A place for the canine set

Times Staff Writer

Through the sickly sweet fog of designer fragrances, past gleaming cosmetics counters, the giant, furry critter pads across the polished tile. The prim sales clerks don't even bat an eye. They might even reach behind cases of creams and powders to pull out a treat.

Welcome to Orange County's unofficial dog mall, otherwise known as Fashion Island -- an upscale collection of shops and restaurants in the even more upscale enclave of Newport Beach. Startling as it may be to out-of-town shoppers, dogs are everywhere, even inside Bloomingdale's, Neiman Marcus and Macy's.

The outdoor mall draws throngs of people and their four-legged companions of all sizes. Weekend crowds of pampered pooches sniff fountains, benches and each other.

In typical Southern California style, a flawlessly dressed woman glides by in black sunglasses, pink shopping bag slung over her shoulder, a white poodle tucked under her arm -- the dog coordinating perfectly with her outfit.

"Dogs have become the new kids," said Kathy Jones, manager of Muttropolis, a high-end pet store that's the focal point of Fashion Island's dog-friendly culture. "You tend to spoil them."

Such as the couple pushing their Chihuahua-mix Daisy through the shop in a pet stroller as they browsed for a new halter for her, killing time before the dog's turn with a pet masseuse.

"We usually take her with us wherever we go," said Gina Mirigliani, 30, an occupational therapist from San Pedro.

Some dog owners grumble that other malls bar pets, or that shoppers aren't exactly thrilled by puppy customers. The Grove, Los Angeles' huge shopping mecca, once limited canine visitors to 25 pounds but now allows dogs of all sizes -- as long as they're friendly, a spokeswoman said.

South Coast Plaza, the sprawling indoor mall in Costa Mesa, allows only service animals for disabled shoppers, according to employees.

But Fashion Island takes more of a dog's-eye view. One store staged a doggie fashion show to launch a doggie fragrance (yes, really), and arranged pet photo specials.

"Everybody loves dogs" at Fashion Island, said Joey Magazzu, 53, lounging at an outdoor table with his wife, Sandra, and their two Jack Russell terriers. The couple love chatting up other dog people and giving their pets the chance to socialize. "They need more places like this where you can bring your dog," he said.

Seeing dogs weave in and out of rows of couture handbags and shoes can be "sort of surreal, in a way," said shopper Robyn Grant, 45, an attorney and member of the Newport Beach arts commission. Yet, in a place where puppies often serve as accessories, "it's just sort of apropos."

All that paw traffic comes with the occasional indoor bathroom-related accident, mall employees said. And it sometimes results in strange human behavior: "I see women holding their dog in their purse and carrying their wallet" in their hand, said Bloomingdale's Diesel brand specialist Bao Nguyen.

On private property, it's up to the owner to decide if dogs are allowed, with the exception of service animals, said Ryan Drabek, a spokesman for O.C. Animal Care. (Service animals that assist disabled people are allowed access everywhere.) As a result, most of Fashion Island's stores make their own rules on whether to allow dogs.

The pro-pet atmosphere draws shoppers from all corners of Orange County. Sue Santana, 34, trekked up from San Clemente with her French bulldog and pug. "We could go to San Clemente" to shop, she said, "but it's not worth it, it's not dog-friendly."

Even Italian eatery Francoli Gourmet is in on the act, inviting dogs onto the restaurant's patio and plying them with treats.

"Sundays, it's our big day," said manager Luis Mojica. "It gets to the point where there's almost a dog at every table." But even Francoli has limits -- no dogs indoors, or on chairs.

Mostly, though, the Newport Beach destination is doggie paradise. Doniqua Hoffman drove down from the high-desert town of Phelan with her Pomeranian, Milli, dolled up in a little pink outfit, for Muttropolis' annual doggie "spaw" day.

"I'd be lost without the dogs," Hoffman said. "We're so addicted."



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