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Votes

Gone Dog Crazy

There’s no doubt Alexandria has gone to the dogs. What other city boasts that it has a dog park within a mile of every resident? In what other city can you find dog biscuits at banks, dogs lounging in offices and elegant shops, signs outside a gift shop offering dogs water and a gaggle of shops selling everything from dog raincoats to biscuits in the shape of squirrels.

Then there are schools for dogs, doggie day care, dog walkers, dog nannies. Anything a dog needs is right here.

While Alexandrians are probably more indulgent than most, the city’s dog owners are reflecting a national trend. A recent survey done by the Pew Research Center showed that 85 percent of dog owners said they considered their pet to be a member of the family.

Americans spent an estimated $35.9 billion on their pets last year, up from $17 billion in 1994, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. According to the Pew survey, 39 percent of all adults own dogs while 23 percent own cats. More whites than blacks or Hispanics have a pet, while nearly seven in 10 adults with an annual family income of $100,000 or more have a pet.

It appears some consider their pets to be more than family. Some 94 percent of dog owners say they feel close to their dogs, while 87 percent of these same adults say they feel close to their mothers and 74 percent feel close to their fathers.

So just what do these owners get for their best friend and loved family member? Just about everything.

A visit to Alexandria’s Saturday morning farmers’ market at Market Square reveals two sellers of pet supplies. Jan Raffaele of “Pawsitively Pets” admits she is partial to cats but along with her cat items, sells small round dog beds. Jan Gurtner of Emma & Company offers homemade veggie dog biscuits, bandannas, scrunchies and collar covers, as well as special shampoo and soap. All the proceeds from her sales goes to Canine Companions, which provides service dogs, hearing dogs, companion dogs and dogs who work in rehabilitation centers and convalescents’ helping to promote the physical and mental well-being of patients and clients.

JUST 10 YEARS AGO, a woman from Northern Virginia named Robin Kershner started a business called Foxes and Hounds. She began in New York with fancy collars but returned to her home state to grow her business in Alexandria. Now, the company has opened a brand new 30,000-square foot facility off Edsall Road to manufacture luxury pet accessories. Her products sell in over 800 retail locations in the United States and additional sites throughout Europe, Mexico, Canada, Australia and Japan. Best known for her collars, harnesses and leads, she makes everything from polo shirts to raincoats, scrunchies and plush toys.

Remember the little accessorized-to-the-max Chihuahua in the film “Legally Blonde 2”? Rodney Salinas, vice president of marketing for Fox & Hounds, said that one of the company’s claims to fame was the licensing rights for all the pet accessories used in the movie, which made little dogs so popular.

At least two stores in Alexandria carry Kershner’s products along with their own and both owners are involved in planning Alexandria dogs’ social life as well. At Barkley Square on 1 Wales Alley, Kristina Robertson sells just about everything for dogs and plans social events including Yappy Hours. Upcoming is the annual Easter celebration on April 15 which will offer an Easter Egg hunt and an Easter bonnet parade.

Madeline Mitchell of Madeline’s Dogs, newly relocated at 1222 King St., sells Kershner’s collars and leads alongside her own-custom made coats. Mitchell, a resident of Old Town for 30 years, makes every coat conceivable — there are glamorous coats in vivid colors with or without faux fur, reversible dog capes, collars, rain coats, denim jackets and for the would-be hunter’s companion, a jacket in camouflage. In addition to the couture, Mitchell makes dog biscuits in 52 different shapes named after Alexandria streets or landmarks. “Every day is like Christmas,” she said as she talked about the excitement of opening at a new store where new products are arriving every day.

BUT FOOD, CLOTHING, toys and a comfy bed are not all today’s dog needs.

With two-career parents away from home for long hours, plans have to be made for the dog’s care. For some there are dog walkers to break up the day and insure exercise and potty breaks. Others have dog nannies who come to the home or take dogs into their homes.

Then there is doggy day care.

The first thing a visitor notices walking into Your Dog’s Best Friends, a day care and boarding facility on Route 1 in Del Ray, is the shelves holding plastic trays with a dog’s name printed in block letter on each, much like the cubbies in nursery school or kindergarten.

Manager Chirona Vaganos and owner Paul Haire have very firm ideas on how dogs should be treated and that is reflected in both the building’s amenities and in the way the pets are handled.

For Haire, doggie day care is a new business.

Previously, he said “he bought ugly buildings in Alexandria and transformed them.” This building originally housed a doll house manufacturer and, at the suggestion of some Del Ray residents, he decided to offer it as a dog facility getting the necessary permits. In the end he decided to create a facility himself, which opened just last year.

Your Dog’s Best Friend offers cageless day care and a structured day which includes free play, nap time and plenty of exercise. The floor is made of vulcanized rubber and there are flushing floor drains to provide bathroom facilities The playrooms can be subdivided or enlarged by a system of flexible chain link. There is a quiet nap room, the only place where there are crates for the dogs to nap and there is a separate living room with blankets and beds for those dogs who stay overnight.

Vaganos described a typical day for their clients who usually arrive between 7 and 9 a.m. Most dogs come two or three days a week while others are full time. “I introduce them to the group and they have free play time. Then it’s nap time from 12 to 2 and from 2 to 4, structured play. Around 4, beds and blankets are put down and the dogs nap. Their moms and dads arrive between 4 and 7.”

She noted that “training is woven in. Reinforcement training, strong but loving correction.”

“They are expected to behave,” Haire said, adding he feels dogs are far more intelligent than they are given credit for.

Dogs come to day care for a variety of reasons. Their owners may work long hours, they may want their pets socialized, they want them to have more play and exercise than they would have home alone.

“Dog parks can be a little rough,” said Haire. “Dogs are healthier and happier interacting with other dogs.”

Vaganos added that “socialization was important for dogs.”

Your Dog’s Best Friend houses about 30 dogs at a time and has a staff of 10 who work around the clock.

ANIMAL RESORTS AT 3208 Colvin St. is a more traditional day care and boarding facility which has been in existence for 12 years and can house up to 74 dogs.

Manager Jason Ray, who has been the manager for eight years, explained how the facility came to specialize in handling older dogs and dogs with special needs: “We grew to know the owners and the dogs and most of our clients have tended to stay with us.”

That meant that dogs that were getting older. So the facility added extra skylights for more light and sunshine and an extra gas heater to keep the climate-controlled facility warmer in the winter at 72 to 73 degrees.

Although the animals are kept in cages they are quite large, according to Ray and equipped with better, more comfortable bedding. “Every dog gets 3 periods of indoor exercise each day and two outdoor periods,” Ray said. He said one advantage, particularly for the older pets is that the facility is right next door to the Alexandria Emergency Animal Hospital.

The facility also has 24-hour supervision and in addition has a cattery on the top- floor where all the cages open into a living room with couches and chairs for the cats to relax on.

Both facilities offer grooming, indoor and outdoor exercise and both have Web sites with more information: visit Animal Resorts at www.animal-resorts-inc.com and for Your Dog’s Best Friend, yourdogsbestfriends.com.