Kathy Mishek, a public-relations sort for Hallmark Cards, was describing the target customer for Pet Love, the company's new line of cards for dogs and cats:

"We're targeting primarily females," she said. "In general, she's over 30 and she has at least two pet friends - or members of the family . . . She really believes her pets are members of the family."Groan.

"She has special places for them to sleep," Mishek continued. "She grooms them every day. . . . In some cases, she may even take out life-insurance policies. She believes that her pets are the same as her children - and in some cases, they are substitutes for children."

I don't know about you, but the picture I'm getting of the target customer isn't a pretty one. I see one of those people whose neighbors, when she dies after a nasty overdose of chocolate pudding, investigate the house and find 50 cats who have had the run of the place for 10 years; cleanup involves those industrial-type spacesuits. When they get the will all sorted out, the cats live out their nine lives in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton.

"I have two cats," Mishek said.

Oops.

I like animals fine. They have their place - in the food chain beneath me. Which was why I was surprised when I stumbled across the Pet Love line. A couple of samples:

- Two dogs chatting on the front of a card. "Heard you got `fixed,' " one says to the other. "Didn't even know you were broken."

- A bad dog sitting in the corner. "I'm sorry for: Eating your shoe. Mistaking the kitty for a fetch toy. Thinking the snacks on the table were for me."

Etc.

You may notice something a little unusual about these. Namely, they're SUPPOSED TO BE SENT BY DOGS. There are similar cards to be sent to and from cats.

On a more serious note, there are cards to send to the vet after he's put Spot or Tabby to sleep, as well as a deadly serious get-well card: "God is near your dog in this illness. He shelters pets tenderly and surrounds them with His love, for all creatures are precious to Him."

The cards have been a big hit, Mishek said, and she thinks she knows why.

"It comes down to unconditional love," she said. "There are so few places to get unconditional love in this world today. And one place you can get it is from pets."