These days, pets are the new Valentine, and people are showering them with love.
One in 4 people buy Valentine's Day gifts for their pets, spending a whopping $1.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
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Surveys show that people admit to cuddling their dogs more often than their partners, and to preferring time with their pooches over time with significant others or family members.
"What pets provide on a regular basis is joy and purpose — someone to think of other than yourself,” says Melissa Prestinario, 50, a pet owner from Eugene, Oregon.
Working from home and social distancing because of the coronavirus pandemic means people have spent more time with their pets than ever before. Those animals play a central role in combating loneliness, says Nancy R. Gee, the director of the Center for Human–Animal Interaction at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.
"I hear it all the time: ‘If it weren't for my dog, I would've been in huge trouble during this pandemic,' ” Gee says. “Companion animals are making a major difference in our lives."
And pet owners don't mind pampering their furry friends. Prestinario feeds her tuxedo cat, Nash, wild-caught tuna mixed with kibble or human-grade cat food made from chicken. Her golden retriever, Crosby, has a subscription to BarkBox, a company that sends customized boxes of themed toys and treats to pets every month. (The “Sit. Stay. Spa Day!” theme included a squeaker toy that resembled a detox drink.)
Her pets will definitely get some extra affection and treats on Valentine's Day, and Prestinario doesn't mind dipping into her budget for that.
"We like to spoil our pets because we love them unconditionally,” she says. While caring for them is a lot of work, Prestinario says, the payoff is “all the funny things they do keep your spirits up — and, of course, cuddling in bed at night is always good, too."