23 Reasons It’s Great to Be a Pet in Seattle

For starters, we teach dogs how to talk. Not really, but if Penny here could, she’d tell you she never wants to leave.

By Matthew Halverson February 20, 2011 Published in the March 2011 issue of Seattle Met

1 Because Someone, 
Somewhere Is
 Willing to Walk
 Your Dog

That’s actually a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s great that we’ve got more dog-walking businesses than you can shake a gnawed-on stick at (a search of Yelp shows more than 100 in Seattle and on the Eastside), but how to know which one is right for Rover? Kelley Goad, owner of Ballwalkpark and KING 5’s best dog walker in 2010, has some advice:

Go under cover The best way to pick a pooch handler is to watch them in action at an off-leash park. Some will stand around while the dogs play. Others will get down and dirty with their four-legged clients. Do we need to tell you which one to hire?
Peruse the pack Chances are, a walker already shepherds a group of pups, so it’s worthwhile to find out how many dogs are in it and what breeds are represented. “If your dog hates huskies,” Goad says, “you don’t want him to go with a bunch of huskies.”
Trust your gut “A dog walker is going to be a bigger part of your life than you think,” Goad says. (She’s in her clients’ homes so often, they make her lunch and buy her Christmas gifts.) So it’s not only important that they’re good to your dog, but also that they give you a “good person” vibe. Ballwalkpark, 206-659-9027;


Reader’s Pet! Reader Andy Gomez: “One day, I found an extra pair of glasses and wondered how our cat, Kayla, would like wearing them. Too bad she can’t read.” 2 Because We Care About Feline Education

Well, sort of. The Seattle Humane Society calls its catcentric class Kitten Kindergarten, but we’re not talking about ball-of-twine book learnin’. Instead, the wee, whiskered students wrestle each other and work on their people skills, all in the name of not wearing out their welcome at home. “The more we can socialize cats, the less likely they are to end up back in the shelter,” says Jennifer Schneider, the Auburn-based trainer who developed the one-hour, one-session program. (The class is typically offered from June to September.)

It’s the first class of its kind in the state, no doubt because cats—what with their independent, indifferent, and generally inscrutable demeanor—have always seemed better off left to their own devices. “People think, Well, it’s just a cat; he’s going to be fine when I get him home,” says Emily Keegans, the Humane Society’s behavior program manager. “That’s mostly true, but this is a good way to head off problems.” Problems like refusing to use the litter box, biting and scratching, and launching sneak attacks from the top of the refrigerator—you know, the stuff that makes a cat a cat.

And even if your kitty is already well on its way to being well-heeled, Schneider can teach it a few new tricks—like how to sit, shake, and wave. Wait, really? “You can train cats to do pretty much all of the same things that dogs do,” Schneider says. “You just have to motivate them.” Motivating a cat…that’s a class all its own. Seattle Humane Society, 425-373-5385;

Reader’s Pet! Reader Allison Melton: “I put this necklace on Mirabelle and she went into a Zen catatonic state of misery, which made for a cute photo. She doesn’t like to accessorize.” 3 Because We Accessorize with Kittens

When Madrona fashionistas stop into Juniper, Lisa Clinton’s boutique on East Spring Street, they’re just as likely to be shopping for a cat as they are for the latest Virginia Johnson frock—especially if said fashionistas are under the age of 10.

By 2007, when Clinton opened Juniper, she’d been fostering felines out of her home for a couple years. But with three cats of her own, she’d maxed out her live-in-kitty quota and needed to make a change. Then inspiration came clawing: Nothing—save for a few errant hair balls—was keeping her from letting a homeless cat shack up at the store.

Four years and 19 successful adoptions later, she’s built a cottage industry of connecting orphaned cats with new owners. And thanks to a fastidious cleaning regimen (she vacuums the store’s floor twice a day), the fur has yet to fly. Of course, it probably helps that she’s decided to foster no more than one cat at a time. “I’m already the neighborhood’s go-to person for people who want to adopt,” Clinton says. “I don’t want to be the crazy cat lady.” Juniper, 3314 E Spring St, Madrona, 206-838-7496;

4 Because Our 
Dogs Can Belly Up
 to the Bar

Steve Habecker didn’t court dog-owning clientele after opening Norm’s Eatery and Alehouse eight years ago. They just started showing up. First it was the regulars who wanted to bring in their new puppies. Then it was people who were walking their dogs through Fremont and wanted to stop for a quick beer. And then, well, it just kind of became a thing. “It’s something I never advertised,” Habecker says. “People wanted me to put it on the web, but I wanted to keep it low-key.”

Not anymore. Walk into Norm’s on any given night, and you’ll come face-to-snout with half a dozen canine customers—tethered to their owners, of course. The pub even hosts birthday parties for pooches in the back room. “We’ll have 20 people and 15 dogs, all with birthday hats on,” Habecker says. “It’s kind of weird, but whatever.” In fact, the only times dogs aren’t welcome in Norm’s are Friday and Saturday nights after 10pm.

In case you’re wondering, yes, King County Public Health does prohibit non–service animals from restaurants and bars, but it’s a toothless law that carries no fine. Not that Habecker takes health concerns lightly. “We decided that, if we’re going to do this,” he says, “we’re going to make sure we do really well on our health inspections otherwise.” He’s only had one complaint in eight years. Norm’s Eatery and Alehouse, 460 N 36th St, Fremont, 206-547-1417

5 Because
 Our Dogs Moonlight as Legal Eagles

Have you ever looked into a dog’s eyes? Like, actually looked into them? Lock sights with a dog long enough, really get past the “awww, they’re so cute and doleful” thing, and you’re struck, not by what’s there (affection and a hunger for reciprocity, the glimmer of a primal spirit that no amount of crate training can ever completely break), but by what isn’t. There’s no resentment. No superiority. And not an ounce of judgment.

That’s partly what inspired Ellen O’Neill-Stephens to bring a dog into the King County Courthouse seven years ago. The King County senior deputy prosecutor had watched one young, shame-wracked victim of sexual abuse after another stammer through pretrial interviews, and what they’d recount was enough to make the average adult cringe. But their interviewer—required to remain unemotional and impartial—could do no more than coldly offer a tissue. Surely we can give these children some comfort, she thought. Why not a dog?

It was a tough sell, but as O’Neill-Stephens experimented one day a week with her son’s service dog, Jeeter, other prosecutors saw how calmly he sat beside young witnesses during those interviews, listening but not judging, and started asking if they could use him, too. Then she landed an endorsement from longtime King County prosecutor Norm Maleng, and the big yellow lab’s schedule was so full that the office needed a full-time service dog.

In 2008, she partnered with vet Celeste Walsen and began visiting any prosecutor who would listen, preaching the benefits of having a trained service dog on staff. (As much as they appreciate offers from civilians who volunteer their pets for the job, they only employ dogs from accredited training schools.) By the beginning of 2011, they’d sold a dozen counties across the country on the concept. “It’s been difficult to explain to judges and prosecutors,” O’Neill-Stephens says. “But usually when a victim’s advocate hears about it, they think, ‘That might work….’ ” Courthouse Dogs,


6 Because 
Bunnies Are Our Business

The thing about bunnies is that they’re chewers. They’ll gnaw on table legs, masticate rugs, and munch on couch cushions. And unless you sleep with one eye open, they’re liable to nibble your toes down to the bone.

Reader’s Pet! Reader Lindsay Schuette: “Once Olive, a baby cav-ajack, stopped chewing on Lola’s ears, they settled into an easy friendship.” Fin

All right, that last one’s a lie, but Jennifer Johannsen will corroborate the rest. “If you don’t give your bunnies some toys,” she says, “they’ll chew your house to pieces.” Johannsen owns and is—for the most part—the solo operator of Bunny Bytes, a West Seattle–based e-tailer of all things rabbit. She stocks food, litter, and digestive supplements, but not long after buying the company from its founders in 2002, she learned that the cornerstone of any successful bunny business is toys. “Far and away, it’s the biggest portion of our revenue,” she says. “Some bunnies really like to throw things around and some bunnies really like to roll things around.” But almost all of them like to chew.

So she sells dried-yucca dumbbells. She sells rings made of willow. She even sells little dolls made out of cactus chunks. At any given time, her mini warehouse is stocked with more than a hundred styles of bunny toys, and she makes most of them herself—with help from her own multibunny R&D department. “There are toys they like and toys they don’t like,” she says. “But I design my toys with an eye toward making them attractive and based in something that works with their natural behaviors.” Like, say, habitual chomping… Bunny Bytes,


7 Because Dry Pet Food Doesn’t Cut it Here

Gary Tashjian isn’t a vet. He isn’t a nutritionist. He’s just a guy who winced every time he watched Max, his 10-year-old arthritic Old English Sheepdog, try to stand. “I took him to the vet, gave him all the medicines they had, but nothing worked,” he says.

So as a last resort he took the shaggy, sagging dog to a naturopath for, of all things, acupuncture. But instead of needles, the vet prescribed a diet of fresh food. Like, fresh human food. “Aren’t you listening?” Tashjian asked the vet, incredulous. “He has arthritis. What do you care what I feed him?” “Just try it for a month,” the vet said. And 30 days later, Max was up on his feet again. “I finally got it,” Tashjian says now. “You are what you eat applies to them, too.”

That was 20 years ago. Thirteen years later, he launched Darwin’s Natural Pet Products in Seattle after hooking up with local vets and nutritionists to cook up some raw meat-and-veggie recipes that could be packed, frozen, and delivered direct to customers’ homes. Today, he’s got rabidly loyal customers throughout Seattle and the rest of the country. Now, this puppy chow is pricier than your average dry food—a two-pound bag of the beef-and-vegetable mix costs from $6.70 to $8.30—but delivery is free for Seattleites and Portlanders. Plus it’s got that whole “nutritious and delicious” thing. In fact it’s so good, Tashjian is planning to start a promotional Darwin’s-only diet this March. “It’s just meat and veggies,” he says. “It’s healthier than anything I eat.” Darwin’s Natural Pet Products, 877-738-6325; *

8 Because Even Your Pet Can Be a Star

Debbie Betson, owner of Monroe’s Animal Talent NW, has been recruiting screenworthy animals and placing them in movies, commercials, and television shows for more than 15 years, including Grey’s Anatomy and the Robin Williams film shot in Seattle in 2009, World’s Greatest Dad. She defined that “It” factor she looks for.

A lot of times, you go on set and the director says, “Oh, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re doing this.” So the dog has to adapt really quickly. They have to be amiable and have an owner that’s really flexible. But if the owner is overprotective or high strung, I have to take the dog and work with it, because it will just shut down. There was a lady a number of years ago who had a Jack Russell, and she was—oh my god—the classic stage mother. She brought her little dog in its leather jacket, the whole “my dog is wonderful” thing. Dogs don’t usually work well in those situations because they can feel the tension from their owner. They turn into robots.

9 Because Our Taste in Pets May Surprise You

The Emerald City gets a lot of press for being a pup-friendly place, but consider this: While the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 71,000 dogs live in the city, nearly 201,000 cats call Seattle their scratching post.

10 Because Judy Woods Is the Patron Saint of Pigs

Judy Woods is the founder and operator of the nonprofit Pigs Peace Sanctuary in Stanwood, Washington, where diseased, disgruntled, and just plain discarded pet pigs go to live out their days. A statistical breakdown of the operation:

180 Pigs, roughly, currently living at the sanctuary
200 Pigs, roughly, Woods had at her peak
7 Pigs she rescued from a failed Montana animal shelter in January 2011
33 Percent of pigs under Woods’s care who began their lives in Seattle homes
34 Acres of land her pigs live on
17 Years she’s been saving pigs
150 Average weight of an adult potbellied pig
20 Average lifespan of a pig, in years
20 Years Woods has been a vegan
0 Pigs she thinks you should adopt
Pigs Peace Sanctuary,

11 Because We Party with Pythons

Planning a birthday party for your seven-year-old? Worried that Rusty the Fantabulous Clown might show up with whiskey on his breath? Hire Seattle’s reptile wranglers. For years members of the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society have been offering their time—and their collections of bearded dragons, crested geckos, and Burmese pythons—to entertain (and educate) those tykes who’ve seen one too many balloon animals. Technically PNHS doesn’t charge to make an appearance at your event, but donations are encouraged. Don’t worry, they’re not importing illegal species with that money; all proceeds go to support their reptile rescue fund. Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society,

12 Because We Took the Slobber Out of Fetch

Sure, the ChuckIt looks like Zeus’s melon baller, but really it’s plastic potential energy. Its back frozen in a graceful arch, this human-powered instrument of canine calisthenics is permanently coiled, forever prepared to sling balls and push a fetch-obsessed retriever past the point of exhaustion. It doesn’t tire, doesn’t cramp up. It never runs from mud, never shies from saliva. Simply put, it’s injection-molded salvation for the owner of any ball-hawking breed. And it was born just down the road in Kent. Raise your ChuckIts high, Seattle, and salute the makers of the $15 toy that saved your rotator cuffs. ChuckIt Fetch Games,

13 Because Janet Gray Fixes More Cats Before Noon Than Most Vets Do in a Week

Dr. Janet Gray starts most days standing over an unconscious kitty. After slipping into a pair of rubber gloves, she makes a one-centimeter incision from the caudal region to the umbilicus and hooks the left uterine horn. Then she cuts the left ovary free, before moving down the uterine bifurcation and back up to the right ovary, where she makes a similar snip. When she has both uterine horns free, she ties off the uterus, just above the cervix, and removes the kitty’s kitten-making apparatus. After stitching up the linea alba and skin, she’s done. And once she alters 49 more cats (males included), she takes off her scrubs and goes home for the day. What can take half an hour for the average vet Gray typically does in six minutes. “I just go from one to the next to the next,” she says. “I take my gloves off from the last one and put on fresh gloves for the next.”

In 2010, Lynnwood’s nonprofit Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project performed 7,500 alterations. Gray figures she held the scalpel for at least 5,000 of them. The occasional volunteer or student vet will scrub in, and there are the assistants who prep each cat for surgery, but this is Gray’s show. She’s the quicker fixer-upper. She has to be: Some estimates peg Seattle’s stray population near 250,000. And, the thinking goes, for every kitty that gets clipped, the chances of that number shrinking improves. “I think we get it wrong when we say something reproduces like rabbits,” Gray says, laughing at the absurdity of it all. “I think it’s reproduces ‘like cats.’ ” Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project, 425-673-2287;

14 Because 13 Volunteers Work Their Tails Off to Maintain 
Seattle’s Off-Leash Parks

Fifteen years ago next month, the nonprofit Citizens for Off-Leash Areas stepped up to make sure your dog could run free somewhere other than your backyard. Allow us to quote from Seattle City Council Resolution number 29343, passed on April 29, 1996:

“Whereas, the group of Seattle dog owners known as Citizens for Off-Leash Areas has agreed to sign an agreement with the City of Seattle to provide stewardship and maintenance for all public off-leash sites, educational and training programs to assist Seattle dog owners in developing good canines [ sic ] citizens of their dogs, and fundraising activities in order to provide some of the revenue for said off-leash sites…” Citizens for Off-Leash Areas,

15 Because on the Bus, Man and Dog Were Created Equal

Metro’s policy of charging non–service dogs full fare cuts a couple different ways. You can do the Libertarian tango and shake your fist at the big-government-loving, moustache-twisting, dog-hating public employee who would force a bus-riding pooch to pony up for a spot on the floor while a cat gets to perch on its owner’s lap for free. Or you can embrace that fee as a declaration of equality that says on a Seattle bus man and dog walk shoulder to shoulder, judged not by the quantity of hair on their backs but by their ability to resist biting their fellow passengers. Or you can just shut up and appreciate the fact that for an extra $2.50, you and your hound don’t have to hoof it downtown. King County Metro,


Image: Corbis

16 Because Ace Ventura’s Got
 Nothin’ on Us

Kat Albrecht is a pet detective—yes, like the movie. So she knows what’s going through your mind right about now. “People either think pet detective work is the best thing since sliced bread or the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard of,” she says. “And to those people who think it’s stupid: We have professionals that are paid to unplug our toilets, to clean our swimming pools, to mow our lawns—so why wouldn’t we develop a service to help people find their lost pets?”

Professional is certainly one way to describe Albrecht’s work. Dogged is another. Albrecht relocated the nonprofit Missing Pet Partnership to Federal Way from central California two years ago, but the former police officer has been scouring neighborhoods and wooded areas for missing animals for more than a decade. And she’s done everything but print pets’ faces on the sides of milk cartons to find them: She’s trained eight dogs specifically for tracking dogs and cats, and she’s not afraid to go all CSI: Seattle to collect evidence. Albrecht will even use volunteers to stand at busy intersections with oversize neon “Missing Pet” signs. “Some of the things we do, yeah, they’re over the top,” she says. “But they’re designed to capture attention and get the message out.”

Albrecht’s working to get her own message out—that pets are worth the search and that every one found is one less taxing the shelter system. “If people knew what we’re doing, they could understand what a difference we can make,” she says. “If you act like that missing dog belongs to somebody, you’re going to work that much harder to get it home to its family.” Missing Pet Partnership, 253-529-3999;

17–20 Because
 We Can 
Exhaust Any High-Drive Dog That 
Lives to…

Puget Sound DockDogs are more than just impressive jumpers; they’re confident canines who aren’t afraid to take a leap of faith. No breed is too big, too small, or too wet behind the ears to show up at the group’s indoor-pool training facility in Kenmore. And with a little practice, they can compete for long- and high-jump competitions in Washington and beyond. Puget Sound Dock Dogs,

Some dogs like to catch Frisbees for fun. Others do it to win trophies. Pups who join Washington Owners of Flying Disc Dogs do both—without the stress of cutthroat competition. Clinics, held in spring and fall, are open to anyone, but members meet up once a month in the off-season for play days in various locations, from Gig Harbor to Mount Vernon. Washington Owners of Flying Disc Dogs,

Members of the Kent-based Rainier Agility Team send their pooches rocketing up and down teeter-totters, through tunnels, and around slalom poles to gear up for nine agility trials each year. They don’t necessarily offer training (there are more than 20 instructors in the Seattle-Tacoma area), but they welcome all dogs—experienced or newbie—who want to compete. Rainier Agility Team,

In the sport of nose work, any dog with a functioning sniffer can compete against the clock to find a scent in a room full of boxes. Miriam Rose, of Northwest Noseworks in Woodinville, is Washington’s first certified nose work instructor, and she’s universally credited with bringing the sport to the Seattle area. Northwest Noseworks,

21 Because We Know
 Why the Uncaged
 Bird Sings

Parrot owners break down into two flocks. You’ve got your wing clippers and you’ve got your free flyers. Mona Delgado is a member of the latter, but she wasn’t always. “It’s the custom in this country to clip parrots’ wings,” she says. “I used to clip, because it makes them easier to control. But they’re birds and they need to fly.”

Eight years ago that sentiment—that wings are worthless if you can’t flap them—inspired Delgado and a handful of her friends to look for an indoor space to let their beaked buddies take flight. (Even those who believe in encouraging their birds to fly free typically won’t do it outside. You never know when a hawk could swoop in and snatch your parrot out of the sky.) They worked out a deal to spread their wings inside a vacant grocery store in Ballard, and when it was demolished two years later, they moved to the National Armory Building in Kent. That’s where you’ll find them a couple Sunday afternoons a month, from 1:30 to 3:30, and you and your cage-free companion are welcome to join after a brief getting-to-know-you period. Northwest Avian Flyers,

22 Because While You’re Away, Your Pup Can Still Play

Like dog walkers, dog day cares are hard to judge without some undercover recon—and who has time to put together a convincing canine costume? Rick Beaubelle, president of the Seattle Dog Daycare Association and owner of the Seattle Canine Club, has a few tips for picking the right place:

Take a tour—a surprise tour Beaubelle is suspicious of any day care that only offers tours on a specific day at a specific time. A business that will let you drop in at any time, on the other hand, can’t hide its flaws.
Consider dog-to-human ratio—but don’t obsess over it Beaubelle and other members of SDDA worked with the county to develop regulations for how many dogs an employee should supervise, but they’re closer to guidelines: Because not all dogs—or all people, for that matter—are created equal, a set-in-stone ratio is difficult to define. But if your pup would be one of 20 being watched by one person, then yeah, there’s a problem.
Read reviews—with a grain of salt Users of sites like Yelp can offer dishy, firsthand accounts of cleanliness and service, but they aren’t useful if you focus strictly on the number of stars a business receives. “I got a bad review from someone who hadn’t ever walked in the building but didn’t like that there was a strip club two doors down,” Beaubelle says. “That place opened six years after I did, and it has nothing to do with the concern we have for the dogs.” Seattle Dog Daycare Association, Seattle Canine Club,


23 Because We Love the Unloved

According to the Seattle Animal Shelter, nearly 350 local households fostered a dog, cat, or other critter as it waited for a permanent home in 2010. And last year 400 people volunteered to walk pooches and play with kitties at the shelter. In other words, Seattleites don’t have to own animals to care for them. Seattle Animal Shelter,

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