Take Shamus, for example. Former Pleasanton Police Chief Bill Eastman and his wife DiAnn believe that they are "owned" by their lively little white Westie.
"I used to be in charge," Eastman said jokingly. "Shamus trained me, the squirrels, and other varmints."
Part of the "training" involves Eastman taking Shamus for daily walks in a neighborhood park, where the eight-year-old Westie has seniority among a pack of pooch pals. Before that outing, however, DiAnn prepares a breakfast for Shamus consisting of healthy cottage cheese--topped by freshly cooked bacon strips.
Cleo and Alan Foster are owned by Socky, a dog they rescued from an animal shelter for their son when Eric was in fifth grade. Now Socky prefers lounging on "her" leather couch in front of the large-screen TV, where family members have been trained to offer generous tummy-rubs.
Socky's favorite treats come from Three Dog Bakery on St. Mary Street downtown.
"She's crazy about their 'pupcakes,'" said Foster, who also purchased one of the store's bling-blings, a silver leather collar adorned with rhinestones "for special occasions."
Three Dog Bakery opened in Pleasanton in 2006 at 335 St. Mary St., half a block west of Main Street. Longtime Pleasanton residents may recall when that location was a people bakery, the original home of Nolan's Cakes.
"I got my Amador Valley High School graduation cake here, and also my wedding cake," said Kathy Moreno, whose business card identifies her as the "Cookie Mogul" for Three Dog Bakery. "Who'd have guessed that this is where I'd be in business now?"
Established in 1989, Three Dog Bakery has stores in Japan and Canada as well as in the United States. Moreno did a Google search to contact them, and they agreed to grant her a trademark license after months of persistence on her part.
"That means I run my own show and choose what other products I offer in addition to the Three Dog Bakery line," noted Moreno, who takes pride in her one-of-a-kind store.
Moreno traveled to the company's headquarters in Kansas for three days' training with their head pastry chef, who in turn brought a team to her store for on-site training before the grand opening.
"I bake cakes and cookies here, and order prepackaged goods from the company," said Moreno.
Her most popular product? Bone-shaped birthday cakes for dogs, personalized with the name of the canine guest of honor, using carob frosting. ($10 for small, $18 for a size large enough to share with pooch pals.) The cakes are offered in three flavors: peanut butter, carob (like chocolate chips, only dog-healthy), and wheat-free (for dogs with allergies). The cakes and smaller "pupcakes" are made of people-quality ingredients, with no salt or sugar. Applesauce or honey is used as sweeteners, and the frosting is made with a yogurt or buttermilk base. Even the food colorings are natural: carob, wheat, tomato, or turmeric powders.
Dogs are welcome to drop in with their owners, and they are greeted with treats and fresh water.
"That's what's so fun about this business," said Moreno. "No one comes in a bad mood."
Moreno admitted she knows more of the dogs by names than the people they own. Perhaps that is in part due to the photo display of doggy visitors. Included in that display is Maggie, Moreno's very first customers. Cyril and Diana Bonanno, owned by Maggie, live just down the street.
"Mr. Bonanno was my high school counselor," said Moreno, who appreciated the Bonannos' encouragement and visits while she was setting up her business.
Maggie has her own toy box and a colorful assortment of stuffed animals that are her treasured pets. When she hears the word "walk," she rushes into the laundry room to retrieve her own leash, and then, each day, takes the Bonannos on a 2-mile walk.
One of Maggie's most unusual accessories is a pair of "Doggles," goggles to protect the eyes of dogs that lean out car windows when traveling.
"We just love this dog!" Cyril Bonanno said. "We take her everywhere."
Jim and Joanie Fields are owned by Penny, an American cocker spaniel that they adopted eight years ago from puppies on display at the East Bay SPCA booth during a First Wednesday street party on Main Street. Now that Jim has retired from teaching, Penny takes him for a walk every day the full length of Main Street and back again.
"In many ways, dogs are easier than children," said Fields. "They never talk back, and they always appreciate you, especially when they are welcoming you home."
For the past six months, Penny Fields has had another stop, at Murphy's Paw, the second dog boutique to open downtown. Located at 410 Main, Murphy's Paw is the dream-come-true for owners Melanie and Mike Sadek. Named after their golden retriever, the shop is designed to look like a ladies' boutique. In fact, women can buy pet-themed jewelry designed by a local veterinarian. For an investment of just over $200, a buyer can have a unique designer tote-bag personalized with an enlargement of their pet's photo.
Speaking of photos, every dog that enters the store is photographed and incorporated into a TV monitor on continuous, random display. This was Mike's creation, since he is employed in San Ramon as a software specialist. The first display screen, over the cash register area, has been augmented by a second screen in the front window, where people can stop by at any time of the day or night to try to catch a glimpse of their dog among the more than 1,400 now on the video.
"We honestly wouldn't be here if people did not treat their dogs like family members, not like accessories or like property," Mike Sadek said.
He and Melanie have tried to create a place where dogs and people enjoy being together, sponsoring such events as "Yappy Hour," with treats for dogs and their owners. There's a Yappy Hour tonight, in fact, from 6-8 p.m.
Melanie, who formerly worked for the American Automobile Association's office in San Francisco and commuted up to three hours a day, is very enthusiastic about her new career.
"I get to play with dogs! And we have great customers," she said. "The whole thing is fun."
Besides Yappy Hours, the Sadeks sponsored "Santa Paws," a photo fundraiser for special needs dogs last winter, hosted a spring "Paw-loroid" event for Tri-Valley Animal Rescue, and in July will host an ice-cream social. And in August, they will support the annual First Wednesday Pooch Parade that benefits Tri-Valley Guide Dogs.
They're particularly proud of partnerships they have formed with other local businesses, featuring locally-made natural food, toys and jewelry products in their store. Two large dog statues flank a bench in front of the shop.
Another pet store, Just Dogs, opened in the Stoneridge Shopping Center in December, next to California Pizza Kitchen.
"And yes, dogs can come into our store, although they are not allowed in the mall in general," said manager Laura Lawlor.
At Just Dogs, owners can purchase heart-shaped feeding bowls labeled "Prince" (blue dish) or "Princess" (pink), and for those who miss their pets while at work, the store also offers coffee mugs and mouse-pads picturing their favorite breed of dog. There's even a mesh-enclosed stroller, complete with latte holders for the owners plus a pocket in which to stash pooch treats.
When someone says, "It's a dog's life," the ones from Pleasanton seem to be enjoying the very best.
DID YOU KNOW…?
* Americans who adopt dogs tend to spend an average of $1,250 per pet the first year; each year after, they spend an average of $500 per dog
* In 2006, Americans spent $38.5 billion on their pets
* 63 percent of households have a pet, and pet lovers spent $38.5 billion on their pets in 2006, up from $21 billion a decade earlier
* In the last decade, the percentage of homes with pets has remained relatively stable, but the amount of money people spend on pets has doubled.
* The 2007 market size for pet insurance in the U.S. was estimated to be approximately $195 million in premium, up from $161 million in 2006