Dog Grooming in 1977

Thursday, September 7, 2017

This post originally appeared in the March 1977 issue of the AVENUE.

There was a time when a dog’s life wasn’t so easy. Take Rin-Tin-Tin, for instance, the model for so many other hardy but beleaguered canines with names like Rex and Fido, who were continually forced to heel, fetch, and chase down the badmen whom their masters were too slow to collar. Once, too, dogs were expected to mind their manners. Never, but never, were they permitted to litter sidewalks, at least not in front of their own apartment buildings.

The problem is that dogs, like many of their masters, have become soft and bourgeois. The simple life – food, exercise, an occasional shot of schnapps – is passé. Dogs are sybarites living in Manhattan’s material world. And who can blame them? Why put up with all the hassles here, they sniff, if you can’t sample New York’s posh settings and wear up-to-date fashions?

There is de luxe doggie service to cater to every whimper. Maybe your dog is tired of togetherness. He needs the company of his peer group, or to get away for the weekend. If so, there are several pet spas right here in town for him. If it’s a sparkling view of the East River he craves, the place is the one-hundred-and-sixteen-room Kennelworth – “New York’s Luxury Hotel for Pets.”

Located on 72nd Street, the Kennelworth, as the brochure points out, “is not a kennel. Make no mistake about that. Instead of cramped, stark cages, the Kennelworth has spacious private rooms that look like colorful chateaux ranged around an indoor village green. The walls of each room are gaily painted and instead of wires or bars on the front there’s clear, shatterproof glass.”

At up to thirty-one dollars and fifty cents a day (for triple accommodation of a fifty-five-foot-square room), the Kennelworth, like any good resort, sports a “Groom Room” which will “reproduce any cut you describe or create a stylesetter for your pet alone,” and a boutique that is “perfect for finding a special birthday present for your pet.” The brochure goes on to say that “while the Kennelworth doesn’t have clay tennis courts or an eighteen-hole golf course, it does have runs convenient to all rooms.”

Exercise, we discovered after strolling to the hotel’s manorial grounds via the “exclusive gallery of canine and feline guests,” again quoting the brochure, takes place entirely indoors. “It’s much cleaner and healthier than it is outside,” our guide explained. But may just be that most of the guests prefer their privacy, for most of them howled fiercely at our approach. “They get very upset when people come around,” we were informed. The atmosphere, besides being freshly ventilated every ten minutes, is also quite cosmopolitan, with canines from the outlying suburbs and as far away as Boston vacationing there.

In the pantry there is a pegboard with special feeding instructions. The English bull in Room Forty takes for his morning repast, “one tablespoon of cottage cheese and two slices American cheese.” The keepers recall one poodle who ate “only steak cooked in butter, with a side of tossed salad.” A check with the help also revealed that, like vacationers at Club Med, some of these pampered pooches do indeed have their peccadilloes. There are many heretofore muzzled tales of romance that began at this luxurious getaway, only to end in acrimony when love was unrequited and the couples (and, occasionally, trios) had to be forcibly separated in different rooms. With such goings-on, “we literally have turn ‘me away on weekends,” reported a desk clerk.

Of course, even a much-needed vacation is no substitute for day-in, day-out contentment. Because of changing canine tastes and the recent bitter winter, reports the Wall Street Journal, there has been a run on “hats, sweaters, blankets and scarves for dogs and cats,” the hottest item being “vinyl dog boots.” Not even Sergeant Preston’s faithful huskie King had it so good.

But he would have if he had lived in New York, claims Karen Thompson, proprietor of Karen’s dog boutique on Lexington Avenue between 82nd and 83rd Streets. Karen’s window display features her fifty-five dollar “fun coats,” in denim styles with slogans such as “super CB Operator” and pictures of Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman stitched to them. Buzzing us into an uncluttered store with modular furniture, Karen brandished a box with the requisite total of four boots which retail for four dollars and ninety-nine cents. In the city, she noted, “the dogs’ pads are burned open by the salt” strewn on sidewalks to melt the ice, making vinyl footwear a necessity, not a luxury.

Not all of Karen’s goods are so utilitarian. Her specialty has been called “designer doggiewear,” and when she opened her shop last year her goal was to create “a chic place for dogs,” she explained. “People would be able to sit in a nice boutique where the dogs wouldn’t pee on the floor, although they sometimes do.” Looking pretty chic herself in a knickers-and-hooded sweater combination, the former buyer for Bonwit’s showed us her line. “I don’t sell five different shampoos,” she declared. “I sell only the one I think is best.”

One of Karen’s most striking creations is a coat which slips over the dog’s head and body, with adjustable buttons at the neck. At prices ranging from twenty to fifty-five dollars, there is quite a variety of styles: French denim with appliqued designs; U.S. Army “survival denim”; khaki, with a patriotic “Stars and Stripes” motif, canvas with snakeskin; shiny black cire fabric; flannel with lizard skin (“That’s from the whole lizard”); and one of the most popular styles, a blanket plaid. “Everything we carry is interlined,” Karen added.

The coats will start moving again next fall, but in the meantime, sixteen dollars will buy a leash of cotton webbing covered with snakeskin. For eleven dollars, there are tee-shirts emblazoned with the message, “I love me.” (Other choices: I love westies, mutts, pugs, yorkies, shih tzu, frogs, schnauzers, poodles) Sweaters retail for six dollars and ninety-nine cents to eight-ninety-nine, and matching hats for three-ninety-nine. And for cold nights, there are flannel pajamas for twelve dollars and ninety-eight cents.

Karen’s also offers grooming services and special victuals. At fifty-nine cents a can, or sixteen dollars and fifty cents a case, five flavors of organic dog food are available: beef, liver, chicken, veal, and fish. The labels list ingredient such as wheat germ, soybean meal, carrots, oats, onions yeast, whey, dolomite, lecithin, and dried kelp. There is also a plentiful supply of pup chips in bags on the wall.

Keeping up with the trends, Karen’s also stocks little art deco barrets for longhairs, and there is a rhinestone barrett for four dollars and fifty cents. And, like many fashionable East Side stores, Karen’s window display changes every two weeks, a recent scene being two dogs fighting over a coat.

Before the door closed behind us, Karen asked one customer how she wanted her poodle to be groomed. “Just give her a little beard,” was the reply. The poodle shivered. “She’s not usually this nervous,” said the customer, patting the poodle tenderly, “but she just had an operation.” Clearly the expression “a dog’s life” has more bark than bite.


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