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These Creatures Were Stirring: They Had Gifts to Open

December 30, 1990|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steve Riggs found the perfect Christmas gift for Florentyna in Beverly Hills.

It was a faux pearl necklace decorated with a handful of silvery little fish.

"Can you gift-wrap this?" Riggs asked, as he handed the choker to the woman behind the counter.

Nothing unusual about that, except Florentyna is a cat.

Riggs spent $15 for Florentyna's bauble at Critter Caterers, a bakery and boutique on Beverly Drive that caters to people who cater to their pets.

Riggs, 28, who lives in West Los Angeles, made a leisurely pre-Christmas tour of the shop looking for just the right presents for both his cat and his two Lhasa apsos, Sebastian and Channing. The dogs got mugs ($6 each) stuffed with gourmet doggie biscuits, made without additives or preservatives. Riggs passed on such other options as "forchewin' cookies," Chinese-restaurant-style cookies that contain canine fortunes. Example: "You may be barking up the wrong tree."

"I'm in real estate," Riggs said. "That's why I have so much time on my hands to do this." But in good times or bad, he buys toys, food treats and other gifts for his animals, all foundlings he found wandering in his neighborhood.

"If you really enjoy your pets, it gives you pleasure to come in here and look around and buy them special little things," Riggs said. Although he doesn't make a big public show of it, his animals are dear to him, faithful companions, if not best friends.

Naturally he included them in his holiday celebration. He hangs Christmas stockings for them. "And I had my dogs' picture taken with Santa Claus a couple of weeks ago," he confessed.

Riggs is hardly alone. According to a recent Gallup poll, 69% of dog owners and 64% of cat owners give Christmas presents to their animals. For that matter, almost half the owners of other kinds of pets buy gifts for Tweetie and Yertle.

Tracy Parsons, co-founder and president of Critter Caterers (she has a silent partner), said she has customers who arranged to have a present delivered to their dog for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. A celebrity client ordered 20 gift baskets in the name of his dog and had them delivered to the dogs and cats of other people on the A-list.

The $50 cat basket included a gold-colored cloth mouse and a stash of catnip treats.

However, the owner of the ferret that has everything will have to look elsewhere. Critter Caterers only stocks food and accessories for dogs and cats, although, Parsons said, "we do get people in here buying biscuits for their birds and rabbits."

Parsons said many of her customers regard their pets as their children and, like many parents, want to give the little dears the best that money can buy. She recently sold a couple of cat condos, three-story residences complete with carpeting and wallpaper, for $1,650 each. And this time of year she does a brisk business in black satin tuxedos with attached bow tie ($55) so Fido can ring in the New Year in style. "In the spring," she said, "we have wedding dresses."

Critter Caterers makes special-order bone-shaped birthday cakes for $50 and also orchestrates canine birthday parties (one customer spent $250 on birthday gifts for her dog). Since a pet's life is not always a walk in the park, even on the Westside, Parsons also dispatches the occasional get-well gift to an animal that is sick or has been hit by a car.

"A number of times when dogs in a neighborhood got in a fight, the owner of the other dog sent a gift basket to the dog that was bitten as an apology," she said.

Critter Caterers, which opened its store at 453 N. Beverly Drive nine months ago, began a year earlier as a home-delivery business and continues to deliver dog food and other pet supplies to the doors of Westside customers, many of whom are in the entertainment industry.

It also has drive-through service behind the store for people who would rather not park and drag a 40-pound bag of food to their Mercedes. The company stocks several lines of premium and all-natural pet foods. Currently, Parsons said, lamb and rice formulas are especially popular.

Parsons, who is 28, said the inspiration for the business was her Old English sheep dog, Bentley. The 6-year-old dog gave his name to one of the shop's most popular products, its own all-natural dog biscuits made of whole-wheat flour, chicken broth and other people ingredients.

Called Bentley's Biscuits, the canine cookies are available in sheep dog and palm tree shapes and cost 50 cents to $1 a piece.

Most baked goods are made without sugar and salt and also without chocolate, which Parsons said can be harmful to dogs. Carob is used instead.

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