By SUE MANNING, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just over half of American pet owners will buy gifts for their pets this holiday season, and they’ll spend an average of $46 on their animals, with toys and treats topping the list, according to a new AP-Petside.com poll.

Sixty-eight percent of pets getting gifts can look forward to a toy, 45 percent to food or another treat, 8 percent new bedding, 6 percent clothing, 3 percent a leash, collar or harness and 3 percent new grooming products, the poll showed. (Some pets will get more than one gift.)

“Christmas is about the pets,” said Gayla McCarthy, 58, of Kekaha, Hawaii, whose Australian shepherd, Echo, will find a toy under the tree. McCarthy even got a shirt for her husband as a gift to him from the dog, and she’ll be giving collapsible bowls that she ordered online to all their friends’ dogs.

Although the average budget for pet gifts among those surveyed was $46, 72 percent of those polled said they’d spend $30 or less. Those who bought gifts for their pets last year said they spent $41 on average.

Overall, 51 percent of those polled this year said they would buy holiday gifts for their pets, a figure that’s been relatively stable in the last few AP-Petside.com polls. It was 53 percent last year, 52 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2008.

Income does matter. Those making $50,000 or more say they plan to spend an average $57 on their pets. Those making under $50,000 say it will be $29.

Major pet retailers have been taking part in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday frenzy for a few years. Petco Animal Supplies Inc. plans a 72-hour “Black Friday Weekend Blowout,” said Greg Seremetis, vice president of marketing.

Products for both pets and pet owners will be available, he said. “Including pets in holiday gift-giving has been a growing trend in the last few years. More and more pets are being treated as family members and being included in holiday traditions, including having a gift waiting for them under the tree,” he said.

PetSmart Inc. plans to open stores at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, then continue with a “Countdown to Christmas” sale, said spokeswoman Stephanie Foster.

Online retailer Foster & Smith Inc. plans a live, streaming, four-hour (11 a.m. – 3 p.m. EST) webcast full of sales and giveaways on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, spokesman Gordon Magee said. “As far as we know, with the exception of QVC …, no other retailer has done a live broadcast like this on Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” Magee said. “We are going to give it a go.”

Younger pet owners are more apt to say they’ll buy their pet a holiday gift, including 56 percent of pet owners under age 50. Among those ages 50-64, it’s 47 percent, and among seniors, 39 percent, the poll showed.

Lauren Beard, 22, of Felton, Pa., and her family lavished their dog Groovy with gifts last year — including treats and bones — because it was the chocolate lab’s first Christmas. “We still love her but it’s a little less exciting this year,” Beard said. So she reduced her budget of $70 last year to $50, and hopes to get some things on sale. She’ll also buy a gift for Groovy’s best friend and neighbor, a golden retriever named Tessie, Beard said.

Ronda Singleton and her husband live in Elk, Wash., and raise and show standard poodles. But they don’t plan to get gifts for their dogs or for each other. “If we need something, we go get it,” she explained, adding that the dogs get treats all the time. She and her husband like to celebrate holidays with traditional dinners and church services.

Thomas Koch, 69, in Raleigh, N.C., has something special to celebrate this year — adoption of his adult son should be finalized, he said.

The two will spend the holidays with their dog, Jessie, a Sheltie-chow mix, and two cats, Tanz and Callie.

Last year, Jessie got toys and the cats got play mice and a large bag of catnip. “They liked it so much we just threw it on the carpet and let them roll in it,” Koch said.

He covered the goodies last year for a mere $8, but is setting aside $10 this year just in case prices have gone up.

George Smith, 43, a father of three in Adams County, Colo., says pets are “part of the family, just like our kids.” But they keep the holiday gifts for Miley, a golden retriever, and Zippity, a cat, low-key: no fancy wrapping or stockings, just $10 worth of toys and treats.

Steve Gottula’s budget was $100 last year and he figures it will run about the same this year for his two dogs and seven cats. Odie, a dachshund, and Sky, a Dalmatian, will get special bones, and the cats will get catnip and mouse balls.

Gottula, 48, his wife Leigh (she’s the one who brings home the strays) and five kids (ages 6 to 16) live with the nine pets in Spring, Texas.

His daughters have made stockings for the pets — with their initials — and they are always part of holiday celebrations, Gottula said.

“The cats like to play with the paper and ribbon and get lost in the boxes and wrappings,” he said.

What do his pets mean to him? “They are entertaining, they are companions. They have little senses of humor. They all have personalities. If you give love to them they give it back — it’s unconditional,” he said.

The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,118 pet owners. Results among all pet owners have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

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Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://petside.com/gifts2011

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press-Petside.com Poll of pet owners on holiday gifts for their pets was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Oct. 13-17. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,118 pet owners.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.6 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all pet owners in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com/ and http://surveys.ap.org.

AP-GfK POLL: PARENTS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUTH FOOTBALL

Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.

In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.

Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.

Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.

Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.

Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.

“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”

Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.

“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”

Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.

JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.

“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”

Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.

One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.

“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”


AP-GfK Poll: Most say the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com