Lizzie Morse looks forward to her regular visits to the spa. There is nothing quite like the luxury of a gentle manicure, a stylish haircut, and a sumptuous bath. Her biggest concern of the day is which soap will be chosen: lavender and mint or aloe and coconut. Tipping may be appreciated, but Lizzie does one better: she leaves with her tail wagging.
Lizzie, you see, is one of many coddled pets of the plateau, a charming mixed breed rescue dog who hit pay dirt when she was adopted by Ruthie and Jack. Say what you will about the strong constitutions of mountain folk, when it comes to their pets, they are marshmallows.
To confirm this observation, go no further than The Village Hound, a home goods emporium in Cashiers which emphasizes canine comforts. Housed in a charming 1920s era building which is listed on the Historic Registry, the carefully culled inventory is a brilliant combination of lovely antiques and decorative dog-themed accents and accessories.
“Many of my clients are waiting for grandkids,” owner Lee Dages says, to explain the popularity of monogrammed dog blankets, sweaters, custom harnesses (fit is important for dogs!), and treats.
Lee is a passionate dog lover and “mama” to four rescue dogs who can be seen around the shop. Eve, for example, is a frequent sidekick, having been adopted by Lee at a Humane Society Gala where she lost her heart to the homeless chihuahua.
So passionate is she about dogs’ wellbeing, Dages began a dog biscuit company 24 years ago because she attributed dogs’ intestinal diseases to the ingredients in many commercial offerings. Made with quinoa flour, cut into fun shapes with doggy cookie cutters and never frosted, her treats fly off the shelves as testament to local owners’ devotion to their pets.
Dages identifies a certain personality who loves dogs as she does. “They’re homebodies,” she says, explaining that they love being in their home and that a pet provides the special ambience and good company to keep them there.
Cat lovers get a nod as well, as the shop offers cat paintings, a vintage cat calendar, catnip treats, and cat collars. But make no mistake, The Village Hound is first and foremost all about dogs.
Dages’ comments about the ingredients in dog treats leads one to Paws on the Mountain in the Ingles shopping mall, a friendly shop that caters to the responsible care and feeding of pets.
Matt Stanley, who with his wife Angel owns the Cashiers store, is a zealous proponent of nutrition for dogs, citing study after study revealing that dogs’ lives are shorter and more diseased today because of the processed ingredients in much commercial dog food. Stanley has a freezer brimming with organic meats and vegetables which clients from as far away as Greenville buy from him. He has developed a reputation on the Plateau for his passion for canine health and holds regular nutritional seminars.
But it’s not all serious, because he has a “self dog wash” in the back of the store, where for ten dollars an owner can bathe a dog using healthy shampoos (oatmeal and plum, for example), hair dryers, and big thick towels.
Dogs quickly learn that if they behave they will be rewarded with a treat for the ride home.
The store is also generously stocked with dog and cat toys and accessories. One “regular,” a bloodhound named Star, very politely peruses the merchandise while his owner does a quick errand in the mall.
Not far away, on Highway 107, Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming is booking grooming appointments at a feverish pace. Julie Roberts, who manages the store, says that smart dog owners call in January and book for the whole season. Lilian Popescu, the shop’s groomer, who is certified by the Raleigh Grooming Academy, holds a record of sorts for having groomed seven Havanese in one day, which he says is almost as challenging as the two Newfoundlands he tackled in one day.
Woof Gang’s, which is one of 70 locations in the United States, also sells a wide array of pet treats, some of which are prepared in the Orlando corporate home office. But the oven in the Cashiers store sees lots of “doggy dough” as well, and the array of dog treats on a center table suggests a fancy bake shop. Wolfgang’s is also a great stop for gifts for pet lovers, like the “sleeps with cats” nightshirt and the “no love like dog love” tee shirts.
Another fun source for dog treats and accessories is Highlands’ Mountain Paws on Main Street. Check out the “chicken stogies” treats, that resemble cigars, and the wide array of treats from Smokey Mountain Dog Bakery. A line of locally produced “doggy cologne” is also available.
Of course, one can dial it up a notch and head for the nearest pet spa. Rayne Hellstrom, the assistant manager at Mountain Dog Spa on Highway 64 in Cashiers, oversees grooming, which includes “doggy manicures” and teeth brushing services, as well as boarding and, yes, day care. She says they have many regulars whose owners work outside the home, who are dropped off in the morning for the day. They are organized into play groups, based on size, temperament and energy and spend as much time outdoors as possible when the weather is nice. The hours of noon to two are sacrosanct, as the spa is closed to the public for “nap time.”
If you are boarding your dog, you can rest assured that regular play and exercise will be part of the day, and in the off chance that the power goes out in a storm, the spa shares a power circuit with Ingles so the lights will stay on!
Over in Highlands, Posh Paws Pet Spa also offers a wide variety of grooming services, from tooth brushing to toe nail service to a full groom service which includes a bath, blow dry, and full haircut. The spa does not board pets, but the four-legged clients awaiting service look very much at home beneath a floral fabric canopy in the window.
It’s also good to be canine (or feline) at Dogz Best Friend in Glenville, the personal passion of Susanne Anderson, a former physical therapist who opened the business four years ago. Her medical background makes her a natural for caring for pets who might need injections or medication for conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Her cat guests hang out in the main office building, which has the feel of a comfortable family room, because they would find the dog kennel too noisy. The dogs have the run of a state-of-the-art kennel, which provides each pet its own indoor and outdoor space. Pets from the same family share space to make sure they feel right at home. All the dogs share a generous double-fenced outdoor play area, though they are sometimes separated by size and temperament. Susanne, who lives in a private home on the property, stresses that the animals are never alone, and that she monitors their wellbeing 24/7 with surveillance cameras.
Susanne has also been certified in dog grooming and says that her clients also tend to schedule their appointments for the year by February. But her first love is the interaction with the animals she boards, sometimes as many as 25 at a time. She points out Tristan, a gregarious poodle, whose “parents” are in Europe for three weeks. Tristan appears very much at home, as do the other dogs, some of whom are day care clients.
“The returning customers’ dogs get out of the car, realize where they are, and literally pull their owners in with the leash,” she says.
Humorist Will Rogers was quoted as saying “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” True, perhaps, but if you’re lucky enough to be a pet on the plateau, you may be experiencing a little bit of heaven on earth, right here and now. •