No Holds Barred: Gone to the Dogs

Featured image
Sunshine, on his Ritz Carlton mattress, surrounded by his Faux Paws brand items.

I have almost given up on all shopping. Maybe I’m getting too old to care. Clothes don’t call me. I’ve never been a shoe ‘n bag gal. Cosmetics are hopeless. Malls scare me as potential terrorist locations. Online bargains are flatlining and I am sick of “return labels.” Even hardware stores and stationary boutiques leave me cold. The thrill is gone!

But never fear — I found a new venue … pet products! According to American Pet Products Associations, Americans are going to spend at least $60.5 billion this year (a record high) on their pets. PetSmart is now topping out on the Stock Market. As most Americans live alone and families have fewer children, attachment to pets is exploding.

Pet shops have become super stores with designer clothes, jewelry, and high-end pet foods. I went into a few local luxury pet “boutiques” and their aisles of organic, holistic, grain free, non G.M.O. bags of $100 gourmet dog food was staggering!

“As boomers become empty nesters, they look for other things to nurture,” says Richard Russo, a certified financial planner. “During the last 7-10 years, I have noticed that the retirement dream for many clients is still drinking a Piña Colada on the beach, but now there is a Lab next to them …” We are now way past Paris Hilton carrying her Chihuahua around everywhere she goes in her pink Hermés bag.

The average American pet owner spends more than $1,700 a year on a dog and $1,100 on a cat. Financial planners are now including pet budgets and trust funds for Fido on a regular basis. Sign me up! My 11-month-old standard poodle Sunshine has become my purpose for my daily shopping spree! Better he than me! I have splurged on crates, chews, and collars everywhere from Target to Safeway to the carwash.

Lately I have branched out in my canine shopping addiction. I gave up my personal physical fitness trainer, and replaced her with a fabulous trainer from Partners Dog Training School — Kitra Tovar — as a personal trainer for Sunshine … And me! It was Kitra who led me to the gritty urban streets of Phoenix to the ultimate in dog/cat shopping; Ryan’s Pet Supplies.

Phoenix’s canine version of Costco.

This is the professional wholesale pet care warehouse. Imagine a football field with floor to ceiling shelves stocked to accommodate whatever you may need for your cat or dog. Shampoo, dog nail polish, brushes, beds, ramps for handicap pets, leashes, chews snacks sunglasses, wound cream, tuggies, squeakies, booties, cremation urns. Everything … but dog food! Dog food takes up too much space and has a “shelf life” that can be tricky. Let the real Costco deal with food. But trust me, Ryan’s is more incredible than Costco could ever be.

Since 1959, Ryan’s Pet Supplies has been family owned and operated. “Our mission is to take care of people who take care of pets,”, according to Ryan’s Executive H.R. Administrator Nancy Schepis. “This started as a small local pet supply distributor and has now become a giant catalogue/online business.” (

Once inside, directions and maps are available.
Ryan’s Executive Administrator and “Sherpa” Nancy Schepis guiding trainer Kitra and me through the store. As you can tell by my expression, the opening moment was a bit overwhelming
Negotiating the maze with Sunshine’s trainer Kitra Tovar.
Or, at the higher end store aisle, $100 bags of dog food …

I needed Nancy to “Sherpa” me down the vast aisles of “health and wellness,” “Home and Travel,” Microchips, Memorials (Urns and Boxes), dental supplies, and of course, TOYS! Our trainer Kitra had to hold onto my collar as I immediately sprung out of control! (By the way, dogs are welcome shoppers at Ryan’s.)

The memorial section.
Everyone can shop at Ryan’s.

The secret to Ryan’s is to come with a serious “to buy” list (we just needed balls, chews, and collars, but we left with a shopping cart full of “other stuff” too). You cannot “shop” a warehouse. Just having to check your bag and valuables at the door for “security” before entering is daunting. Unfazed, I walked through the inner doors and found myself in — the doggie costume section. I just knew Sunshine needed to have that Reindeer outfit.

Full shopping cart on my way to checkout!

I gave myself 85 minutes and managed to get to the checkout counter under $150 for a cart full of more than everything on my list. I did, however, manage to return the Xmas costume and the doggie cologne. While my purchases were being rung up, another politically correct shopper admonished me for buying balls from China. I didn’t know what the proper response for that was. Luckily Ryan’s HR Exec. Nancy was by my side and said “Does your pet love this particular ball?” Yes he does. End of debate! (Treats and food made in China are a different controversy.)

I could tell by the aisles of regular shoppers that Ryan’s is a beloved shopping pet Mecca. They even provide a map of the place upon entry and a suggested “First-Timers” shopping list. Ryan’s might not be chic in presentation, but it is a must-see pet experience.

“Security” checkout with Christina Rubi.

On a much more personal side, I am aware of certain towns that love and cater to dogs — like Carmel, Aspen, and my favorite, Laguna! “Dog communities” are now part of the recent pet culture blow-up. I learned all of this while staying for the last 15 years at The Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel.

With the help of genius G.M. Bruce Brainerd, I am now sensitive to “pet friendly” businesses. Brainerd arrived at the Laguna Niguel property 8 years ago in a down economy, and revamped the entire place, making it into the diamond in the Ritz crown. “We are not just a hotel — We are part of a community that must be included.” So he brought in surfing charity events and product lines to benefit the neighborhood. His most popular is the monthly Yappy Hour for neighborhood dogs and their owners. He and his adored Brock (a one-time therapy dog) are major celebrities and can be seen all over the hotel. He even hosts the Diamond Ball, a gala that supports the Wounded Veterans Initiative of Canine Companions. Brainerd and Brock are “on” the canine case across the board, supporting animal charities.

GM Bruce Brainerd at Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel with his celebrity dog Brock.

It was Bruce Brainerd who turned me on to Faux Paw Productions. He originally gifted me with a ceramic dog bowl and cups with hilarious characterizations of Sunshine all over them. The Ritz stocks this line in their Market Coffee shop. The challenge is keeping them stocked; they regularly fly off the shelves.

I had to meet the creator and designer of Faux Paw. Forget the pageant of the Masters (THE art event in Laguna). Debby Carman’s AIR Gallery (658 S. Coast Highway) is THE center of the cat and dog design merchandise cyclone.

AIR Gallery, home of Faux Paws.

Carman should actually be a Wall Street Journal profile after listening to her successful entrepreneurial story. She grew up on a chicken farm in Pomona. Never graduated High School or College, but loved to doodle and draw cartoons. She eventually ended up owning four floral shops and did event planning in Laguna. After selling the shops for a tidy profit, she got into her own whimsical decorative pet art doing everything from ceramics to paintings to key fobs to t-shirts to greeting cards … and soon customers and licensing followed. 25 years later she was a recognized local Laguna talent.

Faux Paws Creator Debby Carman with her dog Teddy Confetti.
Cozy Coquetti on Debby Carman’s Faux Paws chair.
Teddy Confetti with Carman’s Plush Toys.
Cozy Coquetti sitting regally amongst Faux Paws designs.

Eventually Debby made her way through licensing and went bust. But she made a comeback through her artistic children’s books, “Bowzers and Meowzers.” She now has her own media publishing company along with her OWN plush toy and fabric line!

What hasn’t Debby done?

Her true bread and butter though, are her ceramic pet treat jars, dog bowls, latté cups and platters, all done in breed specifics! She also does custom pieces of your pet from photos. She makes your pet into an instant evocative character. Prices range from $35 – $350 for ceramics and $300 – $800 for paintings. (

Lead Sales dog Cozy Coquetti showing Faux Paws merch.
Popular treat jars and dog bowls.
Faux Paws products.

When I visited her treasure trove at AIR Gallery (Artists In Recovery – Debby has been sober and a proud member of the recovery community for the last 25 years), the home of Faux Paw, I was astounded. She calls herself a “Fabulist,” has lived a wonderfully varied life, and is extremely optimistic and generous to everyone who comes by. And there are many fans. She exudes inspiration and color.

“Passion and desperation have always motivated me — and a willingness to fail. I adore animals, and have always felt that if you love what you do — you can’t call it work — you can only succeed.” And succeed she has, big time! “My art is nothing highfalutin, it is just art with a heart.” Her two rescue dogs Teddy Confetti and Cozy Coquetti are with her constantly, and underline her life of fun and games. By the way, Debby is looking forward to having her own Faux Paw booth at the next Westminster Show.

Faux Paws postcards.
A few of the titles in the Faux Paws collection.
Ceramic masks.

Get ready to stand in that line! She showed me all the Xmas cards she designed for the Ritz Carlton Laguna with all the Executives pets done in caricature. Her depiction of Bruce Brainerd’s dog Brock has already made him a popular “brand” celebrity! I’m beginning to believe that most family pets eventually become the family Brand. I now proudly display all of Sunshine’s bowls and cups on an “altar” at home. They are too gorgeous to use.

The Ritz Carlton”s Xmas card done by Debby Carman. GM Brainerd’s dog Brock is the yellow one and the rest of the “characters” are all the other staff’s dogs!

I recently read about Karl Lagerfeld and his little cat Choupette, who he claims made three million euros from two photo shoots last year. He is addicted to her and said, “She has something unique. She is a human but thank God she is silent. She hates other animals and children. She stays with me and has two personal maids. They play with her and take care of her beautiful white hair and beauty treatments for her eyes. And they entertain her. She is the center of my world. She’s an inspiration for all elegance.”

Karl and Choupette.

I suddenly realized that Choupette has her staff and her photo shoots to immortalize her. My Sunshine has his Faux Paw complete ceramic line to make him into the hilarious character he truly is!

The Sunshine Custom Faux Paws Collection 🙂

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