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Canine artistry

By jim Published: August 25, 2009

In Bath Township, paws do the walking in paint to create masterpieces that are doggone divine

By Kim Hone-McMahan
Beacon Journal staff writer

There used to be a time when dogs had jobs — hunting, guarding the sheep from hungry coyotes and keeping menacing varmints out of the barn. Oh sure, there are still working canines, but they are the minority. Today, many are so pampered that great-grandpa, if he were still around, might wonder what's leaked into our drinking water that makes us spoil Fido the way we do.

At Easdale, a pet boarding and grooming business in Bath Township, husband and wife owners Paul Brett and Nancy Secrist take their furry guests on nature-type walks and assist them in painting mini masterpieces.

While it's something they love doing, Brett also knows how his English grandfather would have reacted had someone told him that dogs would someday spend part of their days creating artwork.

''He would have said, 'You are bloody crazy,' '' Paul said, chuckling.

Clearly things have changed, with no hint of reverting back to the days when most dogs worked to earn their keep.

Five years ago, Americans spent $34 billion (that's with a ''B'') on their pets. This year, expenditures are expected to top a staggering $45 billion.

Companies that are traditionally known for producing products for humans are focusing on luxury items for dogs, cats and reptiles.

There's a big market out there. According to a National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of U.S. households own a pet. Of those, 46 percent have dogs, 38 percent cats and nearly 5 percent reptiles.

Big-name companies including Paul Mitchell, Omaha Steaks, Origins and Harley-Davidson are offering lines of pet products ranging from shampoo to gourmet treats.

In its report on trends, the association notes that many hotels now cater to pets. Several chains even offer oversized pet pillows, doggie robes and pet toys at check-in.

But some pet owners who opt to leave their pooches at home when traveling expect only the best.

''So many people . . . don't want their dogs just stored,'' Secrist said. ''They want them to have an experience.''

During a recent visit to Easdale, some of the guests' pictures were displayed on latticework that supported a canopy where dogs were painting. Shaded from the heat of the day, employees dribbled poster paint on watercolor paper and covered it with plastic. Mylie, a golden retriever, Sparky, a poodle, and other pets sat or stepped on the plastic, spreading the mix of purples, greens and oranges on the paper.

Owners are given the paintings when they pick up their pets. And Fido's artwork is often put on display, just like a child's schoolwork on the kitchen refrigerator.

''I think what is in it for the dog as they paint is one-on-one attention,'' Secrist said.

Animals painting isn't new. Employees of the Akron Zoo have been painting with animals for a couple of years. To keep its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the zoo is required to do animal enrichment activities. The idea is to stimulate natural behavior that might be done in the wild. Of course, it's doubtful there's much painting taking place in the wilds of Africa or South America, but the zookeepers said it was fun.

During walks at Easdale, someone snaps photos of the guests walking through the picturesque grounds. Sometimes, if the owners have requested it, the photo is e-mailed to them while they are vacationing. That way, Secrist said, they can be reassured that their pooch is happy — or at least amused.

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