Pampered pets

Special foods, clothes, purfume for pets growing to a $1 billion industry -- area residents not exempt

Every dog has its day, goes the old cliche. And it seems that most pets are having their day right now.

Gone are the days when Fido slept outside, got the occasional brushing, and was thrown in a hole in the ground when he died. Today's pets have beds, are groomed by trained professionals,and are cremated and put in an urn at death.

Reality television star and hotel heiress Paris Hilton isn't the only one coddling her sweater-clad, bootie-shod Chihuahua these days. Pampering pets isn't just a Beverly Hills or New York City trend. Along with the rest of the nation, Craig's residents care for their dogs as if they were part of the family. And along with that new status, today's pets lead more comfortable lives than ever before.

B. J. Stevens has worked in the pet industry for 40 years. During the last five years, he said he's seen more advances in pet products than in the entire 35 years prior to that.

At Baker Drive Pets, Stevens sells virtually anything a pet or its owner could desire. Have a snake with clingy skin? Buy him some shedding aid. Keep the turtle's eyes clean with special turtle eye drops. If a lizard struggles to find that one comfortable temperature, buy him an electronically heated rock.

In this modern age, no animal should be nutrient deficient, thanks to the advent of vitamins specially formulated for just about every pet imaginable. And parrots and parakeets should never be bored with the same old dinner again, since seeds ranging from salads to fruits to conditioners for out-of-shape birds are now available on the market.

Pet products are a billion-dollar industry, Stevens said. New products appear on the market almost daily, due to constantly improving technology and increasing consumer demand. Stevens chalks that demand up to people looking to find some solace in a cruel world.

"You can't even turn on the news without seeing blood and gore," Stevens said. "But you can come home and your dog doesn't care what your day has been like. It takes the pressure off because they don't ask you for anything."

Kinder, gentler training

Stevens might be on to something. Even dog training classes, once conducted like boot camp for hounds, are now family classes, closely akin to counseling sessions.

Sandra Cruczek has taught dog classes since the late 1970s. Today she teaches family dog training classes in Craig in the fall and spring. The class is open to any dog that has received at least two distemper booster shots, and the dogs' entire family is encouraged to attend.

"It brings the family together to understand how to live with the dog so it can flourish and survive," Cruczek said. "If people can't learn, it puts the dog in peril."

Cruczek said it isn't enough to make the dog sit and stay. Because dogs are pack animals, they need to learn how to live in their pack, which in this case, is their owners' family.

"When you talk about fostering a relationship, you talk about teaching boundaries. These animals were created to live in packs, and in a pack you can bet the other dogs would be saying no all the time. So people need to know when to say yes and no," Cruczek said.

The classes run for two hours a week for eight weeks. Around week four or five, Cruczek begins agility training with the dogs, exercising them on jumps and rails. But beyond improving the dog's coordination, the training forms a bond of trust between pet and owner.

Each class session costs $150, but what is the worth of a well-trained dog if he doesn't at least look pretty?

Grooming more than cosmetic

That's where Vana McCoy, owner of Paws-A-Tively Pet Grooming, enters the picture. On one typical afternoon, McCoy had four Shih Tzus, three miniature schnauzers, and a toy poodle in her grooming shop. Some of the dogs were put in cages after being groomed, but others roamed the room, perfectly behaved, but begging for attention.

Pookie, a male Shih Tzu, sat in the tub and watched as McCoy brushed and shaved his mate, Tisha. Both dogs belong to Craig resident George Lewis. They have three-week standing appointments for a bath and brush. Every other session, they get a full grooming.

McCoy has been grooming dogs for six years, since completing 400 hours of training at Critter Clips School of Dog Grooming in Colorado Springs. Like Pookie and Tisha, most of the dogs she grooms come on a regular basis. In the spring, she sees many ranch dogs for their annual shave and anti-flea treatment.

Some of the dogs in the shop wore bandanas and bows, but McCoy's work is more than just cosmetic. A clean coat is a major health issue. McCoy has seen ranch dogs with skin abscesses from cheat grass that worked down through their matted hair. And while many people normally think of dogs as fleabags, McCoy said if a flea problem gets bad enough, a dog can develop severe anemia and eventually die.

But Pookie and Tisha never have to worry about suffering those complications. McCoy gave Pookie a melaleuca bath to treat his greasy skin. It's important to use specially formulated, digestible dog shampoo because dogs lick themselves after baths.

She scrubbed the pads of his feet with a massage brush, and washed the underside of his ears, because dogs' ears always stink. She took special care to dry his ears, using a cotton ball and boracetic flush, a formulated ear treatment. Dogs are especially susceptible to ear infections, and black stripes inside Pookie's ears marked a recent otitis infection.

Pookie wouldn't get a haircut until his next visit, when McCoy plans to give him a rough cut before his bath, and a fine cut afterwards, including a sanitary belly shaving, so urine and feces won't muss his coat. McCoy finished his grooming by wrapping a patchwork bandana around his neck. When owner George Lewis arrived, both dogs practically climbed over the counter trying to get to him.

Saying good-bye

But even after providing their pets with all the training, grooming and love they can, most owners will still outlive their animals. It's a sad experience Stan Scholes endured when he had to put his 13-year old black lab to sleep. Scholes asked the veterinarian if he could dispose of the dog, and the vet said he would take him to the dump.

"There was no way he was taking my dog to the dump just to dump him off," Scholes said.

Scholes loaded the dog into his car, drove him to Denver, and had him cremated. His wife then suggested they start at a pet crematorium in Craig. Scholes didn't think it would fly, but he gave it a shot, and after purchasing all the equipment of a regular crematorium, just of a smaller scale, he said he has a successful business on County Road 18.

January and February are his best business months. Many people want their pets with them for the holidays, and so wait to put them to sleep until the new year has begun. He also gets business from Steamboat Springs tourists whose dogs died while on vacation. They don't want to leave their pet behind, so they have him cremated and take him home, to spread the ashes in a favorite place.

Many animals die shortly after their owners, Scholes said. So surviving family members have the it cremated, then hold a dual memorial service.

Scholes charges $50 to $200 to cremate a dog, depending on its size.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 213 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com

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