The world lost a great trendsetter, celebrity, and friend on April 21. It is actually truly sad to mourn the loss of Tinkerbell, Paris Hilton's long-time canine companion, a chihuahua who single-pawedly began the trend of putting a small dog in a purse.
Around, let's say, 2004, Tinkerbell and her human were the epitome of a growing trend of people who didn't just love their dogs, but treated them like tiny people. Very, very spoiled tiny people. This trend, like most things people hate, centered around Los Angeles. Even though Tinkerbell's passing (at the age of 14!) marks the end of some sort of era, the dog care industry in LA is still a booming, if somewhat confusing, business.
I was in a car "taking Beverly," a term invented to explain to people that you know your way around the city and cannot be bothered with Sunset Blvd. at rush hour, because directions in LA are not really logistical, so much as ways to explain your luck, good or bad, to people. For instance, "take the 10, it usually takes me 20 minutes that way, but you should probably budget 40," isn't a nice reminder to your friend to leave earlier than they anticipated, but a way to express how kindly the traffic gods favor you. But, I digress, I was on Beverly, and the car passed a pet hotel called the Chateau Marmutt, a play on famed West Hollywood hotel, bungalow, and people-watching site, the Chateau Marmont.
I visited the Chateau Marmutt's website, and it seems like a playful and fun place for your dog to stay for the day, or overnight, or just get groomed. This all seemed surprisingly normal for a place with such an upscale pun for a name. But those aren't the only services this Chateau offers. There is also a dog chaffeur service, by which drivers will pick up or drop off your dog to your home or office. They also offer field trips for dogs, to the Santa Monica mountains or a dog beach. I don't want to suggest that "LA people are crazy," because I do love living here and have met a lot of lovely humans, but there is something distinctly annoying about arranging for someone to chaffeur your dog. It's phrased that way, I would assume, in order to imply a sense of elegance and panache. This isn't just someone driving your dog to you, this is someone providing a service for your dog, someone treating your dog (and, by extension, you) like someone who deserves special treatment, only the best, all the time.
The hundreds of results that popped up when I googled "LA dog walking" were headed by a page for The Pet Staff, which has a motto on the splash page reading, "We have a name for people who treat their pets like children: client." Now, loving your dog like a child is not exactly bad, or weird, or obnoxious behavior. It's pretty natural, actually, given that we spend so much of our days with our pets, and put so much thought into their well-being, and are genuinely entertained and comforted by them. And I understand that while owners are at work, a dog walker can be a helpful assistance. But the majority of pet owners cannot afford $20-$30 an hour (the average price, from my intense googling) for that.
There are several locations of Just Food for Dogs, but the one I've been to is on Fairfax and Santa Monica. It is across the street from a Whole Foods, but even so, I keep finding myself tempted to order dog food. I don't even eat meat, but the food prepared here looks so gourmet, it's a little frightening. We're talking fish and sweet potato meals, and free-range bison, and gluten-free offerings abounding. I grew up with a dog, and my mom adores this cute little Westie, but I cannot imagine my mom feeding her anything other than dry food (except when she's sick, then she gets this special wet food that she doesn't really like, and sometimes pieces of chicken.) Does any dog need to eat turkey and macaroni? Or a salmon fillet? Just Food for Dogs claims that their whole food diet can give dogs a healthier coat, more energy, "brightness in the eyes," and lessened "doggy odor," and the site features stories about dogs who had diseases that the new diet more or less cured.
Dogs, from what I have noticed, are not gourmands. They do not savor food; they inhale it. Although I do think that dog bakeries are ridiculously cute, because they like make tiny cupcakes for puppies with frosting and everything, I do think there is something peculiar about making specialty food for animals that I have witnessed eat cat litter. I understand the need for more nutritious dog food, to keep our little friends happy and healthy, but I feel so uncomfortable with this desire to always give dogs the very best, which I believe stems from a fear that owners have that they are not doing enough. Imagine someone who works all day, who loves their pet, who wants to make it up to them when they can't take them out running on the beach, or petting their little head on the couch. These services offer a sense of security, that you are "doing enough," that you really do love your pet as much as you think you do.
Because dogs are more to people than just salivating creatures who freak out when they see squirrels or bark at sirens on TV. They enhance our lives. Doggie blog Chewie Says has a whole list of ways that dogs make humans healthier. Dogs keep us active, lend us a sense of community and, according to some studies, may even boost our immune systems. These furry friends surely deserve our affection, and maybe some high-quality toys and treats from time to time. The rise of the dog care industry, while contributing to reasons why people think LA is a joke, does have a place in all dog owners' lives.
But that place, maybe, does not have to involve a chaffeur.