Monday, July 17, 2006

Day care? It's a city dog's life, Seattle pi

Helping pets and owners adjust to an urban transition


Twenty dogs barked in unison in Belltown the other day, singing a now popular tune in Seattle's urban neighborhoods.

What set off the symphony of soprano yaps and bass woofs was Nancy Wallace. She had just walked through the doors of the Wags2Whiskers doggie day care to pick up her Gordon setter, Loki.

Karen Ducey / P-I
Ron Burrage drops off Charlie, a mix of beagle and Brittany spaniel, with Wags2Whiskers owner Jean Peters. Urban living presents its own set of challenges to the canine set, which is one of the reasons doggie day cares are mulitplying.
Like a lot of people who are moving into the condos, Wallace, who lives in Belltown, is trying to adjust to living downtown. Some new condo residents worry about where their children can play. And others, like Wallace, wonder what to do with their dogs.

One way or another, the new residents are changing the face of urban Seattle by bringing children, dogs and the other aspects of a settled, suburban life downtown.

The number of dog owners downtown is small but growing. About 640 dogs are licensed with Seattle Animal Control in downtown and Belltown. By contrast, 3,112 are licensed in Wedgwood, Seattle's hound haven.

Still, there's no denying that critters are multiplying in Seattle's urban canyons. Belltown, for example, has had a dog run for nearly a year. And doggie day cares are multiplying.

For Wallace, having a dog was integral in trying to adjust to city life.

"If you grow up with animals all your life and then all of a sudden, you don't have it, it's upsetting," she said. Having a dog, even in a condo, "is a comfort thing."

Leslie Williams, president of Williams Marketing, which comes up with selling points for many of the condos going up, said there are many people like Wallace. [Note: Williams' first name has been corrected since this article was originally published]

"I think the main thing that's going on is people want the experience of living in a multifamily downtown, but they want to bring with them certain aspects of their lives," Williams said. "They had dogs in the suburbs, and they want to have dogs in the city."

Still, it's not easy being a city dog or the owner of a city dog.

That's where doggie day cares come in. And the business is flourishing.

Scott Eklund / P-I
The place is a blur of activity as Jean Peters plays with some of her larger clients at her doggie day care, Wags2Whiskers, in Belltown.
Jean Peters, owner of Wags2Whiskers, said the Downtown Dog Lounge, which had been at Western Avenue and Denny Way, was the only other doggie day care in the area when she opened in June 2004. Now the Dog Lounge has moved to Belltown. and there are three new ones nearby: a second Downtown Dog Lounge in Interbay, The Barking Lounge near South Lake Union and the Seattle Canine Club near Safeco Field.

So it was the other day that Nancy Wallace walked into Wags2Whiskers to get her setter. The dogs piped down after she left, but started their chorus moments later when 29-year-old Brian Hopkins came in after work to retrieve his black Labrador retriever, Gus.

"If I didn't bring him (to the day care), it would be a nightmare. He'd have too much energy, and he'd be getting into all sorts of trouble," Hopkins said.

He said his girlfriend grew up with dogs in a town in western Michigan and wanted to have a dog when they moved into their Queen Anne condo.

Wallace grew up on Mercer Island and wanted to have a dog, too. She did after moving into her Belltown condo. But when she'd come home from work, she said, she'd find her shoes all chewed up.

Like Wallace, Hopkins said that aside from the problems an overenergetic dog can cause in a condo, it's mean to keep the dog cooped up alone in a condo all day, and he liked that the day care takes the dogs on field trips to Magnuson Park to splash around in the water.

Frank Barbieri, vice president of new-product development for InfoSpace Mobile, is the owner of Chihuahuas Paco and Cheche, because of the "non-stop hilarity of it." He also is a Wags2Whiskers customer because of the problems he had getting his Chihuahuas to adjust to the diversity of city life.

He found that because the dogs were cooped up alone together all day, they were not getting along with other dogs.

"When we'd go walking around or to the dog park, they'd gang up on other dogs. And if you can picture two growling Chihuahuas, it wasn't a pretty scene," he said. "Instead of 'home schooling' them, I wanted them to have a public education where they'd get to go out and socialize and have recess."

So Barbieri and others have settled on a dog's life during the day. Make that a dog's good life.

At Wags2Whiskers, dogs that have been dropped off that morning play in a large pen -- behind a waiting area -- with three futon couches Peters had put in so the dogs would feel at home.

On a recent night, Peters let the five dogs that were sleeping over out of the pen and in the adjoining area with two couches. She put in a video as some of the dogs sat on the couches. She'd gotten a movie about a Labrador retriever, but they seemed apathetic.

"They seem to like 'Finding Nemo,'" she said. "When there's that bubble sound, they peek up."

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