The New York Times
April 3, 2005


By Kate Stone Lombardi

It was St. Patrick's Day Eve -- Reilly Keogh's third birthday -- and
she was dressed up for her party in a little green leprechaun hat and
a matching feather boa. She devoured her portion of birthday cake.

Her parents admit to being a little indulgent. Only one month before,
Reilly had been given a Valentine's Day party. Her cakes are always
ordered from a special bakery. She recently got a cunning new outfit
from Land's End: a yellow parka with her name embossed on it, and
booties to fit her elegantly small feet.

But the Keoghs, who live in Somers, say they can't help pampering
their little one, because she is particularly smart, friendly and

"When I look in her eyes, I see a person in a past life," said Timothy
Keogh, her "father.

In this life, however, Reilly is a dog -- a golden doodle, which is a
cross between a standard poodle and a golden retriever. Her birthday
cake was made of ground beef and lamb, with cream cheese icing. The
boots are to protect her paws from salt that she could pick up walking
on streets in the winter.

Over recent generations it has become commonplace to refer to a pet as
a member of the family. And today, the family cat or dog (or ferret,
bird or turtle, for that matter) may lead a life as rich with
activities and indulgences as any busy suburban child's.

Beyond standard offerings like dog parks and running areas, there are
also baby sitters, day-care and play groups available to enhance the
life of the Westchester canine. High-end clothing, special food and
catered parties are not uncommon. Medical care rivals what is
available for humans, in both variety and cost. Lawyers -- human ones
-- jump into the animal fray, too, when issues like bequests come up.

This evolution in pets' status is even reflected in language usage.
Statistics collected over the last several years by the American
Animal Hospital Association indicate that more than 80 percent of pet
owners refer to themselves as the pet's mom or dad, and that 70
percent sign their pet's name on greeting cards. Some even consider
the term pet patronizing; the preferred term in this set is "animal

On behalf of any readers harboring doubts about the sanity of such
devotion, a mental health professional was consulted. She is Roberta
Schaffer, a clinical social worker at Westchester Jewish Community
Services Treatment Center for Trauma and Abuse, who uses animal-
assisted therapy in her work with abused children and adolescents. She
acknowledges that people tend to project their own emotions onto their

Ms. Schaffer did not specifically suggest that designer duds and beef-
and-lamb birthday cakes were excessive. Her advice to doting pet
owners was more general and open to interpretation: Be attuned to your

"There is more to interpreting an animal's behavior than the dog
wagging his tail and the cat purring," was how Ms. Schaffer put it.
"Each animal and each breed manifest stress in their own unique ways.
As owners we need to know what these are and respond according to the
animal's signals. Without this awareness, it is likely that the
animal's needs and feelings will be overridden by those of their

In some canine cases, before a baby "companion" even arrives in its
"parents"' home, Michelle Bertrand, a trainer based in White Plains,
is called in to consult and advise on preparedness.

"They want me to come and make sure they have the right equipment, the
right furniture and everything, just like when you are having a baby,"
Ms. Bertrand said.

ONCE the dog has reached 7 or 8 weeks old, it's time for lessons.
There are a variety of obedience classes across the county, but Ms.
Bertrand, who charges $80 an hour for training, prefers one-on-one
tutoring with the dog in its own home. "Just like children," she said,
"dogs often behave when they're in a foreign environment and forget
their manners at home."

Mirroring the reality show "Nanny 911," Ms. Bertrand sometimes
intervenes in families where the parents seem overwhelmed and the
youngster is running wild.

"If I see a puppy that is 8 weeks old and he has the run of the house,
this isn't going to be good," she said. "They have to get a crate, a
gate and have a schedule."

Most other pet services, including grooming and veterinary care, are
available by house call. One company provides a kind of pet equivalent
to diaper service: Doody Calls. This Mount Kisco-based business picks
up what it gingerly calls "doggy presents" from yards, patios,
driveways and flower beds. Prices are based on the size of the yard,
the number of dogs and the frequency of service -- which can range
from twice a week to once a month.

Working pet parents, of course, call in dog walkers, as well as pet
sitters. These are especially popular among those hesitant to board
their animals at the wide variety of kennels available in the area.

"A kennel? Absolutely not," said Angelina Neofotistos of Larchmont,
about the possibility of sending Dunkin', her Yorkshire terrier,
outside the home for care. "I won't even go on vacation unless my
girlfriend can come to my home to watch him."

ONCE, when Ms. Neofotistos had to attend an out-of-town wedding and
her friend wasn't available, she hired her sister (who had to miss
work) to travel with her and stay with Dunkin' in the hotel room.
There, she said, she insisted to room service that Dunkin' could eat
only broiled chicken.

Ms. Neofotistos can't stand to leave Dunkin', even at a groomer
("Every single groomer said I couldn't watch him being done"), so she
uses Pretty Paws, a Harrison-based mobile grooming service. A van
comes to her house and Dunkin' is never out of her sight.

At home, Dunkin' has his own room, with an oversize couch, a step
stool so that he can look out the window, stuffed animals and pictures
of animals on the walls.

"When I come home from work, I say, 'How's my little boy?' And if my
boyfriend is there, he says, 'I know you're not talking to me,"' said
Ms. Neofotistos.

But there does come a time when parents think a little outside
socialization might be a good idea. Ms. Bertrand runs pet play groups,
and many pet owners organize informal play dates, which often take
place at local dog parks. Several kennels offer day care. In June,
Best Friends Pet Care will offer "Doggy Daycamp" at a new branch
opening in White Plains.

The company, based in Norwalk, Conn., already operates dog day camps
at 16 of its 40 locations, but this will be its first in Westchester.

As at any exclusive preschool, "there is a careful screening process,"
said Deb Bennetts, a company spokeswoman. Pet parents must fill out
questionnaires and submit to interviews. Potential campers are
observed at play with other dogs. (Camp is strictly canine in nature,
by the way; cats may stay for the day but, being less social, they go
to what is called Kitty City, basically a boarding area.) "We need to
be assured that the dogs who are participating are going to do well in
a group setting," Ms. Bennetts said. Aggressive dogs are not accepted.
Another rule: no bringing your own toys. Experience has taught
counselors that dogs at camp have a little trouble sharing.

Camp not only helps young dogs develop social skills, Ms. Bennetts
said, but is also good for timid dogs, overweight dogs and high-energy
breeds. Campers tend to form their own circles of friends, she added,
and size and breed aren't always factors. Her own dog, Lily, a 15-
pound bichon frise, befriended a miniature Doberman pinscher, who in
turn enjoyed the Labrador retrievers. ("In his mind, he was a big
dog," Ms. Bennetts said of the pinscher.)

Pets with friends and families must of course have birthday parties.
Sonya Wang of Hartsdale does the honors for Duke, her dachshund, and
Oscar, her Labrador. At Duke's last party there were 20 dogs -- most
of which, Ms. Wang admitted, were really Oscar's friends.

"Duke is more shy and Oscar has more friends," she said. "Duke is kind
of a mama's boy. He just wants to lay there and watch TV with mommy."

Cleo's Barkery, a Hartsdale-based business that does much of its trade
online, offers birthday cakes for dogs and cats. Celebrating cats have
a choice of tuna, chicken, turkey, shrimp, lobster, herring and salmon
cakes. For dogs there are seven flavors: lamb, turkey, chicken,
venison, duck, whitefish and vegetarian. The owner, Christine
Ciaramello, says she uses a secret recipe. She offers a variety of
party packages, ranging from $79 for one dog (includes a cake, a treat
bag, a hat and a birthday bandanna) to $770 for a party for 40 (lots
more of everything).

Bow Meow Barkery and Munchinette in Ardsley also makes cakes, as well
as other baked goods. There is even chicken- or beef-flavored water.
Special pet occasions are not limited to birthdays. Joe Horan, Bow
Meow's owner, also caters "bark mitzvahs" and "woofermations."

When it comes to portraiture, pet parents cannot (yet) rely on school
picture day. But many have overcome this limitation by having special
portraits taken. Dr. Mike Henes, a veterinarian in Croton-on-Hudson,
also specializes in animal photography. Dr. Henes does not like posed
portraits; he prefers to capture the animals playing and relaxing.

Lynn Briganti has Dr. Henes photograph her animals every year. Her
house in Rye is filled with framed pictures of Rosebud and Hazelnut,
chocolate Labradors, as well as Scoop, a golden retriever, and Duke, a
black Labrador. A group of their portraits hangs in ascending order on
the staircase wall. There are individual shots and group photos,
including one of all four dogs relaxing on a sunny porch.

MOST pet parents want their animals to look beautiful, and grooming is
therefore booming. In Larchmont, the Cut Above advertises itself as a
doggie day spa. Amy O'Meara, the owner, maintains that "90 percent of
my clients come in here wagging their tails and scratching the door;
they can't wait to get in." Most dogs come for the day, and the
grooming includes nail cuts, ear cleaning, a bath and shampoo,
hairstyling and adornment with either a bow or a bandanna. Tooth
brushing is optional. Prices, $50 to $135, depend on the size of the

Hypoallergenic shampoo is now available for sensitive dogs: companies
that formerly catered only to people have awakened to pets as a money-
making sideline. Paul Mitchell Systems, the hair product company, now
has a line under the John Paul Pet label. It includes tea-tree shampoo
for fleas and ticks. There are sunscreens for noses and stomachs, paw
balm to protect pads from hot sidewalks. Barneys New York sells K-9
Pawfume, for $45 a bottle.

And then there's pet fashion. Land's End has its own pet line, and
Harley-Davidson offers miniature leather jackets. Many pet stores sell
an array of sweaters, coats and booties. All Paws, in Rye, has more
than 700 styles of collar, ranging all the way up to leather-and-
crystal dog collars for $94.

If you are horrified by the thought that your pet could show up at a
party wearing the same outfit as another dog, there is a Hartsdale
business called E&E Hallstrom Haute Couture, which makes dresses,
coats, bathrobes and even costumes by hand. Eva Hallstrom, who runs
the company with her sister, will go to a client's home, take the
dog's measurements and custom design an outfit. Right now they run
from $90 to $160 and are dry clean only, but Ms. Hallstrom is working
on a wash-and-wear line.

Ms. Wang has ordered several of Ms. Hallstrom's coats for Duke and
Oscar. She is planning to move to California and has asked Ms.
Hallstrom to design something that might toughen up Oscar's image,
making him look "East Coast." Because Oscar is outgrowing his yellow
and red coats, and his bathrobe, they'll probably become hand-me-downs
for Ms. Wang's cousin's dog.

Most pet clothes are only for dogs; cats rarely deign to keep on an
outfit, Ms. Hallstrom says -- although she maintains that a cat looks
elegant "with a simple strand of pearls."

With their busy lives, pets sometimes need a ride, and for that there
is AA Portable Paws, a Putnam-based business that also serves
Manhattan and Westchester. Alice Armao transports dogs, cats and birds
in either a cargo van or a Jeep. Most of her business involves picking
up dogs from the city and lower Westchester and taking them to kennels
farther north. But she also makes airport runs (sometimes pets fly
unaccompanied) and takes animals to veterinary appointments.

Ms. Armao says owners hand over their pets to her care usually make
numerous requests. She has been asked to stop and buy the dog an ice
cream on the way; she has also been told to demand that the pet be
given its own couch at the kennel.

"One very wealthy woman with a little dog gave me a big blown-up
picture of herself, and had it framed and asked if they would hang it
on the gate of her dog run," Ms. Armao said. "I said, 'Ma'am, I've got
to tough-love you. The picture doesn't mean anything to the dog. Give
me a dirty T-shirt, and he'll be very happy with your scent." "

NOWHERE has the move to treat pets like family members been reflected
as much as in veterinary care.

"People have the same expectations for their animal's health as they
have for their own and they expect a lot," said John Parks, a
veterinary surgeon.

Like human health care, veterinary medicine is expensive. Single
practitioners are becoming rare, and specialists abound. Today there
are more than 20 recognized animal specialties, including oncology,
cardiology and urology. Not only are their veterinary dentists, but
some also perform orthodontic corrections -- though mostly on show

Anxious or aggressive animals are sometimes treated with psychiatric
drugs like Prozac and Zoloft. Animal hospitals have CAT scans,
magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound scanners. And like humans,
some pets receive alternative holistic treatments. They get medicinal
massages and undergo acupuncture.

Recently at the Katonah-Bedford Veterinary Center, Zoe, a golden
retriever with bone cancer, underwent a complicated surgical procedure
in which a bone -- flown in the night before from a dog bone bank in
Colorado -- was grafted onto a portion of her leg where a tumor had
been removed. Plates were then inserted to support the graft. The
procedure was meant to save Zoe's leg, which would otherwise have had
to be amputated. Once she recuperates from the surgery, Zoe, who lives
in Scarsdale, will begin chemotherapy. Her prognosis, according to the
vet: about a year.

Such treatment does not come cheap. The surgery itself costs $6,500 to
$7,500; the chemotherapy ranges from $5,000 to $10,000. Pet insurance,
not surprisingly, is becoming popular. Most plans work like human
health care plans. The premium rises as the animal gets older;
deductibles apply and pre-existing conditions are not covered. Many
area veterinarians also offer Credit Care, a kind of instant credit
card, in order to prevent what is morbidly referred to as "financial

Why are people willing to go such lengths for their animals? To pet
lovers, the answer is simple.

"In this crazy world, you come home and it's like a sea of love and
serenity," Dr. Henes said. "People just get unqualified love and
caring from their dogs and cats. I love my wife and my kids and my
grandkids, but my dogs occupy a very special place in my heart."

Splendid Sendoffs and Lucky Dogs

PETS are recognized as family members in death as in life. For those
that die before their owners, there can be funerals, with burial or
cremation. The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, one of roughly 500 such places
in the nation, has since its opening in 1896 buried more than 75,000
animals. Its published history reveals that people have long pampered
their four-legged loved ones. In 1915, a Mrs. M.F. Walsh paid $25,000
for a granite mausoleum weighing more than 50 tons, to hold five
family pets.

These days, people tend to approach pet death a bit more prosaically.
But those pet owners who opt for a private burial under a favorite
tree in the backyard should know that the County Department of Health
frowns on the practice. The sanitary code prohibits the burial of pets
less than 100 feet from a watercourse, well, spring, public street,
residence or stable.

For grieving pet owners, there are bereavement support groups,
including one at the Katonah-Bedford Veterinary Center.

But what about the pets that outlive their owners? An increasing
number of people are making provisions in their wills for the care of
their animals, said Frances Carlisle, a trust and estates lawyer in
Manhattan who helped write a brochure for the Association of the Bar
of the City of New York titled, "Providing for Your Pet in the Event
of Your Death or Hospitalization."

It is not legal in any state to name an animal as a direct beneficiary
in a will. But in 24 states, including New York and New Jersey, a pet
can be the beneficiary of a trust. It is set up much as one might be
for a young child: the money is put in trust, and a trustee is named.

"People care enough so that they are really doing some complicated
planning," Ms. Carlisle said. "Often we'll have a separate letter with
all kinds of instructions, from favorite food that the animal should
eat to favorite toys, likes and dislikes and all kinds of

How much is too much for a pet? Right now, Ms. Carlisle says, she is
working on putting a residence in trust for a pet, as well as enough
funds to pay for a caretaker to live there. She says it is critical to
select trustees and caretakers who are animal lovers.

She recommends that clients specify that any remainder of the trust go
to a charity that rescues animals. This is done in part so that human
members of the family don't start grumbling about expenditures for
dogs or cats.

"You can imagine a family member that wasn't happy that the trust was
created in the first place might complain about every penny spent,"

Angelina Neofotistos of Larchmont on Dunkin, her Yorkie:

"He's my little boy. Spoiled isn't the word, but hes the most loving,
kindest, sweetest boy. He's amazing when its time to cuddle."

"I have only one space for a picture in my wallet and it's him. My
boyfriend asks, 'When am I going to make my way into that wallet?"'

"My parents call me and say, 'How is my grandson doing?"'

"If I have $100 to spend for the day, he gets $100. He's my child. You
have to always replace his toys and bones, and you need to keep him
clean. I'll use Febreeze on his couch, and Lysol, just so I know there
are no germs."

"People put their dogs in a doghouse. I think that's disgusting. My
dog shares my bed."

Lynn Briganti of Rye on Hazelnut, Rosebud and Duke, all Labradors, and
Scoop, a golden retriever:

"They're personalities.... Hazelnut is the diva. Rosebud is such a
little mother. Duke and Scoop are two goofballs. They love to run
away. We live in a golf course; the guys bring them back on the golf

Lisa Smith of Sleepy Hallow on her boxers, Ginger and Oscar, her
bulldog, Lola, and her (human) baby, Sofia:

"The dogs sleep with us, and the baby naps with the dogs. She goes
after the dog food, the dog bones, and everything; she thinks shes a
dog. To get her to smile, we have to bark. Lola thinks shes the baby
of the household. I don't even think she thinks the baby is a baby."

"I adore them. We brush their teeth regularly. I dont take them to a
doggy spa, but they swim all summer. They jump off the diving board
and climb up the ladder. Ginger is really a fish. My boxers swim."

"Dr. Henes said I would have more luck teaching the boxer how to
rescue the bulldog from drowning, than actually teaching the bulldog
to swim. We put a life vest on the bulldog. It's a special life vest,
red with black trim. She has that tiger coat, so it looks good on