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Out of the Doghouse

By Janet Parmer. Copyright © 2004 The Press Democrat

Jennifer Aument's dogs, Honey and Lucy, start yelping and going crazy when the Play Dog Play van pulls up in front of her home. The dogs recognize the van with paw prints emblazoned on the side, and know it's time for their "play date" with other dogs. It could be an excursion to Dillon Beach to doggy paddle in the surf, a romp at Oak Hill Park or an outing to a new destination.

Most of Molly Krawczyk and John Polzoni's clients work full time and want their dogs to be chasing balls or wrestling with playmates during the hours they're away from home. Aument, however, telecommutes from home, with occasional days in the field in San Francisco and Sacramento. But having a dog raring to burn off energy when she's got a stack of desk work can be problematic, which led Aument to contact Play Dog Play to give Honey and Lucy recreation. "It makes life easier for me because I'm on the phone all day and the dogs don't respect that I'm working," said Aument, who is a project manager for Wells Fargo.

Extreme ... adventures

Lucy, a 4-year-old fox terrier, and Honey, an 11-month-old border collie and Labrador mix, join their canine playmates two to three times a week. Honey, an especially active herding dog, has also joined Polzoni and Krawczyk on "extreme doggy adventures" running the steep trails at Helen Putnam Park. Magazine editor Tina Caputo considers the cost of sending Oscar, her 2-year-old mini dachshund, on outings three times a week money well spent.

"We want to be good to the dog and we want him to be happy. It's a necessary expense. Maybe when he gets older he won't need it," said Caputo, who works in San Rafael. Oscar is rambunctious and Caputo and her husband work full time. "We want him to play during the day or otherwise he would keep us up all night," said Caputo, who employed a dog walker when she lived in San Francisco. After moving to Petaluma last winter, she contacted Play Dog Play. Polzoni and Krawczyk transport the dogs in a white van they purchased in Las Vegas and specially outfitted for their canine clients.Their slogan "A Tired Dog is A Happy Dog" is written on the van's side with an illustration of a snoozing pup.

The van has seats only in the front and rubber matting in the back helps with paw traction. There's also air conditioning in the rear to keep the dogs cool. A videotape player mounted in the van entertains dogs with movies like "Best in Show," a comedy about highly competitive dog exhibitors, and episodes of Animal Planet TV programs. Debbie McBlain has a full-time administrative job in Petaluma, and she and her husband are often busy with other activities until late into the evening, leaving their beagle, Louie, to spend days alone in the house.

They recently contracted with Play Dog Play to give Louie a break from the monotony. "He's really active and I feel bad for him. I think every dog needs to walk or run," McBlain said. She spends $40 a week for Louie's two days of outings. "It's worth it to keep my guilt down. It's good for him. He comes back tired, happy and smiling," McBlain said.

Reports on outings

Play Dog Play leaves notes inside its clients' homes when they return the dogs describing the outings and the dog's behavior that day. Polzoni and Krawczyk are creating a Web site for their business and will use a digital camera to shoot photos of the dogs so their owners can logon and see for themselves what their animals did each day. The couple started their dog service last fall after pondering what sort of career would make them happy.

Krawczyk has a college degree in women's history and has worked at Dempsey's restaurant in Petaluma for six years. She also is a ballet instructor and co-owner of the Novato School of Dance, and wanted to start a business allowing her flexibility to continue teaching and managing the dance school. "I was brainstorming with a friend and said my favorite part of my day is taking Kenya, our dog, out for a walk. I love coming home dirty. I saw people in Los Angeles who walked dogs for a living and I thought it was so cool," Krawczyk said.

Polzoni, who grew up in Penngrove and attended local schools, has done marketing for an interactive game company, managed construction projects and worked on numerous building jobs. The couple did market research before starting the business and found dog walking services but little for active dog recreation. Polzoni also took classes at Santa Rosa Junior College in managing a small business and drew up a realistic business plan.

Play Dog Play has designated days for outings for large dogs and small dogs. It charges $20 for a play date, which lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes. Before they agree to take a dog on outings, the couple will interview its owner and observe the animal to see if it will get along with the other dogs.

"If a dog is aggressive with other dogs or snippy, we wouldn't want the dog in the van because it would make the (other) dogs uncomfortable," Krawczyk said.

Play Dog Play can be reached at 766-8915. You can reach Correspondent Janet Parmer at 782-9130.

Published on June 18, 2004