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Pampering Our Pets


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Who’s my good buddy, huh? Who’s my little cutie pal? You! Yesss, you!”

Ever hear yourself utter words like those to your special furry, feathered or scaly friend? You’re not alone. You’re probably not even especially neurotic. The intense emotional relationships we have with our pets bypass the ports of sense and logic; transcend race, gender, age, socioeconomic status or any conceivable set of politics.

After 19 years of owning Pet-Tenders, a San Diego pet-sitting service, Sheryl Dagostaro has pretty much seen it all in terms of human-to-animal devotion. “It’s beyond love,” she says. “It’s obsession, at some point.

“Many years ago, when I went to one house in Serra Mesa that had six or eight cats, the husband answered the door with a cat on his head. Not on his shoulders—on his head. The entire house, every room, was set up for the cats. There was no furniture in the living room for humans. There were cat chairs, cat posts, cat furniture from floor to ceiling. The house was not that large. I was surprised the owners lived there.”

Whether or not prospective clients use cats as headwear, Dagostaro conducts 45-minute to hour-long interviews with them regarding pet care, house care and veterinarian information. “Then somebody, usually a woman, will hand us 18 typed pages of instructions,” she says. “We have one client who is a psychiatric nurse. She has several cats, and she wrote a psychological profile on each of them.”

Dagostaro has had many years to contemplate pet owners’ large-scale loving care. “When I first opened my business, I used to think [having pets] was a child substitute, because a lot of people don’t have kids, and these are their babies,” she says. “And that does definitely fit a percentage of the population that we take care of. But then, there are a lot of people who do have children.

“I think animals teach us more than humans,” she says, “because who will love you unconditionally seven days and nights a week, no matter what?” Upon returning home from work, Dagostaro adds, people often greet and hug their pets before their families.

“No matter how your day was, no matter if you’re in a bad mood or a good mood, your dog or cat or bird is happy to see you,” she says. “And they’re just by nature compassionate and sympathetic; they just have those qualities inherently. It doesn’t matter what you look like. They’re color-blind; they’re race-blind. They truly listen and feel telepathically through different senses.”

Those senses are thoroughly pampered at The Golden Paw—an 11,000-square-foot, climate-controlled luxury pet-boarding resort and spa that just opened in the Morena Boulevard business district. Owner Angie Macaluso understands the desire to know that pets are comfortable and happy in one’s absence. “The Golden Paw provides services that were once available only to humans,” she says.

For example, each climate-controlled luxury dog suite boasts individually themed décor, filtered water and classical music. Cats enjoy plush custom-made beds and hiding space for privacy in their 71¼2-foot-tall suites, which are separately ventilated so they don’t share air and become ill. Those so inclined may also watch an aquarium and bird feeders outside their windows.

For canines and felines alike, television sets show such animal-film favorites such as Milo and Otis and Homeward Bound as well as the Animal Planet channel. And each suite is equipped with a Web cam so clients can check in on their pets 24 hours a day (between the thrice-daily playing of recorded owner-to-pet messages). Don’t forget the play and cuddle sessions—or the massage, hydro-surge bathing and aromatherapy services.

Once home again, many people still want to give their nonhuman companions only the best, and Dexter’s Deli in Del Mar aims to meet that demand. The store carries expensive leather collars, clothing, jewelry, fancy feeding dishes, packets of prime catnip—and sells more than 3,000 pounds of fresh food a month. Another popular item: gourmet cakes (sans white flour or sugar) for pet birthdays and—yep—pet weddings complete with pet attendees. The requisite pet greeting cards (“For the Birthday Cat”) are only an aisle or two away.
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