Q&A with Miki Chan of SpaGo Dog
From a corporate office to a mobile dog-grooming van may seem like a demotion, but for Miki Chan, San Francisco Bay Area owner/operator of SpaGo Dog and former insuranceindustry underwriter, it was a huge step up. For 15+ years, Chan devoted her time to the demands of her job. Then one day, her supervisor, who previously had worked for AIG for 25 years and lost most of his net worth when it collapsed, advised her to do what she loved. Taking his advice to heart, she began to plan a way to return to her dog-grooming roots.
Chan had grown up with dogs, and when she was in college earning a degree in computer science with a minor in business, had a part-time job with a groomer, and loved it. So she went back to grooming school, got certified and worked for others to update her skills. Her financial background and marketing insights led her to believe that people would support a grooming salon that came to them. Plus, she didn’t like putting dogs in cages, as happens in most brick-andmortar operations. A mobile set-up would be quiet, personal, relaxing and clean—spa-like, you might say.
Chan finds working with dogs to be joyful, and is gratified that she’s been able to help them by sharing information with their owners on brushing, dental care, and health issues that the grooming process can reveal, such as lumps, skin tags, ear infections and so on.
Besides the sheer pleasure of working with dogs, she’s also glad that she no longer has to deal with office politics, plead for time off or spend endless hours for the benefit of corporate shareholders. We asked if she had any tips for others considering a career change, particularly self-employment, and she shared a few with us. Before jumping, Chan recommends that people be sure they can support their preferred lifestyle (whatever that might be) without their previous paycheck. She also points out that knowing your target audience is crucial, as are time-management and customer-service skills. And being knowledgeable about what you’re doing is key to building trust.
The insurance world’s loss has been the dog world’s gain, and we’d bet the planet’s happiness quotient has gone up a few points as well.
Do you find that people are comfortable with the concept of a mobile groomer?
What’s a typical grooming session like?
When it comes to nail trimming, black nails can be really difficult. What do you advise?
What kinds of things do you see most often?
Grammy award–winning musician talks "The Best Dog".
Amy White and Al Petteway are Grammy award–winning musicians whose wonderful American traditional music can be heard on the soundtracks of Ken Burns’ PBS documentaries.
We asked Amy to tell us more about “The Best Dog,” a tender song on her new CD, Home Sweet Home, and about the dogs who inspire her. This is her reply.
“‘The Best Dog’ isn’t so much about a particular dog as it is about this great, yet very fragile gift we receive from loving one.
“After a month of searching for the right match, we found Buki— our Collie mix—at the end of a row of cages at the Yancey County, N.C., animal shelter. A year later, we found him a companion at North Carolina Aussie Rescue. Kip is deaf, but he often listens better than his hearing-ear dog, Buki. Kip certainly heard me crying when I was recording the vocals for this song. And he gave me comfort when he saw it was needed.
“Dogs really are our best tonic. They get us out of the house, and out of our artistic funks, right out into the world. (And they do this almost effortlessly, too. That’s quite a feat for hermit-prone artists like us.)
“We are so grateful to our dogs for helping us embrace the moment, and for helping us to find our daily joy.”
The final verse of “The Best Dog” speaks volumes about losing a dog but finding another:
Smiling in Seattle
The design sensibility at Urban Animal, a veterinary office that opened last year in Seattle, is part Airstream and part 1978 Ford truck—both of which practice founder Cherri Trusheim, DVM, owns.
Located in an old medical building in what is arguably the city’s hippest neighborhood, the warm modern space features funky vinyl chairs and second-hand medical cabinets, paint-by-number dog portraits, an enormous vintage print of a cabin in the mountains (the Irish Setter pointing in the grass was added by an artist friend later), and, in the corner, a photobooth.
Yep, a photobooth, and not one of those unsatisfying digital numbers. This booth uses film and dispenses slightly wet prints in four minutes (for $4). It’s here for clients and patients to amuse themselves and perhaps take some of the stress out of a visit, but non-clients are also welcome to pop in for snapshots.
The photobooth isn’t the only unconventional thing about Urban Animal. Dr. Trusheim, who’s worked as a relief vet and at an emergency hospital, has a different plan. In addition to its all-walk-in, open-weekends schedule, Urban Animal has a strong commitment to keeping care affordable, an approach that might include not pushing for the most extreme and costly interventions. In an industry with spiraling costs, these ideas are as surprising as, well, a photobooth in a vet’s office.
Her latest album Banga
Patti Smith’s songs often have fascinating backstories; for example, take the title song in her latest album, Banga, named after Pontius Pilate’s loyal dog in the Mikhail Bulgakov novel, The Master and Margarita. As she notes: “For those who have not read the book, Pilate waited on the edge of heaven for 2,000 years to talk to Jesus Christ, and his dog, Banga, stayed faithfully by his side. I thought that any dog that would wait 2,000 years for his master deserves a song.” Here’s a verse from “Banga”:
Loyalty lives and we don’t know why
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Make a day of it and get great take-away ideas
How many public botanical gardens welcome both you and your dog? Not many, we’d wager. But the Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical sanctuary located about 45 miles south of Portland, takes another point of view. Among their more than 20 specialty assemblages is the appealingly named “Pet Friendly Garden.” Horticultural manager Jill Martini says that the purpose is to show visitors how to turn their home gardens into safe playgrounds for their pets. “With a little strategy, your plants and your pets can live in harmony,” she notes.
In the Pet Friendly Garden, plants are edible, water is plentiful and flowers are undisturbed. Pathways direct pets through and around the garden, and shade is in ample supply. In other words, dogs can dig the garden without digging up the garden. The Pet Friendly Garden also offers information on edible plants, including catnip, catmint, wheat and oat grass for cats, and dwarf apples, blueberries and gooseberries for dogs. A take-home brochure lists plants that can be harmful to pets.
“The Pet Friendly Garden is part of our larger mission to provide a unique and entertaining garden experience while offering practical ideas for your own garden,” Martini says. “We invite you to bring your pet and make a day of it.”
Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz
In her new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz—author of the wildly popular Inside of a Dog—enlists the attention and insights of others to discover more about the neighborhood in which she lives. But when it comes to really getting the inside scoop, who better to turn to than dogs, those “creatures of the nose”?
Bark: What was the inspiration for your new work, On Looking?
B: In one of the chapters, you “look” as you see your dog does, more by smell than by vision. How were you able to get into a dog’s “nosescape”?
B: What did that tell you about a dog’s experience of the walk?
B: Did you observe other differences in the ways a dog perceives the landscape/environment? For example, in the time it took to do the walk?
B: Did your dog linger at landmarks, and if so, why do you think he did that?
B: Do you think we can refine our sense of smell by watching our dogs? Perhaps using our sense of smell differently, or doing more sniffing?
Dog's Life: Humane
Add your voice to the calls for more humane care
For years, those of us who work on animal welfare issues in the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have wondered what it would take to get the attention of the island’s governor, the police, the courts, the media and the rest of the country. The daily atrocities—from abandonment and gross neglect to beatings, shootings, burnings, machete attacks, poisonings and more—carried out on dogs, cats and even horses would be top stories anywhere else. How much worse would it have to get?
We found out in October. That was when municipal employees and workers from a private animal control agency, hired by the mayor of Barceloneta to rid three public housing projects of animals, seized about 80 family pets from their homes. What happened next is hard to fathom. Some of these animals—mostly dogs—were thrown to their deaths off a 50-foot bridge. (Three of the animal control workers go on trial for animal cruelty in May.)
Suddenly, people were paying attention. The “pet massacre” was news around the world. Organizations like mine, the Save a Sato Foundation (sato is slang for “stray dog”), fielded e-mail from across the U.S., Europe and even Australia. “This inhumane brutality is making your country appear savage and brutal in the eyes of the world,” was a typical sentiment.
We urged everyone to write to Puerto Rico Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá to beg him to find a solution to the deplorable suffering of the island’s animals. An online petition demanded the same thing; the goal was to reach 1,000 signatures—to date, 51,000 people have signed it. Acevedo Vilá, who has demonstrated a shocking lack of compassion during his years in office, answered every letter the same way: This was an isolated incident.
But he knows better. For years, rescuers from Manos por Patas and Amigos de los Animales have been tending to abandoned and brutalized animals on a strip of eastern coastline known as “Dead Dog Beach.” Acevedo Vilá has been sent the evidence: photos of the remains of dogs stuffed into garbage bags. (The situation north at Los Machos beach is just as bad.)
All this abuse carries a financial toll. In 2002, the nonprofit Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association, a long-time proponent of addressing the issue, estimated that the island lost some $15 million a year “as a consequence of the stray animal problem.” The Barceloneta incident has surely sent this figure soaring.
At first, it seemed as though something positive might happen. The government-run Puerto Rican Tourism Company (PRTC)—famous for sending glossy brochures to tourists who wrote to complain about animal suffering—announced the formation of a coalition to address the problem. What emerged was a plan long on animal control (which means massive roundups and killings) and short on education and sterilization. Another problem was the PRTC’s budget for this effort: zero.
Another entity, the government’s Office of Animal Control, created last summer after years of haggling, could have seized the moment to effect real change. But it’s so disempowered that it doesn’t even have permission to use its meager $1.5 million in seed funding to fulfill its mandate of creating animal services in all 78 municipalities.
In the meantime, rescuers report seeing the massive dog sweeps they feared, especially near tourist spots. We know that not every dog can be saved. But, without addressing the root issue—overpopulation—these sweeps will only be followed by many more. Raising public awareness about sterilization is critical, as is making the procedure widely available.
The newly formed Coalition for the Wellbeing of Pets (CWP) is trying to do that. This mix of animal welfare groups, vets and shelters is seeking a waiver from the Veterinary Medicine Examining Board to allow off-island vets to conduct an initial spay/neuter project that could become a model for the future. (A ban on off-island vets has thwarted many earlier attempts.)
Puerto Rico also needs to raise its citizens’ awareness about animal welfare. There are shelters on the island, but with euthanasia rates topping 90 percent, people refuse to take their unwanted animals there. Instead, they prefer to dump pets on the streets, where there is at least the illusion of survival. But it is an illusion—stray animals suffer horribly.
Most importantly, we can’t let this issue go away. Bark readers can help. Please write to Gov. Acevedo Vilá; PRTC’s Executive Director of Tourism, Terestela Gonzalez; and Congressional Representative Luis Fortuño, who will be challenging Acevedo Vilá for the governor’s office next fall. And visit Save a Sato’s website to find out more about Puerto Rico’s dogs and what’s being done to help them.
You know that woman who, when she’s on the road and away from her beloved pooch, experiences dog withdrawal and is therefore compelled to chase down and interact with every canine she sees?
That woman is me.
I can’t help it. I’ve always been this way. I love kids, too — in fact, I adore them — but with dogs, I’m like a heat-seeking missile. Once a dog is in my sights, I must meet him (or her), and the same questions streak through my mind: What’s his name? Is he a mutt or an exotic purebred? How does he do that crazy thing with his ears? Is he friendly? Will his owner let me pet him?
Then I walk briskly in the direction of my quarry, being careful not to startle either party. I offer a warm smile and an upbeat hello, followed by some words of dog appreciation in the local language. Once I’ve exhausted whatever foreign vocabulary I may have at my disposal, pantomiming follows. (I’ve found that gesticulation can be surprisingly effective when language presents a barrier, and wonderful conversations have unfolded this way.) Eventually, as our chat winds down, I’ll snap a photo or two to commemorate our time together.
What I love about this pursuit, which I’ve affectionately dubbed “Dog Stalking,” is that every interaction leaves me with a bit more knowledge … not only about the pooch I’ve just met, but also about his human, and his home country, and that nation’s culture.
Dog love is, indeed, universal, and over the years, I’ve met countless dogs and their humans from around the world. My heart stirs when I come upon a pair whose connection is so strong, it’s palpable.
In Europe, it tickles to me to see how dogs so seamlessly take part in every aspect of their humans’ lives. You see them minding boutiques, dining out at restaurants and proudly strolling historic boulevards.
I snap thousands of pictures when I’m on the road. In pixels and megabytes, these photos illustrate some of the most unforgettable moments from my time away, ensuring that I’ll never forget the characters, both canine and human, whom I’ve met.
Yet for me, the journey doesn’t come full circle until I’m back in my native land and being greeted by my own furry kid, Theodore. He comes dashing to the door, full body wag in high gear, with his inimitable smile, sparkling eyes and a reminder that dogs make everything better. With him, finally, I am home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The social patterns of a dog park
The West End cemetery is full of old dead sea captains and soldiers from the War of 1812, kids that died of cholera and wives that, after six or eight or ten children, just gave up. There are rich people under monuments, the Longfellow family in a vault, and paupers without so much as a wooden marker. No one’s been buried here since the middle of this century, and so the place has fallen into disrepair. You see a lot of the marble and shell headstones in puzzle pieces on the ground or standing at crooked attention. About ten years ago the cemetery was a popular hang-out for prostitutes and junkies—but now it’s just dogs and their owners.
When I first moved to town a couple years ago with my girlfriend Sara we walked our dog in the cemetery. There was this guy there named Jeff, a big brawny American Indian, from the Duckwater tribe I think, who sort of qualified as my first friend in Portland. He told me how he grew up in Nevada and was adopted by white parents and then raised in a little redneck town where people really didn’t like Indians. He’d moved around a lot and I pictured him as I was now, the stranger in a strange place. He walked with me in the cemetery, sometimes twice a day, whatever the weather. Or rather, we were both being walked by our dogs. His was a wolf mix named Keana, with a vacant, slightly menacing glint in her eye, who liked to rough up young puppies. And mine is a simple mutt named Trout, whose passion for chasing squirrels follows her lifetime commitment to rolling in poop.
It seemed like Jeff was always at the cemetery, sometimes up to eight hours in a row. He said he worked at night, supposedly for a local scuba-diving outfit, and that’s why he had so much free time during the day. He told stories, endless stories, about his high school football exploits and the blown-out knee that ended his college career at safety. He talked about fishing, how he gill-netted in the rivers of southeast Alaska and then how he and his girlfriend had bought a house and now they weren’t together anymore, and she had the house and he was here, a country away, walking his dog with people like me. He didn’t seem angry at all. No, in fact, he seemed happy. Like every day he was as happy as he’d been the day before. And because of it he was good at drawing people out, at connecting the various factions inside the cemetery so that everyone stood around, nodding dumbly, listening to Jeff, our oblivious mayor, holding forth on Keana’s new collar or perfect shampoo, while Keana took her pound of flesh out of some hapless pup.
This is not the way things usually work in the cemetery. The mere fact that I knew Jeff’s name was unusual. Usually people didn’t interact that much. Instead, we knew each other by handles. There was Dalmatian Man, father of three speckled dogs, one to whom he spoke in sign language. There was Greyhound Lady, regally walking her trio of Greyhounds until the day that Lightning, her beloved, dove through a plate-glass window during a thunderstorm and died. There was the man who walks and reads, and Frisbee Dude, and the Lawn Chair Family: an old father and his fifty-something son who daily set up their folding chairs near the cemetery gate. And the Pickup Artist, around whom no one was safe. And there was Crazy Shouting Man, owner of three ragtag mutts and an elder statesman of the cemetery, who, when I finally talked to him wasn’t Crazy Shouting Man at all. His name was Al.
“There are loads of people up there that I see all the time, some of them I’ve been seeing for years and I don’t know their name. I recognize them and they recognize me, we talk about all sorts of things, and it just never really occurs to you to ask their name because you know their dog’s name.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve always had these funny occasions where you run into people that you talk to a lot at the cemetery—you meet them somewhere … we were down at Granny Killams when it was open one night and this woman came over and said, ‘Al, how are you? how’s the dogs? how’s all this?’ and I was with a bunch of friends and I thought, ‘And this is …,’ and I realized I had no idea, it wasn’t that I had forgotten her name, it was that I’d never known her name. I knew her dog … I mean, I had no idea. And, this was not somebody that I just knew very casually, this was somebody that I probably walked with three or four mornings a week. But you always find you know a lot more dogs than you know people, which, I think, says something about who’s worth knowing anyway.”
Even today what strikes me as amazing about the cemetery is that there are people here, people who show up twice a day and see other people here twice a day for years and many of them just don’t know each other’s real name, let alone what the other does for a living, or dreams of at night, or loves or hates. They just know each other’s dogs’ names. So when they refer to one another, they might say, “Circe’s mom said Milk Bones are full of preservatives, which is why she cooks her own.” Or when they bump into each other downtown Christmas shopping, they’ll say, “Ellroy’s mom!” and then when nothing’s left to say, say, “Uh, how goes it?”
Was this intimacy or a complete lack of intimacy? Sometimes it felt like both at once. You had the warmth of intimacy and the comfort of hiding behind your dog. And yet every day you saw people at their most naked, talking baby-talk to their hounds, kneeling to pick up poop. I asked my friend Julie, Reuben’s mother, about this.
“I think I really get a sort-of window into people’s … well, into people’s souls. You watch people very contentedly walking around, throwing the ball, interacting with their dogs or totally ignoring their dogs, and going at their own pace and every once in a while yelling for their dog and ….”
Here’s Al again: “I mean, I really judge people by how they behave toward their dog. When I see people hit a dog, I’m really sort of appalled and amazed that you would do that.
“I mean, I know who really, really likes their dogs and who doesn’t. I know people who’ve got trophy dogs and people who’ve got the scruffiest, ugliest dog, but they really, really love that dog.”
I think it was the love part that kept me going back to the cemetery. And then it became my social hour, my escape, where, more often than not, I’d find Jeff and Keana. The minute Jeff realized I was a writer he went to the library and over the course of a week read everything I’d ever written. And then, to my horror, wanted to talk about it. And he did this kind of thing with others, too.
When the leaves began to change during my first October in the West End cemetery, Jeff was already talking about a Christmas card he was planning—a photograph of Keana and himself. He brought it up obsessively, about how Keana was going to have a haircut and shampoo and have her nails clipped, and how he had arranged for a photographer, and how they were scouting locations. There were ups and downs in the saga as it played out over weeks—a good location that might not work out the day of the shoot if a nor’easter hit, the need to time everything just perfectly so that Keana would leave the beauty parlor and then immediately sit for her picture before she could come back to the cemetery and get muddy.
In retrospect there were little clues even then that something strange was going on with Jeff. While he said he owned a truck, I only saw him at bus stops around town. And the scuba-diving … later when I called various outfits in Portland, no one had ever heard of him. In the end, he had the photograph taken at Sears, he and Keana in the stiff, unsmiling pose of a Civil War-era husband and wife, he in his familiar blue sweatshirt hulking behind Keana who was perfectly coifed. He was beaming when he handed the Christmas card to me, literally beaming.
After Christmas I left the country for several weeks and when I came back, some time after a massive ice storm, Jeff was nowhere to be found. The cemetery glittered with glazed headstones. It took days to unravel the story because people didn’t seem to want to talk about it … didn’t seem to want to talk about anything. Everyone just bundled into themselves, and Jeff … he was a very touchy subject, one that suddenly made us all feel defensive. What I learned was this: he’d had health problems, an infection of some kind. He went to the hospital at the same time that he was apparently forced out of his apartment. Money was tight. He’d asked someone from the cemetery to put him up, another line crossed. But that hadn’t worked out. Keana was taken to a kennel by Megan, Matty’s mom. And now she was calling the kennel regularly to see if Jeff had picked her up, but he hadn’t. Week after week she called until it was clear that Jeff couldn’t or wouldn’t pick up Keana, that he was gone. That’s when Keana was adopted by someone else.
Here’s Megan: “You start talking about this stuff with somebody and then you realize, “I didn’t even know this person … like with Jeff, I mean, it was like you knew everything about his life but in the end how much of that was actually true? And, you know, you didn’t even know this person … it was like August to December and he was gone. But it seemed like forever.”
There were completely unsubstantiated rumors that he’d robbed a bank. Someone knew someone whose cousin had seen his photo on a Boston newscast. Maybe. But then most people were quick to accept this as fact. In a weird way, I wonder if we felt betrayed. Betrayed because Jeff had broken the simple rules of the cemetery. He’d become too intimate. Now he was gone and it was hard to say hi, let alone catch someone else’s eye. During those dark winter months the cemetery became a kind of haunted, trustless place. In one of the endless conversations we had about him later, some people worried that he knew where we lived … someone threatened to track him down. But what for? So that he might never again bamboozle other hapless dog owners in other seaside towns into chatting about doggy shampoo?
Sara and I kept the Christmas card on our refrigerator right up until a couple of months ago, actually, when it quietly fell to a new rotation of refrigerator photos. We kept it there in hopes, I think, that he would come back and explain where he’d been, for I was pretty certain that he couldn’t have robbed a bank. And if he had, I told myself, maybe it was because he had to. Maybe he’d been inches from a life he imagined for himself, with a dog that gave unconditional love, with friends he was guaranteed to see every day and he’d had a couple of bad breaks—got sick, ran out of money, lost his dog and then panicked.
Now time has passed. People come and go and every six months the galaxy inside these gates breaks apart and reconfigures. Dogs die, people leave for nursing homes, others move, more arrive and every day, today even, people are here walking in spectral circles like they’re in Mecca. Circling the Ka’ba. In general I’d say things are back to the way they were—intimate but not intimate. We stand around in dumfounded joy with ten, twenty, thirty other gaping grown adults, reveling in the simplicity of stupidly entertaining dog play. Dalmatian Man still flashes sign language at his deaf Dalmatian, the Pickup Artist still works his magic, the Lawn Chair Family still sets up by the cemetery gate each day, covering their legs with wool blankets.
Fact is, even without somebody like Jeff pulling people together, if you stand on a corner with a bunch of strangers, eventually something happens that brings you together. Sometimes something small. The other night I went to the cemetery at sunset. There were the same broken headstones, the same sea captains and paupers, and there were all these living people, too, who only know me as Trout’s dad, or as the guy who stupidly named his dog Trout, or however they see me. The dogs were playing hard, racing in circles, not wanting any of it to end, and a gigantic moon came up, came up tangerine. It was the kind of moon that stills everything, and we stood in a circle watching it rise. For a minute or two we just stood there glowing orange, the dogs didn’t exist at all.
The singer and her, dog, Juliette — rock on.
Say the name “Rickie Lee Jones” and a swooping, sailing, raw and tender voice comes immediately to mind. This singer-songwriter has been on the cover of Rolling Stone, won two Grammys and a bucket-full of nominations, and otherwise entertained and surprised us for more than three decades. (Her most recent album, The Devil You Know, was recently released by Fantasy Records.) Rickie Lee and her dog, Juliette, are regulars on LA’s Los Feliz Boulevard, where she knows all the best places for coffee and corn muffi ns with raspberry jam. Her take on her dog is much like the artist herself: a little unpredictable, irreverent and, in the end, poetic.
You know, the joy of the dog’s life is in the normalcy, the strangers’ footsteps they warn you of, the way they know you’re tired or sad, or when you’re on the phone and your voice changes and they start poking you with their nose and wagging their tail extra loud to remind you not to take things seriously. The respect — my dog insists I eat before she does, or at least be cooking. She does not want to be pack leader.
My dog tries to teach me her language (even though she has not had consistent luck), and I see her eyes, or the way her head is raised, and I know she feels ill. She knows about 100 words and 50 more phrases; she knows when I’m leaving for long or short. She knows “scoot over,” “give it back” and “drink some water.” She knows the names of places and people in her life. She loves the recording studios, and the live shows make her crazy excited.
She is not a “licker”; she doesn’t see the point, and neither do I, but once in a while, a small kiss. Maybe a second small lick. She’s a lady and her name suits her. She has pain, but she insists on walking with the horse, running near the beach. She is present every day, and I have learned a lot from sharing my home with her. When I contemplate the nature of dreams, she runs and barks in her sleep. When I feel besieged, she wants to comfort me.
The story of Juliette is in her kind, kind spirit; her motherlove wakefulness; her baby dreams. I care for her, little pains and big. And she is a companion to me every day of my life now.
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