A DOG’S LIFE IT AIN’T Pups have cultural, social and intellectual options

As the presidential puppy, Buddy the Labrador has attained the highest office a dog can have in the United States. Not since Checkers has a four-legged canine so commanded a nation’s short attention span.

As such, however, Buddy isn’t required to do little more than ride Air Force One or play nice with Socks. He doesn’t need to bring back a pheasant for the White House dinner, watch for intruders in the Oval Office, or deliver military instructions as messenger dogs did back in ancient Rome. Just as well: These dogs swallowed copper tubes containing the military orders, and the recipients, instead of waiting for natural elimination, would kill the dogs for the urgent messages.

Here in the Bay Area, dogs may not have White House clearance, but they do enjoy an extremely civilized standard of living. Aside from having excellent medical services, warehouse-size pet stores and massage therapy and acupuncture at its disposal, the dog can expand itself socially, culturally and intellectually.

Dog day morning and afternoon

Consider, for instance, places like the Pleasanton Pet Hotel at 123 Main St., 484-3030. It provides dogs and cats day care, kennel, grooming and veterinarian services. Every Dog Has Its Day Care (655-7832, www.everydog.com) just opened at 1306 65th St., Emeryville last September. The 5,500-square-foot facility does not have kennels; there are no overnight accommodations. What owners get, besides peace of mind, is a place where their pets can exercise and socialize. A yard accounts for another 1,500 square feet so dogs can frolic outdoors.

“I wanted to create a dog heaven, ” explains owner Lauren Westreich. San Francisco has at least two doggie day cares, but “there wasn’t anything in the East Bay. I thought it was time for it to change.”

Westreich already has a client list of about 80 dogs, with 15 to 20 dogs dropped off on a daily basis. A typical dog day involves mornings in the playroom, nap time and individual attention. Overexcited or moody dogs can hang out in an isolation chamber of sorts to relax. “It’s kind of like preschool except we don’t teach them to read.”

Her business comes at an opportune time. “People are starting to work a lot longer hours and they’re starting to own more and more dogs, ” Westreich says. She also believes that more couples are delaying childbirth, but investing in pets.

Westreich, who is already expanding her staff, hopes to become a full-service operation. She rents out her space in the evening to businesses such as Sirius Puppy Training and hopes to have a lecture series, therapy sessions and massage for dogs in the future.

In the meantime, the dog care is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Costs are $25 daily, $250 for 11 days and $450 monthly. Owners undergo an interview process to make sure their pets won’t be overwhelmed. Dogs are required to be vaccinated and potential bummer spayed or neutered.

Scooping up the competition

One thing dog owners don’t lack is advice, especially in the Bay Area. Guide books highlight local hangouts: San Francisco’s Foghorn Press (www.foghorn.com) will release in late summer its fourth edition of “The Bay Area Dog Lover’s Companion” ($17.95), by Lyle York and Maria Goodavage, and a third edition of “The California Dog Lover’s Companion” ($20.95), by Maria Goodavage. The third edition of Pet-Friendly Publications’ “Doin’ California with Your Pooch” ($19.95), by Eileen Barish, is due in March. Meanwhile, for urban adventures, Cheryl S. Smith explains “Where to Walk Your Dog in San Francisco and Marin Counties” (1993, Wilderness Press, $11.95).

Tiburon author John Avalon Reed brings forth the wide, wide consumer world in “The Whole Dog Catalog” (Random House, $19.95, www.randomhouse.com). The law-abiding hound has its own self-help book with the third edition of Berkeley-based Nolo Press’ “Dog Law: A Legal Guide for Dog Owners and Their Neighbors” (1997, $12.95, www.nolopress.com), by Mary Randolph.

The pooch even has a presence in the thriving zine market with Berkeley Bark, whose motto is “dog is my co-pilot.” Initially a free newsletter for the Friends of Csar Chvez Park, it details political dealings around the issue of off-leash dogs. “We at first wanted to alert dog owners of what’s happening and get the attention of policy-makers, ” recalls editor Claudia Kawczynska.

In its third issue, the Bark has nearly quadrupled in pages, bulked up to tabloid size and counts more than 10,000 in its circulation numbers. It’s still free: Advertising covers printing costs since all membership funds go to the park’s Mutt Mitts, the plastic bags for scooping dog excrement.

It boasts an appealing black-and-white layout, movie reviews, sports stories, author interviews, book reviews and cartoons. Kawcyznska’s husband, Clarence Woo, creates the look for Bark. He is an art director at Autodesk, a software company that allows its employees to bring their dogs to work.

Kawczynska, who has a background in public policy, just quit her job because she couldn’t endure the Woodside commute. She plans to concentrate on Bark for the next three months. Besides appreciative dog owners, publicity has been good. In fact, Bark will be featured on the cable channel Animal Planet in an April episode of “Amazing Tails.”

“We’re taken aback by all the attention, ” Kawczynska says, laughing. “It’s like you open up the door and you find Christmas every morning.”

She is currently speaking with a national distributor to spread the word of Bark. “These land-use issues are nationwide, ” Kawczynska says. “Hopefully, we can all learn from one another.” She hopes to expand her quarterly publishing schedule to bimonthly and get more volunteers to interview, review and write.

The zine can be picked up at places like MudPuppies, Pet Food Express and veterinarian and pet stores along San Pablo Avenue. You can also call 704-0827 for information or to volunteer.

Your show of dog shows

One of the traditions that dogs, or at least their owners, have looked forward to in the Bay Area for the last 88 years is the Golden Gate Kennel Club Dog Show this Saturday and Sunday.

“The Golden Gate Kennel Club is to the West Coast what the Westminister is to the East Coast, ” describes Donna Beckman, president of the national Siberian Husky Club. Her 6-year-old husky will be part of the 2,200 dogs descending upon the Cow Palace in hopes of bringing home the ribbon for best of breed and perhaps best of show.

Moraga residents Helen and Stan Hanson oversee the show; Stan will be presiding as director for his 43rd year. Back in the ’60s, Hanson recalls, “750 dogs were a big show.” With so many dogs and only 11 judges, “typically, a dog has only three minutes of a judge’s eye to be evaluated, ” says Helen, who has been the show secretary for 23 years.

What makes this show unique, she adds, is that “the dogs are benched, or seated, in decorated platforms. … The animals sit in their designated spot in the benching halls for both days, whether or not they are being judged that day. Although dogs compete unadorned, in what Helen calls their “natural state, ” their benches become extravagant spectacles. Usually those of the same breed sit together and clubs save up money to create these displays, which often include information booths.

The setup allows people to see their breed of interest any time and ask owners questions. “That’s what the public really appreciates and likes, ” Helen explains. “It’s a public education effort.”

About 30,000 will visit the two-day event, which runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Tickets are $10 general, $8 for seniors and $5 for children; sorry, no dogs allowed.) Despite the crowds and canine numbers, about the only sounds visitors will hear will be people talking and blow dryers blowing in the grooming area.

“The public cannot get over you cannot hear dogs barking, ” Helen says. “You just hear the noise of people and talking.” Although it is rare to hear any dogs make noise, Hanson says Malamutes and Siberian Huskies are wailers, and if one starts in the benching hall, the others follow. “It’s hilarious.”

The culmination of the weekend is when the seven finalists, which have already won best of their breed, compete for best of show. Only a judge certified by the American Kennel Club to evaluate all dog breeds ascertains the winner, which is not the best of seven finalists but the most perfect representation of its breed according to written standards.

Beckman, who has showcased dogs for 23 years, says the money involved for show preparations can range from “zero to hundreds of dollars.” Owners can do all the handling or they can hire groomers, trainers and professional show handlers. Fortunately for Beckman, huskies are a “pretty much a wash-and-wear dog, ” but breeds like terriers need a lot of attention.

“If you did a modest dog showing using a handler, grooming, and did about two to three shows a month, ” Beckman estimates, “maybe you’re talking about $4,000 a year.”

Out of the doghouse

Bay Area pups respond if not to the call of the wild then at least to the clamor of the outdoors. On the road to broader horizons, more and more hotels and bed-and-breakfasts are accommodating that furry member of the family. Favored destinations in Fort Bragg, Pacific Grove and Yosemite allow dogs on the premises. Both Westreich and Kawczynska praise Sheep Dung Estates (1-707-894-5322), whose name belies its breathtaking 320 acres in Yorkville off Highway 128, just two hours from San Francisco.

Owner Anne Bennett and her husband, Aaron Weintraub, travel with their dogs, so they understand the importance of pet travel companions. Dogs can stay indoors in any of the four solar-powered cottages ($85 to $240 a night) or outdoors in leashless freedom.

“We are so pleased that we’re catering to dogs because we have found that persons traveling with dogs are the best guests, ” Bennett says. “We don’t have any horror stories. They respect what is here and they want to come back again.”

In the Bay Area, passionate leash politics entangle dog owners, bureaucrats and community members, but there are good locales to roam free. These include, among others, Benicia Community Park, Berkeley’s Ohlone Dog Park, Livermore Canine Park, Pleasant Hill’s Paso Nogal Park (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m.), and Richmond’s Point Isabel. San Francisco areas include Fort Funston, Ocean Beach between Stairwells 1 and 21, the Crissy Field area east of the Golden Gate Promenade west gate and north of Mason Street, and the part of Baker Beach that is north of Lobos Beach.

East Bay Regional Park District has limited off-leash areas; call the 24-hour general information line at 562-7275 or your nearest park. The district also sponsors dog walks, which cost just $3 for parking and $1 for the dog fee. Upcoming walks include: 10 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 1, Coyote Hills; 9:30 to 11 a.m. Feb. 14, Point Pinole; and 9:30 to 11 a.m. March 14, Black Diamond.

This story originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times

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