Sudsing up our four-footed friends

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Washing a dog — or watching someone else wash a dog: moment of Zen (depending on the dog, of course).

Washing a cat: not so much.

Spring is almost here, which means it's time for spring cleaning. Sure, you can dust your blinds, beat your rugs, throw out your husband's underwear. But wouldn't it be more fun to give your dog or cat a bath?


Oh, come on. It's one more excuse to break out the baby talk — Look how pretty she is! Yes you are! Yes you are!

Not only that, aren't you tired of that dirty-dog smell?

Yes you are! Yes you are!

On a late Saturday morning at Brookside Barkery & Bath in Kansas City, Mo., it becomes quickly apparent that washing a dog can be more complicated than washing a car.

So many choices. Not just shampoos (they're all-natural here, which might be more than you can say for the shampoo you use yourself), but ear wash and face wash and a gazillion kinds of combs and brushes.

Plus, after the dog is dry, perfumes with names such as Sweet & Sassy and Fresh & Fancy.

As fur flies around the warm, humid room — an Alaskan husky is being blow-dried, and that dude is hairy — a 7-month-old goldendoodle named Darby is being lathered up in one of four big stainless steel sinks.

"Our bathtub and bathroom tile appreciate us coming here," says Lauren DeFoe, Darby's owner. This is the Brookside Barkery that's actually in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City (there are two other locations), and DeFoe lives nearby.

Darby appears to enjoy bath time. DeFoe's method is to start with the feet, which today are filthy. Darby just came from a playdate with another pooch at the park. They love to roll in the mud.

DeFoe will spend about $14 to wash and dry the dog herself (the cost is based on size). That's more than she'd spend washing the car, "but I don't sleep with my car," she points out.

A few steps away at the biggest sink in the room, another Brookside dog — a black pooch named Gracie — is getting a bath from another Brookside human, Scott Moore. He lives close enough that he and Gracie can walk here, although, he says, Gracie is pretty lazy. She's been known to sit down after about four blocks.

Gracie is a 9-year-old, 120-pound Belgian cattle-herding dog — a Bouvier des Flandres, to be precise — although no cattle graze at the Moore place. He mentions that these dogs can also herd ostriches. But there are none of those in the backyard, either.

Gracie and her master come here every other week. "I used to wash her at home," he says, "but the cleanup is so crazy." Here, you're not expected to clean up after yourself.

As wet dogs are wont to do, Gracie starts to shake the water off. "Hey! Hey! Hey!" Moore admonishes her.

He rubs shampoo into her fur with one hand and operates the lukewarm water sprayer with the other. Touching the dog all over like this is a good way to detect bumps or anything that might need attention.

Gracie does fine although she hates getting her head wet, Moore says. "The trick is to stay away from her ears. The second she gets water in her ears, she freaks out."

Gracie doesn't like the blow-dryer on her face, either.

Jessica Quinn, 20, is a Barkery bather who also assists the pet owners who want to wash their own dogs. Her tips: Be sure to dry the dog completely; it helps prevent matting. Don't use human shampoo — dogs "have completely different skin than we do."

And although Quinn knows of a couple of dogs that seem genuinely happy in the bathtub, most don't really like it, she says. They tolerate it.

At the moment she's bathing a golden retriever named Montana, a dog that has apparently had a close encounter with cockleburs. "You're a mess, sweetheart!" she tells him.

You-wash-'em places are one option for dirty dogs. Home is another. And then there are come-to-you groomers such as Brian Wineke, who calls his business Neiman Bark-Us.

Why that moniker?

"There was a place called Groomingdales," he says."If there was a Groomingdales there can be a Neiman Bark-Us."

And now a word from the vets

We asked two veterinarians for advice on pet bathing. Margaret Silvius practices at Lakewood Animal Health Center, Lee's Summit, Mo. Amanda Stoufer is with Quivira Road Animal Clinic, Lenexa, Kan.

How often should dogs be bathed? "I kind of go with 'Wash them when they're dirty,' " Silvius says. Wash some dogs too frequently and their skin will dry out.

Every four to six weeks is typical, Stoufer says, but it depends on the dog. She bathes her own dogs every week in the summertime to remove allergens and pollen.

What if your pooch is anti-bath? Make it a positive experience, Stoufer says: lots of rewards (treats) and praise. Make sure a bath doesn't seem like punishment.

What about cats? "I've never given my cat a bath, and we've had her five years," Silvius says. "Most cats are really good self-groomers." But you do need to comb or brush your cat.

Stoufer says long-haired cats may require baths. And any cat that gets into something — motor oil, for instance.

Stoufer has noticed that cats seem to be calmer at the clinic than they would be at home; they're out of their element. "Most cats just kind of sit there and let us do what we do," Stoufer says. "Everybody assumes that cats hate water, but most of them don't seem that traumatized by it."

Still, for cats, a treat afterward may not help. Their attitude seems to be, "You humiliated me! I want some space from you," Stoufer says.

How about "pocket pets" such as guinea pigs, hamsters and mice? They self-groom, too, for the most part. "I would just spot-clean them if they happen to get messy," Stoufer says.

Can pets be blow-dried? Yes, but use the coolest setting. Dogs and cats can easily overheat. Stoufer's office uses no-heat fans that hook onto cages.

Do you really need to brush your dog or cat's teeth? "That's definitely the ideal thing," Silvius says. Every day if you can (with pet toothpaste, available in flavors like poultry). Dry food might not help. Dental treats and water additives can. Tartar buildup, periodontal disease — the bad stuff that affects humans — can affect pets, too. The good news: Brushing is enough. You don't have to train your pet to rinse and spit.

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