People in Mexico pamper their pooches
Camila celebrated her first birthday in a blue-and-white striped dress with tulle appliques. She played with her guests in a room decorated with pink balloons, lilacs and Hello Kitty posters.
When the cake arrived she barked at the single flickering candle. This provoked a similar reaction from the Chihuahuas, French bulldogs and Pomeranians in the room.
"We've never had a female dog so we wanted to do something special with her," said Valery Palma, a single 35-year-old lawyer who owns Camila.
Over the last decade, the growth of Mexico's middle class has created a new market for dogs. Fancy goods and services include clothing and accessory boutiques, spas and restaurants with doggie snacks cooked by a pastry chef.
It's a startling cultural shift in a country where a dog's life has long meant days chained to the roof of the house. The 2000 film "Amores Perros" used the brutal treatment of dogs as a metaphor for the inhumanity of contemporary Mexican society.
Mexico has an estimated 20 million dogs or more. Many of the dogs roam the streets hunting for food in the trash or spending their days shut up in apartments by owners who use them as living burglar alarms.
Many of the estimated 40 million Mexicans considered to be middle class are having fewer children than their parents did and, therefore, also have more disposable income.
"People are no longer having children at a young age ... because they can have a different lifestyle with luxuries they know they will no longer be able to afford once they have children," said Zorayda Morales, an analyst with De La Riva Group, a market research agency.
Palma, who has two dogs, spent $300 on the birthday party for 11 canines and 16 people, complete with cake, presents and snacks, at a dog hotel featuring a gym and massage and aromatherapy services.
"Today people invest in their dog," said animal behaviorist Renan Medina.
"This goes beyond a trend," he said. "People see their dog as part of the family."
"We're seeing the growth of this idea in which a dog is an alternative to children," said Raul Valadez Azua, a paleozoologist at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City. "On the one hand, they are people who feel that the economic obligations of having a family are too high. On the other hand, they have the resources to give a lot of care to a pet."
Critical thinking challenge: Why are a market researcher, an animal behaviorist and a paleozoologist quoted for this story, along with a dog owner?