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Queer Eye for the Canine 

"We've mastered making people more beautiful, why not improve upon the rest of the world?"

Wednesday, Feb 18 2004
"I think she's a butch-femme-top," says Evan Kaminsky, bending down to pet a black half-pug, half-Boston terrier named Beatrice. "Aren't you, you widdle angel?" The dog squirms from his grip and darts away to bark at a hat. "Yeah, I think she's very femme, too," agrees Ellen Shershow, the dog's owner and a 31-year-old artist. "I want to just buff her up to look like the ultimate princess."

Dog Bites settles into our chair in a Hayes Valley salon and wonders, not for the last time, how we will make it through an entire afternoon of doggy talk. Not just talk, but doggy clothes, doggy spas, doggy perfumes, doggy psychics – and, as we will soon find out, much doggy poop. But these are small discomforts for the reporter intrepid enough to spend the day witnessing a canine makeover, and Dog Bites, more than most, can understand why a pooch absolutely, positively needs to look her best. Especially in this city.

Kaminsky, makeup professional and part-time drag queen, actually takes notes as he probes Shershow about Beatrice's lifestyle, her sexual orientation – "Gay, for sure!" – and what kind of look she needs. "The consultation is a way for us to gauge what the owner and dog want, to really feel out the specifics," explains Jon Peahl, speaking in the hushed, paced tone of a sportscaster describing the concentrated movements of a golfer in the final seconds before a tournament-winning 18th-hole putt. Peahl is the manager of Guerilla Makeovers, a San Francisco company offering Queer Eye for the Straight Guy-style makeovers to "straight men, gay women, the young, the old, housepets, houseplants, whatever." A 34-year-old self-professed "token straight guy with pasty and dull Midwestern sensibilities," Peahl dreamed up the company last summer while watching the Bravo Queer Eye show. In the past few months, Guerilla Makeovers – whose consultants include fashion experts, former MTV anchors, a cowboy, and a certified Cat Dance teacher – has been performing between five and 15 makeovers a week. "We've done everyone from Alabama housewives wanting to look more 'San Francisco' to Silicon Valley nerds wanting to get laid," Peahl explains between rings of his cell phone. "We figured, 'We've mastered making people more beautiful, why not improve upon the rest of the world?'"

As Kaminsky wraps up his consultation with Shershow, the door swings open and the other dog-makeover customers of the day arrive. Hanna Carroll is also 31, dressed fashionably in jeans, a white shirt, and high-heeled sandals, and her stout French bulldog, Lulu, makes her entrance in a fancy pink collar. Kaminsky asks Carroll what she wants to accomplish with Lulu today.

"Well, pardon my French," Carroll says, "but she is already just so fucking cute – I don't see what you're going to possibly do. You can't really improve on her."

Kaminsky lifts a finger, correcting her in a sassy don't-go-there-girlfriend tone: "We don't seek improvement – but enhancement."

Step 1: Behavioral Training

At noon sharp, Amy Klein, a 31-year-old reimbursement coordinator by day and part-time puppy and obedience trainer by night, sits down with the dogs and their owners to discuss pet behavioral issues. When Klein massages Beatrice for a moment, the dog's worried face calms, and her beady eyes drift. Klein explains how to gain a dog's trust – looking in its ears, eyes, and mouth – and all of it is very convincing, but Carroll and Shershow are too excited about the prospects of shopping for dog coats to listen. When Klein leaves 10 minutes later, a trifle annoyed at the lack of attention, the dogs go berserk, nails skidding across the concrete floor as they hurl themselves into chairs and walls. We ask how the training went, and Shershow replies, "Great."

Behind us Beatrice is pissing beneath a desk.

Step 2: Wardrobe Enhancement

We file out to the street and into Babies, a pet boutique. The front half of the store is cluttered with gourmet dog snacks, jewelry, vitamins, and aromatherapy. The back has wall-length racks of dog clothes, from Halloween costumes to formalwear, all rife with kitschy excess: pink patent-leather raincoats with fur lining, lumberjack coats, sporty Tommy Hilfiger-striped sweaters, leopard prints, velvet, and Polarfleece. Many of the items cost more than $100.

And, remember, these are clothes for dogs.

"For you, Beatrice, let's do something formal, with a gingham accent," muses Kaminsky. Behind him, Carroll has already fitted Lulu into a too-tight leather outfit, replete with Harley T-shirt, hat, and doggles (dog sunglasses). The bulldog squirms and sneezes, trying to get free. "Oh my God, that is so cute!" yells Shershow from the back of the store as she fits Beatrice into a pink tutu. The fever-pitch shopping ends 40 minutes later with a pile of sweaters, matching purses, jackets, and doggles.

Even with a 20 percent "makeover" discount, the total comes to $1,100.

Step 3: Massage and Bath

At 1 p.m. we hop in a cab. Waiting outside Wags: Pet Wash and Boutique on Polk is Dawna Zimbalist, a 48-year-old professional pet sitter, dog masseuse, and holistic animal healer. She wears a sweater patterned with cartoon dogs and has a piercing-yet-faraway stare that suggests more than a few years spent living "off the grid." Once past the front gate ("Caution: Tails Wagging"), Zimbalist takes Lulu to a stall and goes to work. "Please, no bath," insists Carroll. "Lulu has a skin condition and needs only special soaps."

Watching Lulu's stout frame stumble blindly past a line of dirty dogs waiting to be bathed, Dog Bites wonders how long the French bulldog could survive in nature without her medicines, organic dog snacks, and herbal body treatments. "I know," Carroll admits. "In nature, Lulu would never happen. When I think about it, it really upsets ... so I try not to think about it."

As Shershow and Kaminsky give Beatrice a high-powered wash in the doggy stall, Zimbalist lifts a resistant Lulu onto a massage table and begins to slowly and deeply knead between her skin folds. Five minutes later Lulu runs off, barking between the legs of bigger dogs, ever searching for new butts to sniff. "That was really hard," Zimbalist says, literally throwing in the towel. "There's just so much dog energy here."

We leave the store, hail a taxi, and head toward the Castro. Our grizzled cabdriver notices our microphone. "I'm covering a dog makeover," Dog Bites tells him, hoping for a derisive reply. Instead, to our horror, the cabbie smiles, reaches over to Beatrice, sticks out his tongue, and says, "Awn't you a pwetty little lady, yes you are, yes you are!"

He's one, too.

Step 4: Psychic Healing

Waiting outside a small room in the back of Crystal Way, a New Age bookstore at Market and Noe, are Barbara Reed and Elizabeth Zima, both specialists in "animal communication and intuitive healing." We enter an empty back room, close the door, and sit cross-legged in a circle on the carpet.

Reed grabs hold of Beatrice. "You'll get [a treat] if you're a good girl," Reed says to the dog. Zima responds, with stone-cold seriousness, "I feel she wants that treat right now." Zima searches Beatrice's eyes: "Beatrice is very open to communicate. She wants a dog bone. That is what she is saying to us right now."

The psychics, whose loose-fitting clothes are festooned with animal designs, watch as Beatrice inhales a treat. "Beatrice really likes texture, she is sensuous," Reed tells us. "She likes to eat – some crunch, some rough, some smooth, some mushy – whatever. She likes food." Reed bends down. "Down chu, you widdle pwincess."

After 40 minutes, even Beatrice and Lulu appear spent. Before we leave, Reed and Zima prescribe flower essences – aspen and chamomile – for Lulu's problems with "emotional stability." We nod and walk, quickly, toward the street.

On Market, the rumble of the F-line trolley cuts off conversation. It's 4 p.m. now, and Dog Bites desperately seeks the comfort of a catnap on an ungnawed, danderless couch. Behind us, Lulu lunges for a tree and takes her third poop in four hours. With nothing else to do, we all watch. Carroll turns to Dog Bites, whipping her dark auburn hair from a mascara-laden eye, and says: "You know, man, some of that psychic stuff was good, but most of it was total bullshit."

Or, shall we say, dog shit. (James Nestor)

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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