More and more people consider their pets family — and expect others to see them that way, including businesses.

The debut Okanagan Pet Expo, held at the Laurel Packinghouse and its outdoor square in downtown Kelowna, welcomed 800 people and their furry (and feathered) family members, all drawn to explore dozens of booths hosted by a diverse array of organizations and vendors, ranging from pet shops to rescue organizations.

“People are treating their pets more like family and are interested in dressing them up and giving them comfort,” says expo organizer Rosanne Brown. “There’s so much love for our pets. They’re truly part of our family.”  

Questions about local pet-friendly businesses, including places with patios, was one of the top inquiries, says Brown.

Statistics Canada says Canada’s pet population is increasing, from 27.5 million pets in 2016 to 27.9 million in 2020. The growth trend in pets and the accompanying pet market is expected to continue, says the government agency.

Brown saw the anecdotal evidence and realized there was a demand for a pet expo as the number of dogs walking past her house became noticeable, 50 or so a day.

With nearly 30 million pets, Canada sees a surge in demand for dog walking and pet sitting services, alongside an unending desire for pet comforts, including dog ice cream.

“It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry,” she says.

Demand has exploded for pet sitting and dog walking services, paintings or photo shoots of pets, and even cremation that provides a memorial memento of your pet (like jewelry) crafted using their ashes. Artisans have also emerged, crafting crocheted replicas of cherished furry companions. It’s another side of the gig economy, says Brown.

“More stores are allowing you to come in with your dogs,” she adds.

One Kelowna cafe completely incorporates cats into its business model. Called Catelowna, the coffee shop has adoptable rescue cats inside. At the Pet Expo, a Weenie Dog Picnic that included charcuterie and ‘pawcuterie’ and pug races proved popular.

Pet influencers are prevalent on social media and were posting under the expo’s hashtag. It helped, says Brown, to have the photogenic background at the Laurel for the event.

Brown has her own dog, a two-year-old yellow lab named Ellie. “I haven’t had a dog from puppyhood before. I adore her.”