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Pussy & Pooch: Extreme Dog Culture Unleashes New Nightlife

By Adam Gropman

Pussy & Pooch: Extreme Dog Culture Unleashes New Nightlife

Photo by Sonia Paulino. Click image for entire slideshow.

As a dyed-in-the-wool cat person, I'm a bit of an undercover double-agent at this swanky, Downtown dog party. Sharp, creative urbanites, dressed from crisp casual all the way to downright glamorous, serenely mill about or sit in the spacious, L-shaped patio of J Lounge near 11th and Olive, well-behaved, fastidiously groomed canines leashed to their sides. For humans, there's a backdrop of edgy yet tasteful techno-house music and an elegantly minimalist outdoor cocktail bar, while the sacred beasts enjoy- among other things- complimentary healthful snacks, bowls of water, and a specially built 600 sq. ft. patch of real grass.

The gathering, sponsored by high-end, downtown pet-related businesses Pussy & Pooch and Bark Avenue, is technically open to dogs, cats and, I suppose, other domestic animals, but this night clearly belongs to the dogs. There's talk of a cat having attended earlier with its human, but alas, there's now not a pussy in sight.

I've long felt that L.A. has a strong dog-loving culture -- perhaps due to the perfect weather, the access to scrubby mountain trails, and the tendency here toward human loneliness and solitude -- and this soiree epitomizes two strong trends: the intersection of dog-appreciation and cutting edge entrepreneurship, and the widespread elevation of dogs, in recent years, from "member of the family" to "prized and cherished Number One Son."

Tables on the patio host gourmet vendors, their items as attractively packaged as Grey Poupon or Pinkberry. Souplements are a line of natural soups, Wagalicious a locally sourced raw-food diet and Ziwi Peak an ultra-premium line of food featuring air-dried meat from New Zealand. There's even something called "dog beer," a beef-flavored, grain-based beverage for man's best friend, and I'm disappointed when told it's non-alcoholic. I'd think that with all the pressure that comes from their recent star status, dogs may need to get smashed once in a while.

Angus from West L.A. is just chillin'. He's black, fairly young and doesn't say much. Actually he doesn't say anything at all, cause he's a Scottish Terrier, but I think I'm vibing him well enough to know that he's OK with his owners, Alex and Heather, well-educated professional types in their 30s who think nothing of zipping across town on the 10 Freeway so Angus can get his party on.

Nearby, but clearly in a different clique, are Parker, a golden-colored, partially blind 11-year-old Welsh Corgi and Ellie, a grey and dark-spotted Chihuahua. Their owner is Caroline, a pretty fashion design intern in her 20s with long brown hair who lives in a Downtown loft with her mom, two cats and the aforementioned duo. I soon realize her dogs keeping to themselves is not due to any social elitism, but rather that Parker's sight impairment, along with his body-image readjustment -- he lost 35 pounds on Caroline's homemade brown rice and ground turkey diet -- must leave him shy. And as for Ellie, she's a boney, shivery little thing, barely poking out of Caroline's shoulder bag.

“I love dogs. I spoil them and dress them up and pretty much treat them like humans,” says Caroline, indicative of residential Downtown's emerging dog sub-culture. “I love it, our dog goes to Bark Avenue three days a week for day care. A lot of people in our loft building go. And so they all have the same days, and it's like groups. We see them at the dog parks all the time. It's kind of like a community, almost.”

Friends Margaret and Steve, early 30s and both graphic designers, hang out over in a comfortable living room-like side area. She lives in Silver Lake where most of the retail businesses are dog friendly, and tonight has brought Ketchup, her black and white terrier/miniature poodle. Steve is currently pet free, but is strongly considering the step into dog-owner-hood, no doubt with some encouragement from the quite handy Margaret, who used to bake organic biscuits for all of her friends' dogs and has built her own a hot magenta, fake fur bed. She doesn't have to buy many things for Ketchup anymore, as her friends keep showering the lucky pup with gifts, the last being a squirrel's tail attached to a tennis ball -- an active dog's two favorite things in the world, combined.

I decide to put on my "fearless journalist" hat and ask them about the “C word” -- cats. Steve doesn't hide his apathy-bordering-on-disdain for the creatures. “Cats are cool” says Margaret, diplomatically upbeat. “But they could care less. I am definitely a dog person, unless it's a cat that acts like a dog... and those are few and far between. I want that unconditional love.”