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Every Dog Will Have His Day: Canine Fetes Are Latest Rage

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Cubbie’s “mom,” Harriet Shapiro, clasped her hands and shrieked with delight when she saw little Sophie approaching the party, decked out in a pink party ribbon.

“Oh, hello, Sophie, welcome to the party,” Shapiro said as the 11-pound Yorkshire Terrier approached with owner Helen Mycorn. Sophie, a little shy, sniffed her way around the patio of the Garden Grove Dairy Queen where the party was being held. Mycorn, meanwhile, wished Cubbie, the birthday dog, a happy birthday and presented the 1-year-old with a wrapped gift.

From modest gatherings with dog-bone-decorated ice cream cups to more elaborate bashes at neighborhood restaurants, dog parties are becoming de rigueur for the trendy pet-owning set. And the invitations are going to the dogs--literally--addressed to guests like Sir Dudley Lov-A-Lot, Rambo and Hershey.

Huntington Beach restaurant owner Mike Bartusick said he has had about a dozen dog parties already this year and plans to revamp his party packages to offer more enticing delicacies and treats to his canine celebrants.

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“A lot of people are becoming more gourmet-ish,” Bartusick said of dog owners’ desires to treat their pets and human guests well. “We’re trying to create a total package that will make it much simpler.”

Bartusick’s restaurant, the Park Bench Cafe in Huntington Beach’s Central Park, is a natural setting for a dog bash. The cafe has long been a gathering spot for dog walkers, who are particularly fond of its Doggie Menu, which includes Hot Diggity Dogs and Hound Dog Heaven burgers.

The restaurant’s current birthday party package, which retails for $3.95 a pooch with a required guest list of six, includes a beef jerky appetizer and beef broth as a beverage. A cake of wheat germ and liver with peanut butter frosting can be specially ordered.

The Park Bench, in a popular outdoor area, is an obvious canine party venue, but more offbeat locations like the Garden Grove DQ are gaining popularity. Franchise owner Chuck Perry said Cubbie’s birthday party was the first of what he hopes will be many pooch patio parties.

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Once he booked Cubbie’s big day, Perry went to the trouble of wrapping a ground-level table in a doggie-print tablecloth and cutting out place mats in dog-bone shapes for the guests. Each canine received a dish of vanilla ice cream and an assortment of bones, while the adults munched on burgers and fries.

“Statistics from pet product manufacturers confirm that dog owners are increasingly buying products for their pets at Christmas, holidays and yes, even their birthdays,” said Betty Liddick, editor of Dog Fancy. The magazine for dog owners recently published an article offering advice for planning pet birthday parties.

The advice? Hold the event in a park or yard, include games and a Frisbee competition, and always serve a cake. The editors included a cake recipe and a notation that only low-fat cheese should be used to avoid gastrointestinal upset.

“The parties are fun and celebrate the dog and the dog owner bond,” Liddick said.

That bond is what led the Shapiros to honor Cubbie on his 1st birthday, Harold Shapiro said. Out of work with a disability, Shapiro said he and his wife bought 7-week-old Cubbie last year as a companion.

“He’s our baby,” Shapiro said. “The kids are grown and out of the house. He’s a special little dog.”

Dog Fancy’s Liddick said research indicates that an increase of single-person households is also directly related to the dog party trend.

Patti Welker, a single owner of two mixed-breed dogs named Molly and Max, can attest to that. Last month she began holding weekly dog parties in her yard, inviting all the canines in her Santa Ana neighborhood.

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“It was pretty funny,” Welker said of the first bash, which drew 10 dogs and 15 people. “The dogs fought over the toys, and I forgot to turn the automatic sprinkler off, so they all got wet.”

Like a typical children’s birthday party, the Santa Ana gathering drew a neighborhood bully dog and a wallflower pet who tried to hide behind a bush. “It was like that huge, 95-pound dog was saying, ‘My mother made me come, but I’m not going to have fun,’ ” Welker said of the shy canine guest.

“I’m pretty weird about my dogs,” Welker acknowledged. “They’re like my surrogate children. I have no children, and that’s why I’m a weird dog owner. I get my mothering out--whatever little I have. They become your children.”


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