The New York Times April 3, 2005 BULLETIN: IT'S STILL A DOG'S LIFE... 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 happy. "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 companion." 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 pets. 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 animal. "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 owners." 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 dog. 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 dogs. 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 euthanasia." 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 instructions." 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," she said. KATE STONE LOMBARDI 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 carts." 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 her."