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Daily News
August 3, 1999

Barking Up the Right Tree

Internet-linked doggie day care center takes the 'ruff' out of life for pet, owners

Studio City - You'd almost think you were in a kindergarten classroom.

Hallie and Dudley were fighting over a toy. Papillon, who was new and a bit shy, hovered in the corner. Amy wanted to play with the big kids, but was just too tiny to compete in their rough games. Phoebe was resting after a morning of play. And Keaton and Gretel were battling it out to be top dog.

That's right - top dog.

This in no schoolroom. It's day care for dogs, a place owners can park their pooches for the day, then check up on them - live on the Internet - courtesy of a camera that films the play, the squabbles and everything else that goes on at Doggie View day Care Center.

She opened the service only eight months ago in a Studio City strip mall, but store owner Barbra Waldare - who went into business with 18 years' experience as a dog groomer and caretaker - already is preparing to franchise the idea.

"People love that they can just get on the Internet and see the dogs, that they can see their own dogs," Waldare said. "We've has franchise inquiries from California, New Jersey, Washington and Florida, as well as other places.

"Usually, it takes three years before a new business goes into franchising, but I've gotten such a huge response…I think either you do it now or miss the boat. I'm nervous and excited about it. It's a big risk. But I think it'll be successful."

The key to making it work, she said, is ensuring that all the proper amenities are included in any new outlets. But, more important, that new owners enjoy dogs as much as she does.

And Waldare loves dogs - no bones about it.

She does paperwork as two of her charges compete for space on her lap. And her own corgi, Buster Keaton (Keaton for short), barks a warning when strangers enter, sparking a noisy chorus of welcoming barks.

"OK, settle down, you guys," soothes Waldare. "Let's play."

While most of the dogs chase after a tennis ball, a golden retriever, on her first day at the center, squats and leaves a puddle on the concrete floor. Before Waldare can even reach the mop, three other dogs - who've been here before and should know to wait for a walk coming soon - follow suit. "Welcome to our world," she says with a wry grin, wielding the mop. "You have to love dogs or you couldn't do this. At least, not for long."

Customer Greg Orrante of North Hollywood, an audio technician for NBC sitcom "Veronica's Closet," said he trusts Waldare to take care of his golden retriever, Tango, when he's at the studio. Orrante was so delighted with the prospect of being able to check in with his pooch on the Internet that he helped Waldare, a friend, hook up the camera and get her shop ready for customers.

"I know my dog is somewhere safe," said Orrante, who's still reeling from the unexpected death last September of another dog, Cosmo. "I get separation anxiety and I wonder if Tango's OK. I work at Warner Bros., and I can go to one of the offices and log on and look at him. "I'm such a dad when it comes to Tango. I'll call in a couple of friends and say, 'Hey, that's my dog.' "He's not bothered by the $25-a-day cost of day care. "I used to pay a sitter $36 a day for visits and walks," he said. "It's cheaper to have Tango in day care. Besides, the money is not a consideration when it comes to an animal, for me."

Susan Jackson, a Hollywood record producer, said she usually has her computer - both at the studio and at home - logged on to the Doggie View site so she can keep an eye on her boxer, Gretel. She said she spotted an ad about Waldare's center and rushed to sign up her pooch. "I thought how sweet it would be to watch her play during the day," Jackson said. "She's so active and it's much better for her than leaving her at home, even with a walker." Gretel can't wait to get to day care and see her doggy friends, her owner said. And Jackson's not the only member of her family checking in on Gretel. Her husband, Todd, who works in the Boeing factory in Long Beach, logs on to watch the dog during his breaks from sawdust and machine noise. And a niece and nephew in Boston and cousins in Portland, Ore., "go online to see their 'cousin a dog,' Auntie Sue's dog," Jackson said with a laugh. "If they want to, they can see her everyday."

Actually, any computer user can check in to watch the pooches cavort in front of the camera. And they do.

Waldare said she's received many inquiries from around the United States and even other countries about the dogs at her day care. "I get e-mails from all over, like one little girl from Scotland who e-mails me once a month and wants to know all about the dogs," she said. "Everybody seems to like to watch the dogs, even if they're not their dogs."

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What's Being Said

"After looking at franchises and being shocked at the high cost, I ran across Barbra's website, called her and got a whole different feeling than I got when I talked to the franchise people. I knew right away that Barbra cared, that she has a passion for what she is doing helping people get started - and for a much more reasonable fee. She helps you make the right decisions. She tells you what you need to know, even if that's not what you want to hear. She helps you be successful."

Rachel Song
Brooklyn, New York

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