BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Aug 2 — When the temperature here soars and the steaming humidity makes you feel like so much bok choy, you might crave an aromatherapy massage with tea tree oil, or perhaps a nice cooling bath with foaming mousse, without ever having to leave your property.
You can have this. If you are Candice Bergen’s basset hound.
Every day, a white van bearing the pastel-lettered name Spa Dog snakes through the hidden byways of the toniest neighborhoods in Beverly Hills and greater Los Angeles beyond, avoiding traffic on the way to a grooming appointment with a dog.
In the van is Steven Ogden, and his assistant, Golly Gee, a Chihuahua that sports a strand of pink pearls and barks authoritatively (as authoritatively as a Chihuahua can) at dogs that refuse to get into the bath.
Mr. Ogden, a former television producer, gave up the 9-to-5 two years ago and took over the mobile grooming business from the woman who had cared for his dog and trained him in her trade. He added hydrotherapy baths, aromatherapy and massage for those dogs whose owners love them and are willing to part with $90 to show it.
His client list could be from the BlackBerry of a Hollywood executive, and he often pampers as many as 14 dogs a day, which he says is far more relaxing than working in the television business: “I got tired of the human dramas.”
Mobile dog grooming units have mushroomed in the past 10 years, with dozens of such businesses in Los Angeles, one of the first cities to offer them as an alternative to traditional pet salons, where a smattering of dogs in recent years have been killed by overly hot hair dryers.
Mr. Ogden said he chose the spa theme to differentiate himself from grooming vans, many of them owned by franchises, that offer just cleaning and clipping.
Dogs, as it turns out, are more lucrative than cop shows.
“Ten years ago, this business wouldn’t have worked because people didn’t care about their dogs the way they do now,” said Mr. Ogden, who used to rescue pigeons in his youth, as he prepared his van, which is fully appointed with a bath, mobile grooming table and plastic containers filled with cotton swabs, shampoos and bows. “Dogs have become like children now. People want the best for them.”
The advantages he offers over pet-store grooming, he says, are that animals get individual treatment, rather than sitting in a mass of cages under a giant blow-dryer, and there is no dragging the dog away from home. His van offers a gentle experience for a grooming-averse dog, he said, with extras, like nail polish (“for special occasions”) and hair dye, if an owner craves a dog with a pink tail for Easter.
“Some dogs, when they hear my truck, just come running,” said Mr. Ogden, as Buck, a lumbering bull mastiff owned by the music producer whose assistant is romantically involved with the dog walker of the rock star, also a client, hopped in the van.
Buck, whose snout alone dwarfs the entire body of Golly Gee, offered up his paw for a gentle clip, and stared expectantly at the tub.
As Mr. Ogden rubbed him with soap and the Jacuzzi pump doled out its stuff, Buck licked at the air with pleasure, and sat slack jawed through his paw massage.
“Remember, this is a dog that head-butted his way through a plate glass window because he didn’t like the gardener,” Mr. Ogden said proudly.
Buck got a kiss on the head, a sniff test of sorts, (“Because that is exactly what is going to happen when they get in the house”) and then it was Moose’s turn.
A rescued dog hampered by fear and distrust, Moose needed to be muzzled for his clipping. (Mr. Ogden said he had never been bitten, but he said he refused to groom dogs who snarl at him. He also does not do poodles with a show clip, which requires elaborate styling.)
Mr. Ogden’s phone rang. A client going out of town would be leaving a picture with the housekeeper of how she would like her Labradoodle (part Labrador retriever, part poodle) to be trimmed.
Next stop: Ms. Bergen’s home in a gated area of Beverly Hills, where the mailbox is in the shape of a dog. Dickles the basset hound was delivered for his weekly bathing, and later Phyllis, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel mix, whose eyes flickered with tension as Mr. Ogden carefully blew out each strand of her hair so as not to spook her.
“She really is the princess,” he said of Phyllis, not Ms. Bergen, who, as it turned, out was very nice when she greeted Mr. Ogden and looked swell in a polo shirt.
In the dogs-are-like-their-owners category, Mr. Ogden said, people who do not bother to comb their own hair also neglect the grooming of their dogs. Likewise, clients who have problems with respecting personal space have dogs with the same.
People whose pets are farmed out to the help, he said, are left with lonely dogs that look forward to his visits.
Anyone feeling skeptical about Mr. Ogden’s devotion to animals would be moved by the gentle attention he gave to the ears of Kodiac, an aging golden retriever whose many operations and arthritis have rendered him unable to hop into the van.
Mr. Ogden bathed him in the front lawn of his owner’s home in Beverly Park, whispering soft words of comfort.
“I have lost a few dogs to old age,” Mr. Ogden said. “It definitely hurts. You wash a dog every week for two years, there definitely is a bond.”
To find a professional to pamper your pet, visit VetLocator.com's Other Pet Professionals section or our Alternative/Holistic directory. In these you will find not only spas and therapists, but many other pet services to make your pet feel like it comes from the zip code 90210!