The ruff life of coddled canines
These pet parents spare no expense for their four-legged family members
Weekly massages, personal cars, holistic healing, designer apparel. A dog’s life isn’t what it used to be.
Pet owners – or “pet parents” as they’re called in the industry – spent more than $60 billion in food, medical care, toys and other services last year, according to the American Pet Products Association. Overall spending on pets has grown every year since 1994, right through the Great Recession. Owners with incomes of $93,800 and up spent an average of $870 on their pets in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that’s chump change on the Orange County coast.
We found some pampered pups that aren’t just best friends. They’re children, they’re second chances, they’re reflections of ourselves.
Jon Pedersen doesn’t have a biological brother, but he doesn’t lack in brotherly love. His beach-loving rescue dogs, Oscar and Nash, are like family.
“Nash is a total ham, and Oscar is more an old soul,” says Pedersen, a Lido Island resident who owns a marketing company.
Oscar, a 145-pound, 10-year-old Great Dane-Labrador mix, was rescued by Pedersen in 2006, and Nash, a 150-pound, 5-year-old Great Dane, was rescued in 2011. Both came from Mutt Match LA and were filthy and emaciated when Pedersen became their legal owner.
The boys are a world away from their difficult start in life. Every week, the dogs retreat to the beach via Pedersen’s old Range Rover, now reserved for them. They get top-of-the-line chow from the foodies at Just Food For Dogs in Newport Beach. All the food is prepared on-site with local ingredients. Shawn Buckley, founder and dog food expert, says that even humans could eat it.
“We want to make dogs live longer, healthier lives by cooking them delicious daily, prescription and customized food,” Buckley says.
Oscar and Nash savor dog delicacies like the company’s turkey and whole-wheat macaroni. Combined, they eat roughly 7 pounds of the food per day, with 400 pounds being delivered to Pedersen’s home every other month. Half of a chest freezer is devoted to their food.
The pair also enjoy a never-ending supply of dog toys, which cost Pedersen about $1,000 to replenish every month. The two also sport leather, hand-beaded collars from the Kenyan Collection, costing $90 each.
For fun last year, Pedersen’s girlfriend, Deeanne Christine, gave him and Oscar an unusual birthday present: a joint visit to local medium Michele Renee. Oscar went bananas – more so than usual – when he walked in the room with Renee.
“I was completely blown away by the energy in the room,” Pedersen recalls. When he asked Renee where Oscar had come from before his rescue, she explained that his original owner wasn’t kind and that he ran away, hoping to someday find a better life.
No denying that Oscar found what he was looking for. But so did Pedersen. The dogs added another dimension to his life. Their love of swimming, for instance, galvanized Pedersen into helping lead the charge to save Newport Beach’s last dog beach. He’s proud to have taken two dogs that were thrown away by someone else and given them a full life. “I love them,” he says. “They give us so much.”
Best in Show
When the Mebergs were married 25 years ago, Carla told Jeff she couldn’t imagine their future without two things: a white dog and a great car. She got them, again and again. In the Mebergs’ San Clemente home, three purebred, snow-white Samoyeds sleep on Sealy mattresses. In the driveway are three Mercedes-Benzes: one for Jeff, one for Carla and the third, a 2016 SUV, for the dogs.
When Sampson, Stella and Owen couldn’t fit comfortably in the cars, the Mebergs bought the SUV to accommodate rides to the groomer, the vet, the park and shows.
“It sounds so ostentatious,” says Jeff sighing. “I can’t believe I’m admitting this in a magazine.”
Jeff, who owns a compost and recycling company, is quick to say the dogs are not like children. They don’t eat at the table, have outfits and sleep on their bed. (Not that they are suffering in the guest room: Those mattresses, $250 each, have Tempur-Pedic memory foam.) He once tried to put Halloween costumes on the dogs but was rebuffed by the Samoyeds and Carla.
“They’re not our kids,” he says. “They’re our dogs.”
Yet dogs can have a way of sweetly barreling onto the center stage of their owners’ lives. The Mebergs’ kitchen refrigerator is barely visible through rows of ribbons from shows in which Stella and Owen have competed. Sampson retrieves the newspaper for Jeff every morning. Stella appeared on the Laguna Outreach Community Arts float in the 2016 Laguna Beach Patriots Day parade, and Owen is a therapy dog in training.
“Everywhere that we go and everything that we do, the Samoyeds represent us,” Jeff says.
Samoyeds are gentle, adaptable and friendly working dogs originally bred to protect children from the cold in Siberia.
Carla, an artist who grew up with Samoyeds, puts it this way: “They center us, and where else can you find that?” And so the Mebergs insist on the best. They use groomer extraordinaire Catherine Opson, owner of Estrella Pet Grooming, known for TV appearances with Jimmy Kimmel and for her grooming show dogs. Opson bathes the trio in cool water and hand-dries them without heat to prevent shedding. “Samoyeds are an arctic breed, so we want to keep their coats full and thick,” she says.
In addition to their glam squad at Estrella, the Mebergs have hired what they call an “animal manager” to help coordinate training, grooming and walking schedules.
For the couple, making sacrifices that their pets don’t see but feel is what they consider to be real pampering. Not too long ago, Sampson was chasing crows in the yard and broke his leg. He needed two surgeries and a long recuperation. It was during the summer, so the couple installed an air conditioning unit in the garage, where Sampson recovered. The vet and cooling bills added up to $14,000 – but worth every penny to get Sampson well.
Sampson also got a cold stone slab on which to lie in the afternoons. Stella and Owen envied the stone, so the Mebergs are taking up the floor in front of their fireplace and putting down a similarly textured slab. Now all three dogs will have a cool place to lay their bellies on warm afternoons.
Admits Jeff: “I haven’t told anyone it’s for the dogs yet.”
Jeff and Carla’s pet picks
Estrella Pet Grooming :: estrellapetgrooming.com
A Tranquil Tibetan
Tom Taborelli never considered himself a dog person, or any kind of pet person. Even as a boy, he had no animals. But something changed after his mother died about two years ago. Tom, who has no children, wanted to nurture something the way his mother had nurtured him. One day his husband, David, brought to their Laguna Beach home a long-haired Tibetan terrier puppy.
Oliver, or Ollie for short.
“I needed to fill that void,” says Tom, a retired speech pathologist who owns two Hand and Stone spa locations with David, a financial adviser. “I have no idea why, but Ollie fills me with so much love.”
But love isn’t always easy. By nature, Tibetan terriers are known to be high-strung and hyperactive. Tom dubbed Ollie the “Tibetan Terror.” Believers in the power of massage, they sought help for Ollie from Laguna Beach-based canine masseuse Kim Tveter of Hand2Paws.
A certified animal massage therapist, Tveter believes in holistic animal care. She incorporates acupressure, hot/cold stones and reiki techniques into her therapy and uses lavender and oregano essential oils in her weekly sessions with Ollie. The Taborellis noticed a difference in his behavior. “It really bonds the relationship and builds trust,” Tveter says, “whether a dog is in pain emotionally or physically.”
Ollie also relishes a weekly bath and blowout at Coast Pet Supply & Grooming and socializes with his fellow coastal canines during “yappy hour” at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
Tom gets that it can all start to sound a little over-the-top. His friends tease him about the time and investment that go into Ollie. But in the end, Ollie is his constant companion. David still works long hours, so it’s Tom and Ollie who make Starbucks runs in the mornings, Tom and Ollie who cruise along PCH on sunny afternoons.
Tom says he could write sonnets about Ollie: How he insists sitting on Tom’s lap in the car, as if his paws were steering the 2015 XKR Jaguar. How he likes the convertible top down so the wind can caress his hair (“Very Beyoncé,” Tom says). Or how he stares at Tom in the evenings, summoning the man to rise and take him on another drive. Naturally, Tom is powerless to resist.
Tom and David’s Pet Picks
Kim Tveter at Hand2Paws :: hand2paws.com
Coast Pet Supply & Grooming :: coastpetsupplyandgrooming.com
The Zarrabi zoo started with Minnie the Pomeranian. Minnie wears Chanel and enjoys being toted in designer handbags while her humans shop at Fashion Island. She is fed grilled organic chicken breast with fresh vegetables. She appeared in a white dress at the nuptials of her owner, Persia Sharifat Zarrabi, at The Resort at Pelican Hill in May 2015.
“She was on my lap the entire time I got ready for the day,” Persia says. “She’s my literal ‘Minnie me.’ ” Now Persia and husband, Dr. Darab Zarrabi, have grown their menagerie. Every Friday, the couple drive from their home in Los Angeles to Crystal Cove, where they spend weekends at Persia’s family home.
In the backseat of their Mercedes-AMG are Olive, a Scottish Fold cat, and Izzie, a husky. Olive was last season’s Christmas present from Persia to Darab; Izzie has been with the couple since she was a pup, living with Darab, an anesthesiologist, during his residency at Ohio State University.
In Crystal Cove, Olive and Izzie reunite with Minnie and Daisy, a black-and-white Pom. Minnie still lives full time in Crystal Cove with Persia’s parents, Sima and Hamid Sharifat. Daisy is very attached to her, but Minnie remains Persia’s dog.
“Minnie is the love of my life,” says Persia, who handles human resources for her parents’ aerospace engineering company. “I would choose her over my husband any day, and he knows that.”
What drives this attachment? Persia explains: “She was my first dog. We had had a family dog, but she was mine. She’d go everywhere with me. When somebody else tried to hold her, she’d cry. She was like a little baby. “I feel like she may be more spoiled than the average dog. It may just be my personality. It may be how she assumed her role.”
The Zarrabi zoo spend their weekends enjoying outdoor activities like hiking the trails of Crystal Cove State Park and indoor activities like lounging on the sofa of the Sharifats’ living room, watching a brilliant sunset. Through it all, Persia doesn’t forget why she’s there: “I come home for Minnie.”