• Fashion For Dogs


    Scampering to the Height of Fashion

    </nyt_headline /><nyt_byline version="1.0" type=" " />By MICHELLE SLATALLA (Published: October 28, 2004 in The New York Times)


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    OTTO is a very patient dog.

    He sits with glacial perseverance at the feet of someone eating a salami sandwich. With a look of gentle concern reminiscent of Mother Teresa's beatific gaze, he wills a scrap of the sandwich to fall to the floor - he does not care how long it takes and he does not care if it is only a crumb - and then pounces. In this way, he gets what he wants.

    We brought home a new puppy last week.

    Otto has been ignoring her.

    Meanwhile, she capers under his legs, runs laps around him, gallops up to sniff his nose and attacks his tail while he tries to sleep. Then suddenly she gets exhausted and flops down to nap - using Otto's bone for a pillow.

    Otto is waiting for her to leave.

    "Her name is Sticky," I said.

    He looked away.

    "Be nice to her," I said. "She looks up to you."

    He gave me the skeptical look of an 85-pound Labrador retriever who believes that anything that weighs 4 pounds does not even qualify as a dog.

    "She's just a different breed, a papillon," I said. "Remember how you used to sleep with the cat?"

    As the tiny puppy skittered past, managing somehow to carry one of his tennis balls by its hairs, Otto conveyed with his eyes his fervent hope that I would at least get her some stuff of her own. And soon.

    So I went online to look for miniature tennis balls. Little did I know, as I began to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of sites that cater to the needs and whims of small dogs, that I was about to enter the realm of the nauseatingly cute. Suddenly I was visiting sites with names like teacupspuppies.com, classypets.com and www.thepamperedpu.com.

    I was still a little surprised that I even had a purebred toy breed from a breeder. After a recent column in which I mentioned I was looking, at least 100 readers wrote to chastise me for not considering a rescue dog. So I spent weeks considering dogs at www.petfinder.com, where 163,809 pets were available for adoption one day last week. But in the end, I bought a puppy with a happy, family-friendly personality from a litter bred for temperament.

    "Rescuing a dog is always a good thing," said Gail Miller, spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club. "But it all depends on what you want and what you feel comfortable committing to. So many rescue dogs have special needs because they've been abused in the past or may have emotional problems you don't have time for. It's what fits your lifestyle that you have to think about."

    I ended up with Sticky. And that's how I ended up learning about products like hypoallergenic pet biscotti ($27 for a three-pack at the Pampered Pup site) and the Crown Princess rhinestone-studded collar at morrco.com (priced from $29.99 for a size that would fit Sticky to $49.99 for a size that would fit Otto).

    I could not picture Otto wearing a Crown Princess collar. I could only picture Otto eating a Crown Princess collar or burying it in the mud or carrying it in his mouth like a dead duck as he swam across the pond at the dog park. In fact, as a big-dog owner, at first I had a hard time imagining any useful application for such items at The Puppy Shop as the toy Plus Octopus ($4.99, "lots of legs, lightweight ... squeaker inside") and the leopard print dog jacket ($9.49, "sure to place your dog in the height of fashion").

    Then I noticed that the dog pictured in the leopard print jacket was a papillon. And that the dog in the picture was not shivering the way Sticky does when she goes outside at night.

    I realized I was a small-dog owner, as well.

    "Small dogs are like babies, and they need a whole different set of supplies from big dogs," said Kimberly Walker, co-owner of Teacups, Puppies and Boutiques, a bricks-and-mortar business in Hollywood, Fla., that owns the Teacupspuppies.com site. "During wintertime, they need sweaters because they get chilled. They need small bowls, not a big bowl that's like a bed for them. And tiny tennis balls."

    After ascertaining that Ms. Walker was familiar with big-eared papillons, I confided to her that Sticky was the cutest and smartest one ever born. But, I said, I had one concern. "It's the ears," I said. "Instead of sticking straight out from her head like Sally Field in 'The Flying Nun,' they flop over."

    "It's because she's teething," Ms. Walker reassured me. "Some people tape them up, but they'll go up by themselves. One day you'll look at her and her ears will be up."

    On another topic, she wondered if I had considered a dog carrier. "You could walk around the mall with her in something that looks like a purse or a briefcase, so nobody's the wiser," she said.

    Now that she mentioned it, I had been wondering if I could sneak Sticky into stores with me.

    Ms. Walker recommended that

    I take a look at her other site, mushucanineboutique.com, which features a wide selection of canine carriers she has designed, including the Weekender ($399, looks like a leather overnight case) and quilted leather carriers in four colors, including baby blue and baby pink, ($395, airline-approved).

    Something about them reminded me of my long-lost Barbie carrying case. Intrigued by this new universe of adorable and ridiculously small gear, I felt a reawakening of the same latent tendencies that in my childhood prompted me to line up dozens of pairs of tiny Barbie shoes in color-coded rows beneath matching Barbie frocks and teensy Barbie gloves.

    Suddenly I saw myself inhabiting a world of tiny faux fur coats with matching tiny faux fur blankets (in five colors at allaboutphoebe.com). I still couldn't see myself paying $150 for the faux fur combo. But clearly I had a lot of shopping to do.

    First, a physical reconnaissance mission. My dog-crazy town in northern California harbors a perfect store for my needs. It's called Alpha Dog, it sells tiny leather collars studded with chrome hearts ($30 for size XXS) and it operates an Internet store at alphadog.com.

    As I browsed among the tiny soy protein bones (all natural, $2) and the squeaky stuffed ducks ($10, comes with extra squeaker), the owner noticed I was holding Sticky under my coat.

    "How cute," the owner said. "She looks almost like a papillon."

    "She is a papillon," I snapped. "Her ears are down because she's teething."

    It was a testament to the high quality of the merchandise that despite the unfortunate exchange I couldn't resist buying the duck, the bone and a little leather collar decorated with daisies ($18; a similar style decorated with paws is online at the Alpha Dog Web site).

    For now, I am holding off on major purchases, although I covet the dog sweater emblazoned with a skull and crossbones at smalldogmall.com ($48 for extra-small; the matching leather collar is $18). But at dogtoys.com (where a line on the home page asks, "Squeaker Trouble?"), I bought some miniature tennis balls ($3.95 for a package of three) for Sticky.

    And for Otto? I bought a Happy Dog Jumbo tennis bone ($14.95, in the "Really Rough Toys" category).

    "Notice it's called the Happy Dog bone," I told him as Sticky licked his nose. "Not the resigned, long-suffering, enduring-unspeakable-tortures-in-silence bone."

    Slowly, deliberately, Otto lay down, willing to wait it out.

    E-mail: Slatalla@nytimes.com



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