Ah, to be a dog of the new millennium. You wear a crocodile collar encrusted with emeralds, confront drizzly days buttoned into a Burberry trench coat, and take a nap whenever you please on a miniature version of your owner's carved mahogany fourposter bed—after a meal served in a sterling-silver bowl engraved with your initials, naturally.
"In big cities dogs are substitutes for kids, and these are spoiled kids," notes Nina Munk, a New Yorker whose Web site, www.urbanhound.com, is a much-needed resource for the city's dog owners. "Homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, dog food that's made with hormone-free, human-grade lamb. It's wild, the amounts that people will spend on their dogs," Munk adds. "Last year Americans spent $25 billion on pet supplies, which is more than they spent on children's toys."
Spoiling our pets is nothing new. Consider Mrs. Claude Hay, a member of the aristocratic Ladies' Kennel Association of London, who wrote in 1895, "Words can never express what our doggies are to myself and my husband. I think were it a case of one meal only to be got, the doggies would have it." What's different today is the explosion of high-end indulgences that owners can bestow upon their animals, and the vast amount of money generated annually by the pet industry. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 61 percent of American households have at least one pet—up from 56 percent in 1988.
"In the old days pets were utilitarian," explains Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and the author of Dogs Behaving Badly (Bantam, 2000). "Dogs were fed scraps and kept on a chain. They went rabbiting with the owner of the house. Now animals are treated like family members. They're living longer, living healthier, and, because they're like family, people are spending more money to keep them alive." Jim Dratfield, who is a pet photographer, believes that the psychological benefit of having pets runs deep. "As we go into the twenty-first century, people are cut off from each other," he says, "families are scattered; the need for unconditional love is greater than ever."
Dog owners seem willing to do just about anything to make their pets a part of their lives. New York interior designer Stephen Stempler recalls a dog bed with a canopy that he designed for a client. "I'd always decorated for her, so I did the dog bed too," he says. Interior designer Mario Buatta compares the current enthusiasm for dogs to the attention lavished on the home in the 1980s. "I've had clients who asked me to do rooms all in beige so you won't see the dog hair," he says. "One client brought an eighteenth-century dog bed back from Paris. It's a beautiful antique, and the little dog just sits there all day. People treat their dogs more like human beings than animals, particularly if they don't have a child or grandchild."
Most high-end pet businesses were started by disappointed pet owners who weren't able to find the goods and services they longed for. Don Hathorn's story is typical. Four years ago he acquired a Tibetan terrier and discovered he couldn't find a dog bed he liked enough to keep in his house. His sister Nancy Sheets, co-owner with Hathorn of a flower shop in Dallas called Atelier a Work Shop, talked to their clientele and found that many of them had the same concern. Working with an artisan who made items for her flower shop, they commissioned a canopy dog bed made from metal decorated in gold leaf with a trompe l'oeil backrest. The bed, priced from $3,000 to $5,000 depending on the details, was sucha success that Sheets and Hathorn started a new business, Tails of the City, which now occupies a section of their flower shop. Today they offer glamorous pet accoutrements and snacks—everything from Chanel-style sweaters and Waterford crystal dog bowls to freshly baked dog biscuits that are topped with icing and sprinkles.
The latest goods and services for dogs are, in fact, adaptations of the good life as it is lived by their owners. Here's a guide to the best of everything for the dogs or dog lovers in your life.
The High Life
From feeding bowls and raincoats to collars and beds, the latest products for dogs are stylish and well-designed. Consider Sheila Parness, whose four-year-old company, Parness Pets, based in London, produces some of the most elegant high-end dog accessories in the world. "I wanted a company that was like a couture clothing house for pets, but that made everything, not just leads and collars," she says. Her line includes dog sweaters made of cashmere, fragrant grooming products specially made by Floris of London, a green crocodile leather collar with a gold buckle and gold acorn spangled with diamonds and emeralds ($6,000), and pet beds that range from a "simple" polished wood sleigh bed with cotton cushions for $3,500 to a hand-painted, gold neoclassical pet mansion crowned with a dome for $10,000 (see photo in Beds section).
Like many dog lovers, Parness was eager to see Sotheby's catalogue for the 1998 sale of objects collected by those celebrated pug pamperers, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. "The Duchess would have been the perfect customer for me," she declares. What surprised her were the bowls used by the Windsor pugs. "They were silver plate, not sterling," she says, sounding a bit incredulous.
You won't find much that is silver-plated among Parness' products, which are carried by Fortnum & Mason in London. The silver bowls are heavy hallmarked sterling, with the Parness coat of arms on one side and a space for engraving your pet's name on the other ($2,000). The lead crystal feeding bowl, "heavy enough that a dog cannot knock it over," Parness says, has the company coat of arms engraved on the base.
According to Alex Kealy, owner of Fetch, in New York, the latest word from vets is that bending over to chow down can be detrimental to a dog's digestion. Enter a new generation of dog dishes set in raised tables. One of the sleekest is the Doggie Diner, a spare yet elegant feeder available in black or white Formica-covered plywood or maple plywood that holds two stainless steel bowls. Available from Fetch, it comes in four sizes, ranging in height from four inches ($90 for black or white, $75 for maple) to 19 inches ($215 for black or white, $155 for maple). The table is also deliberately simple. "People who live in very contemporary homes or lofts don't want pet accessories with paw prints painted over everything," says Kealy, who designed the bowls with her Newfoundland in mind.
Burberry, like many fashion houses, introduces a new line of dog clothes each fall, including a sleek James Bond trench coat with miniature buckles (available in three sizes, from $210 to $245) or a warm turtleneck sweater knit in the classic red, tan, and black Burberry plaid ($155). "Dog clothes are seasonal, just like human clothes," says Nancy Sheets. "We carry red velvet ruffs at Christmas and silk ruffs with French ribbon rosettes for warm-weather events. People like things for holidays, but basically they dress their dogs for warmth. We do a lot of business in coats and sweaters because people take their pets on private planes, usually to cooler climates."
Monsac International, a leather goods company whose pet accessories are carried by Felissimo in New York, takes pet/owner preening a step further. One of their collars, comprised of elegant smoky metal links inset with tiny mirrors ($55), is designed to be worn by both dogs and humans, "so you match," says Lisa Kwock, an executive at Felissimo. "I saw what's out there for humans and interpreted it for animals," says dog lover Rachel Gershburg, an owner of Monsac, whose designs currently include a red patent-leather raincoat with a fold-back collar ($205) and hooded rain capes ($65). That means dressing dogs in the latest fabrics (the capes are made of monsheen, silk with a hint of nylon) and promoting a wardrobe of collars and leashes for different seasons and times of day. "Some dogs need different leashes for evening wear," she says of her black patent-leather collar studded with rhinestones ($85) and matching leash ($110). "It's not for every animal, but on small dogs it looks quite cute."
At Karen's for People + Pets, in Manhattan, you can browse for the latest alligator leashes, cashmere sweaters, and leather coats with matching canine-carrying bags while your pooch is getting a pedicure.
Chic Doggie by Corey boasts a couture collection of designer wear, including monogrammed cashmere blankets ($395), handmade leather coats trimmed with sheared beaver ($450) and faux-pearl necklaces with rhinestones ($95). Corey Gelman's Palm Beach line of towels, blankets, and terry-cloth coats pops with bright stripes, daisies,and polka dots. In the year since she started, Gelman has dressed the dogs of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Sigourney Weaver, and Janeane Garofalo. Her togs are carried by Barneys New York, Hollywood Hounds, and Palm Beach Pets.
To put together a wardrobe of collars and leashes you need look no further than the best-known designers; most offer animal accessories, and if they don't, they may soon, given the enthusiastic market. "Our flat leather Legacy collar was so popular we've added more collar styles this season, including a red, black, or mahogany leather collar with matching enamel charm," says Reed Krakoff, president of Coach. (Both collars retail for $38.)
It's no surprise that Hermès and Louis Vuitton, based in dog-smitten France, have produced dog accessories for decades. Hermès' bestsellers include the classic Kelly collar ($400), a courchevel leather neckband embellished with the signature sterling-silver locket seen on the Kelly bag, and the four-year-old Nairobi collar, in calfskin adorned with a sterling-silver plate that can be engraved with the animal's name ($305). Louis Vuitton's trim Baxter collar in classic brown-and-tan LV-monogrammed canvas ($155) can be matched with a leash in LV canvas ($145) or tan leather ($165). Prada's black leather collars come with metal studs and a leash ($132). A sportier, more downtown look is offered by the former fashion model Amy Kizer, whose Wagwear line features canvas collars ($28) with reflective surfaces for nighttime walks. Tiffany offers four sterling-silver dog tags: a bell, a bone, a paw, and a bowl ($65 each).
Asked to describe the most memorable dog bed his firm ever made, Joseph Biunno, owner of Joseph Biunno Ltd., a New York firm that specializes in furniture restoration and reproduction, recalled the woman who ordered four beds with carved canopies and four identical dog-size versions. "She had just built a new house and wanted beds and matching dog beds for each of her daughters and their dogs," Biunno says. His firm will reproduce a bed from a photo, an antique, a client's original design—or make a copy of the client's own bed (excluding upholstery). "We like to use mahogany because it's a good, stable, top-quality wood, and there is a crispness to details if there is any carving," he says. Beds can be stained, painted or gilded. They range in price from $1,800 to $5,000.
At the request of a client with an 18th-century French-style apartment who wanted a bed for his pug, Los Angeles decorator Gabrielle Williams Choo designed an extravagant wood bed that's a canopied Louis-esque fantasy. It has an upholstered headboard and footboard, a down cushion, and two tiny neck rolls that resemble little sausages (See photo first page). Since then she has created similar custom beds, priced from $800 to $8,000, with finishing touches that include gold leaf, feathers, and the dog's name hand-embroidered in gold on the comforter. The beds, which can be painted or stained, are made of maple or mahogany and upholstered in fabrics ranging from Laura Ashley florals and Ralph Lauren tartans to Fortuny pleats. "One client wanted covers for her dog, so we did a miniature down quilt edged in little blue scallops and trimmed with hand-embroidered initials," says Choo, who owns two dogs and a cat.
A bed with gilded finials that caught the eye of Diana Niles King during a tour of a stately residence in England was inspiration for the Regency bed, one of the three dog beds produced by her five-year-old company, Beastly Beds. "We had just moved into a Greek Revival-style house and didn't want to put a dog basket in the living room," she says. Her designs, constructed from painted poplar, mahogany, pine, or cherrywood and priced from $90 to $395, include an old-fashioned, "country cottage" bed with posts and round finials and a round Shaker-style box set atop round legs. Custom colors and fabrics are available. "A customer once sent a snippet of her poodle's hair and asked me to match it," she says.
Leather beds are increasingly popular, and one of the most elegant is a handwoven model in dark brown or black ($950) by Henry Beguelin, available at Barneys New York. The bed has a cotton canvas pillow (dry clean only) and is fitted with handles for easy transport. The prize for edgiest bed goes to Gucci's Lucite bed ($1,100), a transparent receptacle anchored by a smart black leather cushion.
At Your Service
"People are becoming more aware of the needs of animals, which has resulted in things like different foods and alternative medicines for pets," says Claudia Kawczynska, editor in chief of The Bark, a witty quarterly magazine devoted to dog culture. Today's best services are designed to keep pets happy and give owners peace of mind. Here's what to look for when choosing a dog trainer, a kennel, or a day-care center:
It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks, according to Phyllis Delvin, a veteran dog trainer in Richland, Washington, who recently gave an 11-year-old dog his first obedience training. "But it's much more effective when good habits are instilled earlier," she says. (Most trainers advocate teaching puppies obedience when they are around eight weeks old.)
Dog owners have three standard options when it comes to hiring a professional trainer: private one-on-one lessons, taking the dog to weekly classes, or boarding the dog at a kennel that offers training. Triple Crown Dog Academy in Hutto, Texas, one of the nation's preeminent training facilities and kennels, offers all three types, with lessons in basic obedience and manners, competition, agility, hunting, and search and rescue. "If you have a busy schedule, it's a littler easier to board the dog and have the professional trainer go over the repetitive tasks every day instead of having to do that yourself," says Keith Benson, general manager. "We'll pick up the animal at the airport. But we like the owner to come for the dog at the end so they can continue the training. The most wonderfully trained dog will unlearn everything if you just let him sit in the backyard. But if you repeat the exercises for five or six months, the training is ingrained."
Because dog trainers are not certified, one way to locate a good trainer is to choose a member of the nonprofit National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI), which requires that members have trained dogs for competition as well as for companionship, and that they pass a written exam. "Members need to be able to prove they can train a dog to a certain standard," says Delvin, a NADOI officer. The organization also promotes humane treatment of dogs in its code of ethics. "Our exam is designed to weed out people who are unnecessarily harsh," she says.
You're jetting off to Paris and can't take the family dog. So you offer your precious pooch the next best thing: a stay in the Paris Suite at Kennelwood Village in St. Louis. Instead of a cage, Fideaux lounges in a six-by-nine-foot room with his own TV and VCR and a painting of the Eiffel Tower on the wall. A valet feeds him, cleans the room, and takes him on supervised walks five times a day. And to make his holiday as fun-filled as your own, you sign him up for such activities as play school (tug-of-war, swimming, and tetherball with other dogs), "yappy hour" (a daily treat of doggy ice cream and cookies), a nature walk, and a couple of spa treatments (hot-oil body massage and an anti-shedding rub).
During the last five years boarding kennels have come to resemble hotels, with two tiers of offerings: Order a standard room and your dog will get a traditional kennel run; reserve a suite and he will reside in a painted room with a TV, sheet-covered bed, and perhaps a window. "I don't think the traditional kennel will ever go away," says Alan Jones, owner of the 26-year-old Kennelwood Village. "But there's a broader base of people who want higher levels of service." For many years The Kennel Club-LAX, near Los Angeles Airport, held the record for luxury lodgings, with 14 eight-by-eight-foot, cheerfully decorated theme suites (choices include a farm, a lighthouse, and a fire station). Five years ago, however, Jones upped the number of theme-decorated dog suites in his two kennels from eight to 23; and last year he added a new 58-suite dog-and-cat hotel.
Though it is impossible to know for sure if upgraded accommodations make much of a difference to pets, Jones believes both owners and animals benefit. "I think the suite relieves anxiety in the dog," he says. "It's more homelike. The dog hears the television, he has a handler visit five times a day, there's a window to look out of. And since the owners worry less about the dog and feel less guilty about leaving him, it makes their vacation better too." Jim Krack, executive director of the American Boarding Kennels Association, estimates that 20 percent of kennels currently offer deluxe accommodations and 90 percent feature add-on services. "As pets become more like family members, people want their dogs to have more one-on-one contact with the kennel's staff," he says.
Day care is another option. At The Doggy Gym in New York City, members, who can stay from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., are separated into groups according to size and temperament and allowed to scamper over the indoor padded Astroturf running track for set periods of time. For an additional fee, dogs also visit Central Park in small groups. A vet is on the premises and grooming treatments are available.
Though day care is most popular with apartment-dwellers, Jones says older or less active pet owners often enroll dogs in day care a couple of times a week so their pets can get some exercise and the opportunity to play with other dogs. (Dogs must be spayed, neutered, and friendly to enroll in group care.)
Krack urges owners to choose a group day-care program carefully. "Community day care requires the person running it to be the alpha dog, to have the ability to look at a dog and tell how he reacts to other dogs," he says. "It's not something you can learn from a book. The whole concept of a group of dogs together is a little scary, but we don't get complaints, so the kennel operators must be doing it properly."
Animal lovers have had artists immortalize their pets ever since Queen Victoria commissioned portraits of many of her dogs, including her cavalier King Charles spaniels, Scottish deerhounds, and Skye terriers. More than 1,000 artists specialize in pet portraits, according to Amelia Presler, associate publisher of Canine Images, a four-year-old magazine devoted to dog art. "You'd be amazed at how many people make a living this way," she says.
Today dogs are rendered in every medium imaginable: oil, acrylic, pastel, charcoal, bronze, prints, photography—even yarn. Cynthia and Preston McAdoo of McAdoo Rugs will render your cherished pet on a hand-hooked woolen rug ($790 for a 25-by-40-inch). The art can be of the classic variety, such as the animal pastels of Barrie Barnett, or more whimsical, in the manner of Ken Bailey's contemporary acrylic paintings that explore canine fantasies. And portraits need not appear on flat surfaces. Working from photographs, Millicent Myers Bograd paints pets on such household objets as terra-cotta cachepots ($295 to $395), copper magazine stands ($400), lamps ($325 to $450) and lidded jars that some owners fill with their animal's cremation ashes.
To find the right artist to create a likeness of your dog, try specialized galleries, such as the William Secord Gallery in New York and Wild Wings galleries throughout the Midwest, artist Web sites (look for listings in Canine Images), and important pet shows, including the Sunflower Cluster Dog Shows every April in Wichita, Kansas. The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog,in St. Louis, has an artist's registry listing 200 names. You can visit the registry and view the works of the artists or ask for references over the phone. Artists who publish illustrated books often take commissions, as do photographers Valerie Shaff, author of I Am Puppy, Hear Me Yap (HarperCollins, 2000), and Dratfield, whose most recent book is Pug Shots (Viking Studio, 1999).
Though animals have been portrayed in art since the days of the Paleolithic cave paintings, pet portraiture is a fairly recent art form. "Until the 18th century dogs were viewed as an adjunct to a portrait, often symbolizing fidelity," says gallery owner William Secord, author of the delightful illustrated books Dog Painting, 1840-1940: A Social History of the Dog in Art and Dog Painting, The European Breeds (both published by the Antique Collectors' Club). Portraits of sporting dogs came into vogue in England in the 18th century, accompanied a century later by near-scientific depictions of purebreds (see The Art of the Dog). Renderings of pet dogs in domestic settings became popular around the same time.
What makes a good pet portrait? "I think that the artist has to be an animal lover," remarks Jocelyn Sandor, who does portraits in conte crayon (from $1,200) and in oils (from $5,000). "A great draftsman who doesn't know anything about horses can create a beautiful picture of a horse. But a real horseman would look at the picture and say, 'Look at the ears. That horse is angry. Why did he paint an angry horse?'"
Christine Merrill, a fourth-generation artist known for classic oil portraits of dogs, concentrates on the pets as seen by their owners. "It's the way they look into their owner's eyes," says Merrill, who's painted dogs owned by Oprah Winfrey, Malcolm Forbes, and Barbara Taylor Bradford. "There is a lot more to a pet portrait than just physique, color, and weight." Like most artists she works from photographs, though she prefers to see the animal and take the pictures herself. Her oils start at $9,000.
Setting is a key element. Jim Dratfield of Petography, based in New York and California, says pets photograph best at home, where they're most comfortable. "I'll do anything to evoke a response in an animal," says Dratfield, a former actor. (He once spooned cat food onto the ear of an antique Mickey Mouse rocking horse to lure a cat into a picture with Michael Eisner.) Dratfield, whose sepia photographs start at $995, likes to photograph pets with their owners. "People who are uncomfortable in front of a camera will relax if they're holding an animal," he says. And therein, perhaps, lies the allure of dogs—in an increasingly frenetic world, they calm our spirits.
Terry Trucco wrote "Pillow Talk," a guide to fine bed accessories, in the May/June 1999 Departures.