Darla, Chelsea and Coco Puff share a quaint Victorian-style home in the Riverside County community of Winchester. Their dwelling has a cedar shake roof, vaulted ceilings and hardwood floors, heating and air conditioning, moldings and casement windows, drapery with valances and fanciful wallpapers. This time of year, Christmas music from the RCA Victor radio carries outside to the grassy front yard surrounded by a white picket fence.
A sign on the porch reads: “Three spoiled dogs live here.”
For Yorkshire terriers Chelsea and Coco Puff and sassy Pomeranian Darla, Mom is Tammy Kassis, 45, a former insurance agent. To call her an animal lover is an understatement.
“I’m beyond that,” she says, later adding with conviction, “my dogs are my life.”
Kassis is also the owner of 2-year-old Rio, a Doberman pinscher, and a pair of Arabian horses, Cheval and Page -- “as in, page me some love,” she says.
Five years ago, when she and her husband, advertising executive Sam Kassis, were living in a Victorian home in Temecula, she decided the dogs needed their own place.
“It was a great place for the horses, but it was so rural I was afraid for the dogs. An owl almost carried off Coco Puff,” Tammy Kassis recalls, cringing.
But not just any old doghouse would do.
Surfing the Internet, she happened upon Alan Mowrer’s La Petite Maison (lapetitemaison.com), a builder of deluxe custom doghouses.
“I can do any style,” says Mowrer, whose repertoire includes French chateaux, Tudor mansions, Swiss chalets and brick Colonial. Kassis requested a Victorian: an exact replica of her own home.
But doggie mansions don’t come cheap. La Petite Maison’s start at $6,000, and that price does not include landscaping, furnishings or shipping. Kassis guesstimates she has invested nearly $20,000 in construction, transport and equipment if she includes the painting, landscaping, screened doors and windows, mini blinds and ceiling fans, as well as a backyard with artificial turf.
You get the picture.
Her Lebanese-born husband’s initial response to the tricked-out doghouse: “No way.”
A month of gourmet Mediterranean meals -- and the prospects of no more canine potty accidents in the house -- softened him up.
When the couple moved to a new home in Winchester this summer, Kassis refused to leave behind the dogs’ house. A long flatbed truck and a 45-ton crane were required to transport the 5,000-pound home.
Today, the three little dogs live in their 8-by-11-foot abode, which Kassis has decorated in what she calls “French boutique.” Just above the chair rail is a wallpaper frieze of Parisian shopping bags; a lamp shaped like a handbag lights the room. Overhead, a small fan whirs, circulating the air; dog photos decorate the walls. A vintage dresser holds the dogs’ clothing.
“My mother buys them most of the outfits,” Kassis says. “She treats them like they’re grandchildren.”
Each dog has its own bed. Although Coco Puff has a spiffy wrought-iron berth in the doghouse’s turret, he prefers to sleep with Darla on her leopard lounge. Chelsea, on the other hand, gets completely out of sorts when anyone nears her canopy bed.
“She can get very aggressive -- a very naughty girl,” says Kassis, stroking the half-blind, senior pup.
Sitting just outside the picket fence, 85-pound Rio looks wistfully into the yard.
“He’s not allowed in unless I’m here to supervise,” Kassis explains. “They all get along, but if he gets excited he could step on them.”
For the holidays, Kassis plans to string white lights around the house and install an artificial tree. Large, faux lollipops are staked in the flower bed around the house.
Also, she confides, Santa is planning a big surprise for “the kids.”
She has her eye on a small plasma screen TV.
“They love to watch Animal Planet,” Kassis says. “It’s their favorite.”