The clean-dog lady

Pamela Demarest

Photo by Larry Dalton

What’s up with people and their dogs? If you’re not among the doggie cognoscenti, you probably wonder why people make such a big fuss over their pooches. However, if you do own a dog—or a dog owns you—you know why the nickname “man’s best friend” is no mistake. This, Pamela Demarest, proprietor of Launder Dog—which for the past five years has done business at 2600 Alta Arden Expressway (at Fulton)—also understands. While washing her dog a few years ago, she had a light bulb over the head experience: Why not provide a space where dog owners can come to bathe and pamper their four-legged pals?

How did you get into the dog grooming business?

Necessity is the mother of invention. I had a corporate background in, of all things, the automobile industry—Mercedes-Benz, no less—and wanted to strike out on my own. I had a lot of ideas for sales and marketing, and I wanted to bring the concept of customer service—so essential in the automobile industry—to something as simple and unsophisticated as pet grooming. I just thought I’d add the self-serve element. I was washing my own huge dog in a friend’s walk-in shower, and I thought, there’s gotta be more people like me.

Any funny dog-owner stories?

I’m not sure if it’s printable; there’s the naked baby story. We require that all dogs must be on a leash, but this guy was letting his 2- or 3-year-old naked child run through the store while he was trying to get his dog groomed. And if you can imagine my concern about the risk factor of dogs and jaws and naked babies, you’ve got the picture.

Did you know that there was such a huge dog-owner subculture?

It’s absolutely amazing to me. I could never have predicted, in any business plan, that there was such a subculture. Now, when I’m out in public, I watch for those little secret clues to pet ownership. For example, dog slobber on windows of cars—drive through any parking lot, or through Launder Dog’s parking lot, and count the number of dog-slobbered windows. And there’s kind of a secret subculture of pet hair; you can scan people when you meet them in public. It’s kind of like a secret handshake. And in the grocery store—"Paper or plastic?” When they answer “plastic,” chances are they’re a pet owner. A responsible pet owner.

Do you notice that people treat their pets like surrogate children?

Better than kids, in some ways. Falling back on the naked-baby story, the dog’s on a leash in the tub and the kid’s running free. In a lot of cases, people do treat their animals better than their kids. Or, this is more of a fair assessment: People who don’t have kids, truly their dogs are their children. And that’s what makes Launder Dog so much fun—we try to cater to that. Because that’s my situation; I clearly understand that. I say “please” and “thank you” to my dogs; it’s amazing the number of people who do. Guys talking, not baby talk so much, but just kind of … ah, well, baby talk. I don’t know how to explain it. People with their dogs in the tubs, it’s a special moment. It’s a bonding time. Especially with people’s schedules being so short like they are? It’s hard to spend quality time with your dog [laughs].

How often should you wash your dog?

I tell people it varies. It starts with the kind of lifestyle you have with your dog. And I categorize peoples’ relationships in three segments: You either have a completely indoor dog, a completely outdoor dog, or an indoor/outdoor dog. It’s the indoor/outdoor dogs that need to be bathed most frequently. And when the weather changes, in particular—they’re tracking things into the house; they’re getting next to the furniture. And it depends on whether you’d rather wash the dog, or the carpet and the furniture. Indoor/outdoor dogs, also, because of the flea population in Sacramento, people are really conscientious about that. In the winter months, people probably come in once a month; often times, they coordinate that with their monthly dose of flea treatments. Four to six weeks for the self-serve customer.

Has the economy affected what you do?

It seems to be, so far—knock on wood—recession-proof. People don’t skimp on their dogs. It’s a cocooning effect, in a way. In situations of comfort, a lot of people, that’s who they turn to—I mean, the dog’s never going to let you down. You can give your dog a hug, you can take your dog for a walk. And if you want to have that extra security and have a friend on the end of the bed, you certainly want a clean dog. So, on September 11, which everybody knows was a weekday, we were busy. We were not a ghost town. As shell-shocked as people were, they came in and washed their dogs.

Yeah, sometimes after a tough day, it’s nice to get home and just hang out with the dog.

And he hasn’t had a bad day. No matter what your day is, they’re always glad to see you. It’s such a nurturing thing—the acceptance and acknowledgement of a pet.