California Dog Wash Hits Foul Note in Neighborhood

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The fur is flying in San Diego's laid-back Ocean Beach, where one do-it-yourself dog wash is fine, but two are just too many. Some locals feel the new shop runs afoul of the neighborhood's kinder, gentler brand of capitalism.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And now a story for the dog days of summer. It's about what happens when the laid-back lifestyle of a Southern California beach community collides with canine capitalism. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

San Diego's Ocean Beach neighborhood has always been a `no shirt, no shoes, no problem' kind of place. The attitude here is live and let live. That goes for people and for dogs.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

HORSLEY: At the neighborhood's designated Dog Beach, shepherds and collies run leash-free in the surf chasing Frisbees, tennis balls and mostly one another. After a long day in the sand and sun, many human handlers walk their charges up the street to the do-it-yourself Dog Beach Dog Wash. The small storefront has five waist-high washtubs inside and a dog dish full of cool water for when the line stretches out the door. Jane Donley opened the dog wash with a partner more than a dozen years ago, and over that time they've built a loyal following. Later this year, Donley says, they'll host their 300,000th dirty dog.

Ms. JANE DONLEY (Owner, Dog Beach Dog Wash): Some people will go to the car wash across the street and then bring their dog here so everybody goes home clean, tired and happy.

HORSLEY: Diana Caslin(ph) brings her dog Liberty here at least once a month. It's easier than washing her at home, she says, plucking a clump of wet golden retriever hair from the drain of the store's oversize tub. The dog wash supplies a vinyl apron and the oatmeal shampoo that Caslin rubs into Liberty's coat.

Ms. DIANA CASLIN (Dog Owner): It's kind of like going into a beauty parlor, except it's for your dog. So after she gets this, then she goes over and gets a nice blow dry.

(Soundbite of people talking and laughing)

Ms. CASLIN: And it's--as you can tell, everybody is really happy here and people that you've never met before--it's like the Starbucks of the dog world.

HORSLEY: Well, maybe not Starbucks. Ocean Beach residents actually picketed when that giant coffee chain opened an outlet here. This neighborhood has never really embraced capitalism of the dog-eat-dog variety. So when a competing dog wash opened this summer less than a block away from the original, some locals greeted the newcomer as if it were an aggressive pit bull on the beach. Businesses posted signs urging customers to keep supporting the neighborhood's first and finest dog wash. The new owners were a little provocative perhaps with their own sign declaring `There's a new dog in town,' but theirs is, after all, another independent business, not part of some corporate dog-washing conglomerate. Kathleen Rosen, who opened the new store with her husband, believes there are enough wet, dirty dogs on the beach.

Ms. KATHLEEN ROSEN (Dog Wash Owner): I think the community will support it, and we're happy to be here.

HORSLEY: The new dog wash has a more industrial look to it with a concrete floor and stainless steel bathtubs. Unlike the original, which offers only do-it-yourself service, Rosen's business lets customers drop off their dogs if they like and have an employee do the bathing.

Ms. ROSEN: You don't have to get wet or dirty; just bring your dirty dog. So it's worked out well. It's a good thing to provide that service.

(Soundbite of water)

HORSLEY: Down the street at the original dog wash, Diana Caslin's rinsing Liberty in preparation for her blow dry and toenail trim. With all five tubs occupied, the dog wash doesn't appear to have lost any business to its new competitor. Caslin says she hasn't tried the new place yet, but she believes in free enterprise.

Ms. CASLIN: There's a lot of dogs and there's a lot of people that love their dogs. There's plenty of business to share. May the best dog win.

HORSLEY: As a 96-pound Akita named Kemosabe(ph) gingerly climbs down from a neighboring tub, Nicky(ph), a tiny dachshund, patiently waits his turn. These well-behaved pets may have a lesson to teach the humans on the block. If they can co-exist so peacefully, maybe there's hope for a doggie detente in the business world as well. Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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