No Holds Barred: The New “Essentials”

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In order for an economy to come “roaring back we really have to figure out our “essentials.” Who knew from that word three months ago?

And who would have thought hairdressers would have ended up being on the political forefront in opening up our nation?  Not to mention gym managers, along with invaluable bar and restaurant owners.

One of the new “Essentials.”

Now we have to look at the meaning of essential. After all, one person’s essential is another one’s expendable. Who is to say what is now crucial to our Covid lifestyle — other than that indispensable tub of Clorox wipes?

Now we can judge people by what they consider essential.  Thankfully, last week many housekeepers returned to work, car washes reopened, and restaurants and retailers resumed.

And then we have the plastic surgeons!  Dr. Steven Levine, one of New York’s leading plastic surgeons, revealed in The Cut that though he was staying isolated, “I’m shockingly busy… doing virtual consults all day. The demand from wealthy and celebrity clients to get work done — face lifts, tummy tucks, breast augmentations — while no one is looking (while they have nowhere to be) is extremely high. Sadly, my answer is either “No” or “Not Yet.”

The savvy doctor goes on to say “the volume of calls and level of curiosity is probably higher during Covid than non-Covid.  Almost every virtual consult ends with, “How quickly can you do this?”  They want to take advantage of the perceived downtime.”

After all, a month or two is the perfect time slot from a face or breast lift recovery. And as more people appear from home on Zoom there is now a concern over something called “Cam Chin” — people’s video angles showing a double chin. Now there is a rise of interest for chin and neck liposuction. Gone is the easy Instagram filter where you can erase lines or wrinkles with the press of a button.  Now with virtual Facetiming, we need “serious” work done as fast and efficiently as possible. Call it “curbside” plastic surgery.

I have always heard about “Botox parties” — a version of Tupperware gatherings — where a “medical assistant” performs a “house call” (with needle and vials) and you provide four other guests and have wine and cocktails! Now there have been rumors by desperate patients offering plastic surgeons’ private jets and booked private hospital rooms for facelifts at five times the normal fee … in cash!

And here I thought “stealth” at home visits from hair colorists was tricky but necessary!  Everyone’s neurosis and “urgent needs” are now on display as we figure out our new priorities.

My stealth at home visit.

I knew months ago I couldn’t let my five-year-old Standard Poodle go without his weekly shampoo and playdate.  People thought I was nuts with my dog’s lifestyle obsession.  Then again, it has been reported during the pandemic more people adopted rescue dogs than ever before.  Apparently sheltering in place has actually emptied most animal shelters across the country.  Now that people have more time, animals provide an activity and therapeutically speaking, they help with the loneliness factor. It has been a win/win.

Frank Bruni’s two best friends — his dad and dog Regan.

Even taking the “new” companion dogs out for a “walk” (dogs luckily don’t need masks!) is a whole new “connection” experience — easily done at a distance.

Last August, New York Times opinion writer Frank Bruni wrote one of his most revealing columns about his recent dog adoption of a rescue named Regan. The column was called “Dogs will Fix a Broken Democracy.” He reveals (remember this was pre-Covid): “Something happens when Regan leaves the apartment with me — something so rare these days it’s practically revolutionary.  I have honest-to-goodness conversations with actual strangers who are from all kinds of backgrounds and occupy all sorts of categories; young and old, black and white, rich and not, fit and fat.”

In other words, no politics. “We don’t have our guards up,” he continues, “That’s not the posture we’re in. A dog or dogs have established a bridge between us and started us off on a note of good faith. Because we love dogs, we can’t be all bad.”

Thank you Frank! He even ends his column with a real message. “Dogs yank us outside of our narrowest selves. They force us to engage. In a perfect world, we’d do that on our own. But with dogs … we all fall into every chitchat that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise. We walk away feeling less isolated, a little less disconnected.”

So does every other dog owner!  Now with all the Covid dog adoptees, that happens more than ever.  However the problem is, as we “open up” and the coziness of quarantine starts to end, the new pups are left at home with little attention and a new schedule with less training.

And my late dad, Ed Sabol, with Sunshine.

Enter the dogcare facility boom!  Pre-Covid dogs (pets in general) have become a big business.  There were the ridiculous “Pooch Hotels,” the rustic dog retreats and the common dog care service of basic boarding.

Last year Doggy Style, a $1500 a month pup daycare biz opened in San Francisco (ironically near the homeless neighborhood) offering private birthday parties for 12 dogs and their owners. Full concierge service with limo pick-up and delivery; complementary grooming, and deluxe “home away from home” suites (not cages). Also there’s a retail boutique selling glitzy jackets and leashes as well as high-end lounges for owners to meet and greet during elaborate “yappy hours.”

There was also a “Bougie Bitch” program promising deluxe walks and treadmill exercising and gourmet food.  In the end it sounded like a human singles fetish bar and maybe it was since it closed in four months and didn’t even make it as a Bravo reality show.

Personally, I fell in love with our local (and probably the best) dog care facility in all of Arizona.  Partners Dog Training School and Daycare in Cave Creek (A Whole Lotta Sunshine).  Partners is the Yale of dog care.  It is “an essential” for many Arizona dog owners.  It offers training, behavior, aggression camps, agility, snake avoidance, boarding “suites” and daycare/playgroups in an indoor/outdoor 13,500 square foot setup. And my dog Sunshine can’t and didn’t live without his weekly visits — even in quarantine.

Doggy Daycare entry.

By the way, all dogs are pre-screened directly through their vets before they arrive which includes updated shots and behavior reports and Partners has their own vets on call.  Playgroup is no more than 10 dogs per trainer, and they get one-on-one training throughout the day.

This is not a free-for-all as in most dog care facilities.  There is also a dock jumping pool for training as well as acclimating dogs who are nervous around water.  No chaise lounges or Palm Springs umbrellas … yet.  The place is air conditioned and the cleaning/ sanitization has been upgraded to top of the line daily — if not hourly — cleaning using a commercial orbital scrubbing unit that uses foaming nanoparticles to disinfect bacteria which is safe for the dogs.  There is no overwhelming odor of Clorox (our airplanes should be so clean).  The dogs are boarded in custom plexiglass pods, not carpeted suites with TV’s.

Spick-and-span boarding suites.

Sunshine and I were trained four years ago over a two-week intensive period and it was the greatest experience of our lives.  He now gets a weekly “refresher” training during his 9am – 5pm ESSENTIAL playdate.  Without Partners neither of us would have made it!

Partners founder Leighton Oosthuisen knew he was okay to be an “essential” business since a lot of prominent doctors and lawyers are already huge fans and clients and had to park their dogs there.  The school and boarding shut down but the daily supervised playgroups with training survived since it was mostly outside and dogs and trainers were already socially distant.  The owners leave their dog in an exterior fenced yard and the trainer retrieves them immediately from the interior playgroup yards, and all leashes are sanitized coming and going.

Walkway to outdoor training field.

Leighton has re-designed the entire property over the last year (it looks like a resort) with gating and fencing, so dogs can be separated for play by size, energy and temperament.  Now that daycare has become the most popular feature from 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily, there are between 10 and 25 dogs a day (depending on the season) and 8 to 10 trainers engaged at all times.

Leighton sees that the Covid rescue trend has had an impact, and lately there have been more of them coming to Partners. “Rescues often come with issues and people should and need to get educated so I suggest at least two months of training.

Leighton has invested a lot into the landscape and appearance of the facility.

After all, many have experienced a “honeymoon” in quarantine with these sweet rescues — but they can become monsters in a matter of months as owners go back to work or lives change.  The new owners need the training more than the dogs.  It is a two-way street.”  Now with more rescues having entered the scene on an impulse Covid buy moment, it is crucial dogs get the basic training they need to survive our nation’s and owners’ “next phase” — whatever that looks like!

By the way, Partners has now added its new doggy school bus (not limo) to transport (with AC and luxury pods — not crates or cages) the playdaters in style to and from playgroup with ETA and text updates.

Featured “School Bus” for pickup and delivery (curbside).

Clearly there will be essential businesses that really make new waves and change our lives.  It will happen and it won’t be easy.

But honestly, every week I leave an excited and overjoyed Sunshine off at his great escape, I can’t help but believe — if dogcare facilities can make this giant leap in safety and service, can hotels, planes and restaurants be far behind?

Remember: “Dogs Rule.” Let’s all follow the lead.

Sunshine and pal getting loves.

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