Like any three-year-old, Oscar is excited about his birthday. He's wearing a colourful hat at a jaunty angle and is sitting in front of a big cake with frosted icing. There's a magnificent hand-drawn birthday card on the mantelpiece and a special present has just arrived in the post.
There's just one small detail that makes the celebratory scene exceptional – Oscar is a dachshund.
But then his owner, Jenny McCarthy, sees nothing unusual in marking her "furry baby's" birthday.
Oscar's two doggie pals, Buzz and Lola (Jack Russell-chihuahua mixes, or Jackhuahuas) have sent a card and a necktie for the occasion. Their owner Hilary Glynn specialises in customised dog accessories and reports a lively interest in her hand-made collars and bandanas, which she sells online (buzzandlola.ie) and at markets. Prices start at €10.
As for canine confectionery, Jenny
moved to Dublin from Canada and set up The Cheeky Dog Bakery when she had difficulty ordering a cake for her dachshund. She has been selling a range of dog cookies, cakes, doughnuts, pupcakes and peanut-butter lollipops since last June and says the feedback has been fantastic. Christmas was a high point – doggie gift boxes were a huge hit.
Her canine doughnuts (€1.50 each) with their carob frosting and rainbow sprinkles look just like the human version, but the biscuit base is made from organic beef stock and other dog-friendly ingredients. The cakes are made from organic and sugar-free ingredients and Jenny decorates each one by hand. That will cost you, of course: cakes for dogs are more expensive than their human equivalents, but The Cheeky Dog Bakery will try to suit all budgets.
Barking mad? Well that depends on your point of view.
Martina Semple and her Yorkshire terrier Molly.
"Pets are family members," says Jenny. "I find that people will make room in the budget to allow for special things. I get orders for doggie birthday parties. That seems so normal to me; we have always celebrated our dogs' birthday. When I ring home, I ask how the fur kids – our two dogs – are doing."
Jenny also has a subscription to Dog TV (about €6 a month), which is available online. When Oscar is home alone, she connects her laptop to the TV and he whiles away the hours in front of the box.
While dogs are the pets most likely to be pampered, cats come a close second. You can get toys and treats for the reptile or rabbit in your life too. Indeed, rabbits can, if you feel inclined, be trained to walk on a lead but, it seems, the Irish are either dog or cat people.
Nuala Walsh of Ballyheigue, Co Kerry, is a cat person and her two charges Felix and Benny have been known to stare her out of an armchair when they want to sit in it themselves.
They have the run of the house, their own beds, a range of toys, scratching posts and a taste for the best kitty food and daily treats. "In fact," Nuala explains, "if they are hungry, they are able to take a sachet of cat food from the box and open it themselves."
If we have started to humanise our pets, it is partly because they can seem almost human. Pet owners, and dog owners in particular, will tell you that there is no love like the love of a dog. Little wonder then that they want to repay that affection in kind.
That might partly explain why pet pampering is still big business in Ireland despite the 3pc fall in spending on pet products recorded by Euromonitor International in 2013.