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 shows divide over increasing money for transit

WASHINGTON (AP) — A slight majority of Americans prefer living in a single-family house in the suburbs or a rural area with more land, even if it means driving long distances to get to work or run errands, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

However, a significant minority, 44 percent, would choose an apartment or smaller house in an urban area that comes with a short drive to work or the opportunity to use public transportation, bike or walk. The split also has a political aspect: Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents prefer suburban or rural living, while 55 percent of Democrats prefer urban areas.

The share of Americans who prefer suburban or rural living — 53 percent — is identical to the share who say the government should increase spending to build and improve roads, bridges and interstate highways. About 1 in 3 think current spending levels are about right, while just over 1 in 10 would like to see less money spent on roads.

Many states are struggling just to maintain current spending levels, and Congress has been unable to come up with a long-term plan to pay for highway aid that closes the gap between current spending and federal gas tax revenue.

Americans are more divided over building and improving public transportation such as rail and bus systems. Four in 10 say spending on public transportation should be increased, but just as many say current spending is about right. Only 18 percent say transit spending should be cut.

Contrary to the widely held notion that the millennial generation is flocking to cities and giving up their cars, younger people are not significantly more or less likely than older people to prefer urban living with a shorter commute and access to public transit, the poll found.

Matthew Wild, 33, an airline pilot living in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, said he favors increasing spending on both public transit and highways. The region’s freeways “take a real beating” from the traffic and need to be maintained, he said, but no new lanes should be added.

“We definitely don’t need to be expanding freeways anymore,” Wild said. “We’ve maxed out.”

He cited a highway near his home that was recently widened and now is as full as ever. He does, however, strongly support building more light rail transit locally and high-speed rail between California cities.

Wild said he’d much rather take a convenient local train than fight traffic in his car. He currently takes trains only a few times a year because there are no direct routes from where he lives to the places he wants to go, and indirect routes take too long, he said.

“The big problem with L.A. is that, given the lack of public transportation, sitting in traffic in your own car is still faster than taking public transit,” Wild said.

Jane McEntire, 62, who lives in Cartersville, Georgia, on the northwest fringe of the Atlanta metropolitan area, says traffic is horrible and getting worse.

Even so, she’d rather keep spending on roads and cut spending on public transportation. She says she’s lost confidence in the ability of state and local transportation officials to make improvements and not fritter money away on wasteful projects.

She is particularly incensed that officials used federal transit aid to build a slow-moving streetcar line in downtown Atlanta that is used primarily by tourists.

“I think they look really cute, but as far as usefulness — no,” she said. “When you have federal dollars that are coming into a state that are available and you spend it on these cars in Atlanta that go six or eight blocks back and forth … Why didn’t they take that money and spend it on something to help commuters?”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online from April 23 to 27 using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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

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Online:

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

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK Poll: Many approve Iran deal; Most don’t trust Tehran
WASHINGTON (AP) — Many Americans like the idea of the preliminary deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program but very few people really believe Tehran will follow through with the agreement.

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that just 3 percent said they were very confident that Iran would allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, remove plutonium from the country and shut down close to half of its uranium-enriching centrifuges as the preliminary deal says would be required. Nearly seven in 10 people said they were not confident, while 25 percent said they were only moderately confident.

The U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China are aiming to finalize a deal with Iran by June 30 that puts limits on Iranian programs that could be used to make nuclear arms. In exchange, economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted over time. Tehran denies any interest in such weapons but is negotiating in hopes of relief from billions of dollars in economic sanctions.

The next round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers will start Tuesday in Vienna.

Although more than half of Americans polled say they approve of making the deal, few people — 16 percent — are actually paying close attention to the complex Iran negotiations that have angered Israel and unnerved Gulf nations who are concerned about Tehran’s rising influence and aggressive behavior in the region.

The Senate last week passed legislation that would give Congress time to vote to reject any deal before sanctions are lifted. President Barack Obama would retain the right to veto lawmakers’ disapproval.

Israel’s strong objections to the deal could make a difference to many Americans. If forced to choose, a majority say it’s more important to maintain the U.S. relationship with Israel than to strike a deal with Iran. But respondents are divided along party lines, with nearly six in 10 Democrats saying the Iran deal is more important while seven in 10 Republicans believe ties with Israel are more critical.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been one of the harshest critics of the deal with Iran. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran’s missile capabilities and its support for violent militant groups.

More broadly, the poll found that Americans are increasingly interested in the U.S. role in world affairs, with 60 percent saying it’s an extremely important issue, up from 52 percent less than five months ago. Slightly more people also approve of Obama’s handling of the issue, increasing from 38 percent in December to 42 percent in the latest poll. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue.

But overall, Americans are more likely to trust Republicans than Democrats to handle protecting the country.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

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