toys, swings and mirrors for their feathered friends.

“People love their pets,” Johnson said.

James Dunn, owner of Critters & Company Pet Center in Clinton, said treats and chew toys are popular year-round for dogs while sales of softer, plush toys increase during the holidays.

Following that trend, a shipment of stuffed fur chickens recently arrived at Paw in Hand pet boutique in downtown Oak Harbor for dogs to toss and chew, as well as a shipment of Santa pajamas for pets.

Pet stores tend to offer more options for dogs as cats tend to be less finicky.

Dunn said that his No. 1 seller around Christmas time for cats is Da Bird.

He said employees at his store annually hold a friendly wager on which cat item will be the season’s top seller between Da Bird, a stick that dangles a feathery toy from a string, and a lazer beam that cats chase.

He said employees will even buy the lazer themselves to increase their odds.

“It still doesn’t win,” he said.

That honor falls upon Da Bird, which costs $10.

At The Healthy Pet in Freeland, the trend this month is to buy Christmas type toys for their pets and gift certificates, said sales associate Sabra Whitlock.

“Stocking stuffers are the big things they look for,” she said. “Bones and dog treats and Christmas pet toys.”

She said that popular items for dogs are the harder rubber Kong chew toys and Tuffy softer ones.

“We have a really good squid now that is super tough,” Whitlock said. “It’s a softer toy with a squeak in it. It has seven layers of material.”

The Tuffy Mega squid sells between $11.99 and $13.99 depending on its size.

Whitlock said pets are like children.

“I’ve worked in the pet industry since 1998,” she said. “When the economy crashed, we were still seeing an increase in sales in the pet business.”

 

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