Not long ago, the late hotel heiress Leona Helmsley left her multi-million dollar fortune to her dog.
Sound far-fetched? Perhaps not, when one considers the manner in which many other people also lavish attention and care on their canine companions in exchange for the joy and companionship that dogs can bring into our lives.
While most people do not resort to such extremes, what is clear is that dog fancy is here to stay. It is obvious to any casual observer of street life in Old Town that we are a dog-crazy community, and owning and caring for mans best friend is easily the most popular pastime in Alexandria.
Dogs are a social outlet for many people, explains Carlos Mejias of the Old Towne School for Dogs, and they are an excellent conversation starter. Also, the culture of dogs here tends to feed on itself, because so many services are available for dog owners, and businesses tend to be dog friendly.
Just as many residents of Old Town shop at organic food markets, rejecting preservatives, hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals in favor of healthy natural products, so too do they avoid these products when shopping on behalf of Fido and Fifi.
It is big business here: in addition to larger nearby pet stores such as Petco and Petsmart, Old Town Alexandria is home to three sizeable pet boutiques: Fetch, at 116 S. St. Asaph Street; Barkley Square at 1 Wales Alley; and the Old Town School for Dogs.
Each of these shops carries specialty foods, many of which are organic. Grain-free dog food is also popular, as is pure protein such as dogscousins to wolveswould have eaten in the wild and as they have throughout most of their domesticated history. Treats based on peanut butter (a plant protein) and baked without salt and sugar are the particular specialty of Fetch and Barkley Square.
Fetch owner Lisa Erbe opened the doors 11 years ago at her present location. She carries products baked by five different local bakers. In Erbes shop, there are 36 varieties of baked treats. She also offers an assortment of gourmet goodies complete with colored, yogurt-based icings. Flavors range from cheesy paw print cookies, to molasses drops, vanilla love bites, liver snaps, and after-dinner mints to free the pooch from any unpleasant dog breath. Erbe also stocks frozen yogurt made especially for dogs. The dogs keep coming back for more treats, explains Fetch management.
Barkley Square has been open for four years, offering a wide range of baked goodies such as peanut butter balls, pumpkin treats, apple cinnamon puffs, ginger snaps, and turkey-bacon cookies. Like Fetch, Barkley Square also features a gourmet or party food line. All of the products from these boutiques are made from human-grade ingredients. As chocolate is lethal for dogs, some products are also made using carob. Barkley Square also offers natural dog foods such as Before Grain, free of grain, wheat, soy, and any artificial ingredients.
Old Towne School for Dogs carries 12 different brands of dog food, each with several formulas. Grain free is popular, explains Gabe Mejias, each with its own flavors. The Schools shop also carries packaged treats, which are also premium, filler free brands.
The brands avoid fillers such as grain or corn, which can have deleterious effects on canine health. A popular brand is Old Mother Hubbard, which is made with all-natural high-quality ingredients in ten different flavors. These include char-tar for upset tummies, and parsley-mint for fresh breath.