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Dog-Gone Crazy

Nutty pet people rally at Bark in the Park

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Everyone knows at least one, and if you're nice, you just call the person "passionate." My dog-freak friend, for example, outfits his Rhodesian ridgeback with diapers during her time of the month; he apologizes to her when she poops in the house (because he caused the bowel-irritating stress) and makes her wear a kipa on her head each Friday night for the Jewish Sabbath (which poses philosophical questions too deep for our purposes).

Dog people covet leashless park space like the rest of us value not having to walk in turds. And unfortunately, in Charlotte (aka puppy penitentiary), there are only two such spaces: McAlpine Creek Community Park and Barkingham Park. That's why dog enthusiasts were aplenty at Bark in the Park, a dog festival organized by folks hoping to raise money for more dog parks.

Scott and Becky Wigginton spend three hours a week brushing their two Newfoundlands' fine hair to prevent matting, and the monthly baths take up a whole day. Christie Garland, a dalmatian owner who often coordinates outfits with her dog, Lady Godiva, says she prefers white faces on her pets because she can read their fear, anxiety, happiness and sadness better.

Michael Russ, a local English shephard owner, is considering cloning his dog, Chief. A company in Texas will do it for $30,000. Russ said he got Chief neutered before he realized how superb of a pet he would turn out to be. "I've had five dogs, and Chief is three times better than my second-best dog," said Russ. He plans on selling the clones for $40,000, which is almost a bargain, he figures. He's heard of some guard dogs going for up to $90,000.

Yaron Goldman, wearing a black T-shirt coated with white dog hair, owns eight dogs: five Great Danes, two boxers and a hairless Chinese crested named Barnaby Whitman, which Goldman carried in a baby stroller. Barnaby, a prissy purse dog with hair on the top of its head like a person, won Most Unique Dog, stealing the title from an Irish wolfhound named Jennie Mae, who looked like a freaky cross between a greyhound and a shaggy rat. Jennie Mae was named after owner Ray Murray's grandmothers, both coincidently named Jennie Mae. "I don't think they would be happy if they knew a dog was named in their honor," he said.

The reason I went to the festival was for the dog-human look-a-like contest, which didn't meet my expectation of not being able to distinguish between pet and owner. Glenn Wallach won the contest, dressing in a polka-dot suit, painting his face white with black dots and wearing a beret, all like his dalmatian, Sam. When I asked if he considered his victory cheap -- having assumed his dog's characteristics artificially, rather than by bearing a natural resemblance -- Glenn scoffed and walked away. Alas, sometimes in hardline reporting, your job isn't to make friends.

National Pooper Scooper Week just concluded last Sunday, and the Scooperman, Dan Williams, was behind a "got poop?" banner in his gimmicky Superman costume to celebrate. Scooperman, featured in this space last June, runs his own scooping business and defended himself against people who grimaced at his occupation and costume. "You'll always remember me now," he said. Sparing me the details, Scooperman claimed he can tell when people feed their pets cheap dog food.

The Canine Café had a booth, as well, providing organic, baked dog treats and specializing in doggies with dietary restrictions. For dogs with pancreatitis, the café had a low-cal veggie biscuit without oil. Corn- and wheat-free products were available for dogs with allergies, and organic baked treats for those with diabetes.

At doggy birthday parties, the staff of Canine Café serves pumpkin daiquiris to the pups. The most extravagant party the Canine Café ever threw was for a group of 20 Yorkies all wearing tiaras.

"Yorkie people are their own lot," said co-owner Meredith Greer.

Lindsay Blietz, a dog portrait artist who will paint a jumbo 36-by-48 rendition of your pooch for $300, said humans are more difficult to paint because they all look the same. "There's so much more character in the face of a dog," she said.

Blietz had a portrait of her black Lab, Heinz, on display at a booth with bottles of Heinz ketchup around the border. "I just really like ketchup," Blietz said when asked why the condiment name.

Animal trainer Jay Stutz was at Bark in the Park taking inquiries. Stutz began his training career working with chronically obese humans but grew frustrated that they were so disobedient to his instruction. "Humans learn or train using negative reinforcement," he said, spouting off the negativity: "Do it or else. Don't speed or you're going to get a ticket. Put on your seat belt or you're going to hear a BING BING BING for the next hour."

Stutz, whose dog-training show Good Dog U ran on Animal Planet, says his style is all about positive reinforcement, as opposed to the National Geographic Channel's The Dog Whisperer, which recommends the smackdown approach to particularly difficult dogs. Stutz trained animals in Hollywood for movies and television for eight years, working on films including Ace Ventura and Dr. Dolittle. More than 60 trainers were employed for Ace Ventura 2, and millions of dollars were spent on the animals and trainers. It took Stutz eight months just to train the birds for one scene they were in.

The working dog group is the easiest to train: border collies, Australian shepherds and some retrievers, he said. Those animals have been bred for intelligence, unlike toy breeds -- Yorkies, Malteses, Chihuahuas -- which are bred for cuteness and size. But chows, he said, are the absolute worst breed. They are so disagreeable that Stutz recommends looking at any dog's tongue before getting a new dog. If it has specks of purple on it, then the pup has evil chow blood.

As far as crazy dog people are concerned, Stutz meets the most at dog shows, which he said are uncannily like the movie Best in Show. "Everyone is passionate about their pet, but you do run into people who are really passionate and want to tell you all about it," he said. "They take out their wallets and, boom, boom, boom, boom ­-- they have pictures of their eight dogs all dressed up or posing together ... But if they want to talk to me about their dog wearing a muumuu or a dress or a ballet uniform, I listen to it."

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