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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Massage and manicure is a dog's life

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yuppie Puppy owner Cheryl Lenart massages Checkers, one of several canine treatments available at her salon in Salt Lake Shopping Center.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ask Gregg Gildersleeve about Eddie and you'd think he was talking about his newborn son.

And in many ways, that's what the Jack Russell terrier is — a cherished, and often pampered, member of the family.

The Kapolei resident admits to splurging on all of his three dogs, but especially on 5-year-old Eddie. Aside from spending too much on frisbees and toys, Gildersleeve even includes Eddie in his Sunday tennis matches, allowing the dog to scramble for the bouncing yellow ball. Eddie, who enjoys a good steak with rice, even has a place setting at the family's dinner table on the deck.

"Let me put it this way," said Gildersleeve, 42 and childless. "I wouldn't spoil my kid the way I spoil my dog. It's pretty bad."

Splurging on pets is nothing new. But over the years the pet industry has taken advantage of lucrative opportunities to profit from pet owners' desires to pamper their pets. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, a not-for-profit trade association, reports that Americans spend more than $20 billion a year on their pets. And that number is expected to rise.

"Ninety-nine percent of my customers pamper their dogs and cats," said Cheryl Lenart, owner of The Yuppie Puppie, a grooming salon in Salt Lake. "It's their baby. It's not a question of what they spend, it's how they want their pet to be treated."

Dogs with everything

Hidden behind Safeway in the Salt Lake Shopping Center, The Yuppie Puppie offers a variety of salon-type services for dogs and cats. Treatments range from the usual trim and shampoo to soothing massages and aromatherapy, costing anywhere from about $30 to $80. Most customers spend between $35 and $45 a visit.

On one recent Friday morning, the salon was bustling with activity. Tasha, the resident Persian cat, greeted customers with a wayward stare, staking out her territory on the computer keyboard at the front desk. Behind the luxuriously spacious tub, complete with a hanging ornamental plant above, dogs and cats waited in cages for their treatments. The movie "Shilo" was playing on the TV as three dogs clamored for attention from passersby. Checkers, a zonked-out shih tzu, patiently watched the salon's two groomers hurry back and forth.

Lenart carried the compliant Checkers to a table in the back room for a massage treatment. After oiling her hands, she gently stroked the dog, using circular motions.

"Here you go, Checkers," Lenart cooed. "Feel good?"

The more she massaged, the lower Checkers got to the table until he was lying chest-down, completely relaxed and apparently experiencing canine euphoria.

Taryn Bundalian, a 26-year-old Mililani resident, takes her silky terrier, Kala, to The Yuppie Puppie for massages.

A frequent salon-goer herself, Bundalian knows special treatments can go a long way toward improving a person's well-being and overall state of mind. So why wouldn't it be the same for a dog?

"After (the massage), he was really mellow all night long and the next day," she said. "He was real calm. It was so good."

Bundalian never thought she'd be like this: "I thought other people were silly. Then I fell right into it. It's just something that happens."

She buys gourmet treats and expensive toys. She has even dressed her dog in a Superman costume for a dog Halloween party and spent more than $200 on his first birthday party at Thomas Square, complete with a pinata, birthday cake and goodie bags for 13 doggie guests. "He's like a child to me," said Bundalian, who is married with no children. "We went to the Pet Expo and there was nothing to buy. He has everything."

Rooms with a view

Cat lovers are just as fanatical about their feline family members.

Jan and Bill Schmidt of Olomana turned their home into the Cozy Cat Lodge, a place where owners can drop off their cats for an extended amount of time. They got the idea when they were looking for a boarding facility for their three cats. Disappointed with what was out there, the Schmidts built their own home-based facility that specializes in individual care and attention. Cost ranges from $8 to $14 per day for each cat, which includes food, bedtime treats and lots of play, attention and care.

The lodge boasts condos and suites with garden views, spacious play areas and in-room aquariums. Jan Schmidt, also a holistic practitioner, minister and guidance counselor, e-mails updates to owners at no extra charge.

Able to house up to 25 cats, the Cozy Cat Lodge has an average of 15 to 20 feline visitors at any given time.

"The pets that come here are children," said Jan Schmidt. "They're already pampered at home. They come here because they want the very best."

Owners are allowed to bring anything they like to the lodge, including favorite toys, beds; one even brought a fountain that the cat enjoys. Jan Schmidt completely understands.

"They are part of our family," she said. "I treat my cats as I've treated my children — with great amount of love, respect and understanding."