Love Your Pet: An Introduction

Everything you need to care for your dog or cat: top vets, pet sitters, kennels, and more. Plus--adopting a pet, great places togo w?th your dog, and what's coolin fish, birds, and reptiles.√

By: Julie Lawson

Web cams to keep an eye on your dog are one thing. But hiring a nanny?

When I was a child, my dog lived outside, sleeping under a cedar tree and eating dry kibble out of an old metal bowl. Never mind that he was a purebred springer spaniel; he was a dog, and dogs lived outside.

Fast-forward 20 years. My two rescue mutts sleep nestled between my husband and me and have sleepovers with a dogsitter whenever we leave town.

The quality of life for many pets has greatly improved, with an astonishing array of services and products--everything from holistic groomers and cardiology centers to designer toys and companies that clean up your yard. Five years ago, the Washington area had one daycare center for dogs. Now there are more than a dozen.

Pets have become part of the family, sometimes given the attention once reserved for children--and then some. A survey by the American Animal Hospital Association found that 70 percent of pet owners have no children living at home.

Lee Monsein cares for his dog much as he would a child. The neuroradiologist wired his American University Park home for Web cams in 1997 to keep an eye on his property. Monsein soon realized he could also keep an eye on Rave, his boxer, all day.

When Rave died of renal failure--despite dialysis at the University of Pennsylvania--Monsein got a new boxer, Rave II. With his schedule, Monsein couldn't make trips home to walk the puppy. So like many working parents, he hired an au pair. The nanny, a 19-year-old from Germany, lives in his house rent-free in exchange for attending to Rave.

Monsein, a childless bachelor, doesn't consider the care he gives his dog unusual. Chuen-Yen Lau doesn't think she's over the top either when it comes to caring for her iguana.

Lau got Rhm (pronounced "room," it stands for Rapid Head Movement) in college 16 years ago. After moving to Bethesda from her native Los Angeles, Lau, an HIV-vaccine researcher at the National Institutes of Health, bought a five-bedroom house rather than rent so five-foot-long Rhm could have a deck to sun herself. One of the bedrooms belongs to Rhm and is furnished with a Persian rug, coffee table, window perch, and toys. Heating pads and special lights keep the cold-blooded lizard warm.

Rhm finds local produce less tasty than the offerings out west, so Lau buys fresh fruits and greens at Balducci's, supplemented by mangoes and raspberries shipped from California, courtesy of her mother. Lau admits that Rhm's groceries are a luxury. As for why she pampers her iguana, Lau says, "Rhm is my family here."

Think some people are too extravagant with pets? You say you'd never go to these lengths? Maybe not. But according to the AAHA, 95 percent of pet owners have said "I love you" to their animals.

Whether we're spoiling our pets or just taking good care of them is up for debate. With all the choices today, one thing is certain: Washington pet owners can find whatever level of care they want.

Here are pet services--veterinarians, groomers, kennels, and more--that excel in providing care and supplies. Businesses are listed on the basis of multiple recommendations by local vets and Washingtonian readers and on personal experiences.

Also in this section, you'll find

• advice on choosing a pet and where to find a good cat or dog

• coping with a pet's death

• the pleasures of aquariums

• good places to take your dog

• a look at what's hot in exotic pets

• the diary of a dog walker

• dog people versus cat people, and more.