The German Shepherd chauffeur

In an age when pets have become more like children than normal house-trained animals, pet services are emerging into the public that were not even thought of 20 years ago.
With pets becoming such a popular accessory, owners will do anything on their behalf  — literally anything.
A survey conducted in March of 2003 by the American Pet Association found that over 9 million owners celebrate their dog’s birthday by giving them special treats, cake and ice cream, new toys, singing the happy birthday song, a party with other dogs or even a special vacation.
The same survey found that over 8 million pet owners feel more attached to their pets than their children and over 5 million more than their own spouse.
Playgrounds, lounging beds, love seats, caskets and urns, cashmere sweaters, leg warmers, diamonds, computer perches, anklets, shoes, jewel-studded T-shirts, jewelry and barrettes are all accessories. They are also now all for pets and can be purchased for a price. Believe it or not, they all are.
With all these new amenities offered for pets, should it be surprising that owners can now arrange for their pets to have a personal chauffeur?
Barb Romans, 55, of Oakdale is the new owner and operator of Bark-N-Ride, Inc., a pet escort service that operates out of Oakdale but services pet owners from all around the St. Paul area. Bark-N-Ride has been in business since Nov. 1.
Bark-N-Ride specializes in the transportation of dogs of all sizes. Romans says she has a three-sided van fully equipped with seven full size kennels, blankets and heat. “There are even treats if the owners say it is OK,” she says.
The transportation of the dogs includes pick-up and drop-off. “I will work around people,” Romans says. “Whatever hours they need; evening, early morning, during the day.” According to Romans, this is the first business of its kind that services the St. Paul area.      
With over 25 years of experience in grooming, Romans is certified by both the Professional Pet Groomer’s Association and the International Pet Groomer’s Association.
All this experience and chauffeuring dogs?
“I wanted to work with animals again,” Romans says. “I wanted to work for myself doing something people really need. This is a perfect job. I am doing what I love.”
The clients Romans is trying to reach, however, are those who want to be taking care of their pets, but are unable to for some reason or another; not for those who just don’t feel like it. Romans says that this business is for “those people who can’t afford to take a half day off just to bring their dog to the vet or the groomer, elderly or handicapped pet owners who can’t get out of the house and then can’t take care of their pets.”
Romans can transport dogs and even cats to and from the vet, the groomer’s, “doggy day-care”, the airport, pet hotels or anywhere else that a dog could possibly want to go. “I even got a call one day from a man who wanted me to deliver his dog to Chicago to stay with his brother while he was on vacation,” Romans laughs.

Catering to canines
The times are changing. Rarely can dogs be seen riding around in truck beds or kennels in backyards. Instead pets are seat-belted into the front heated seat like a little girl’s doll, and sleep under the covers pushing their owners right out of the bed.
Even psychics are broadening their practice to include pets. Some claim they are able to connect with pets through the heart of the owner and the connections that pets and owners share. These psychics say they can trace aggressive behavior or unexplained toilet habits to unresolved past issues or current changes in the home, resolving these issues and reconnecting the pets with their owners.  
Psychics also help pets to be “heard” while allowing the owners to help their pets with health issues, being lost or conveying last wishes. A show even airs on Animal Planet that features pet psychics at work.
Sounds crazy? There’s more.
Signs can be found outside of downtown boutiques proclaiming that they allow pets, meaning pet owners can bring in their animals either on leash or in a large purse designed with the dual purpose of carting pets and looking fashionable.
As if this weren’t enough to accommodate pet owners, there are actually complete boutiques specializing in pets, including a fully functioning bakery and tailor. Teacup Pet Boutique, located in Hollywood, Fla., specializes in this canine couture and even offers a special outlet store.
Besides being able to hire someone to walk your dog, or drop your dog off for the day at “doggy day-care”, those owners who live in apartments or condominiums in the city who can’t let their dogs out can now pay someone to install a small area of grass on their patio. The business will then come out and change the grass whenever needed.

Fido rides
Compared to some of these other eccentric pet-focused merchants, Romans’ business seems downright practical. Other parts of her escort service include running pet-related errands for the owners or even for some smaller kennels.
What is the rate for a transportation service like this? The price is currently $20 per hour and Romans is offering a 10 percent discount for first-time customers. She keeps all of her customers on file for future use, schedules appointments for them and calls the day before to remind the owner of the pick-up and drop-off times.
We have pets in designer bags, pets in designer clothes and pets with personal chauffeurs. Will we be building our pets their own mansions in just a couple of years?
Dr. Arlo Frost, of the Silver Lake Animal Hospital, has been practicing veterinarian medicine for 18 years. “If we had this conversation 40 years ago, people would be saying hospitalizing a cat for various illnesses would be absurd,” Frost says.
“The place where I have the difficulty,” Frost continues, “is where they are making the pet not able to show their natural behaviors and become more like an accessory.” When pets are carried in a handbag it becomes an issue because they are unable to run and play, he says.
As for Romans, she thinks her business is more than necessary. “Some people don’t have family to do all their running around for them and that’s where I come in,” she says. “I am just relieving stress by taking off another thing that they have to do.”

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