By JENNIFER STEINHAUER Published: August 3, 2006
in the NY
Dickles, a basset hound owned by Candice Bergen, gets his weekly
bath from Steve Ogden,
who owns a mobile grooming business in Los Angeles.
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Aug 2 — When the temperature here soars
and the steaming humidity makes you feel like so much bok choy,
you might crave an aromatherapy massage with tea tree oil, or perhaps
a nice cooling bath with foaming mousse, without ever having to
leave your property.
Enlarge this Image
Stephanie Diani for The New York Times
Steve Ogden, with a freshly groomed Phyllis, a Cavalier King
Charles spaniel mix, at Ms. Bergen’s home.
Enlarge this Image
Stephanie Diani for The New York Times
A jar of dog treats sits next to cotton swabs and pads
on a shelf in Mr. Ogden’s Spa Dog van.
You can have this. If you are Candice Bergen’s basset hound.
Every day, a white van bearing the pastel-lettered name Spa Dog
snakes through the hidden byways of the toniest neighborhoods in
Beverly Hills and greater Los Angeles beyond, avoiding traffic on
the way to a grooming appointment with a dog.
In the van is Steven Ogden, and his assistant, Golly Gee, a Chihuahua
that sports a strand of pink pearls and barks authoritatively (as
authoritatively as a Chihuahua can) at dogs that refuse to get into
Mr. Ogden, a former television producer, gave up the 9-to-5 two
years ago and took over the mobile grooming business from the woman
who had cared for his dog and trained him in her trade. He added
hydrotherapy baths, aromatherapy and massage for those dogs whose
owners love them and are willing to part with $90 to show it.
His client list could be from the BlackBerry of a Hollywood executive,
and he often pampers as many as 14 dogs a day, which he says is
far more relaxing than working in the television business: “I got
tired of the human dramas.”
Mobile dog grooming units have mushroomed in the past 10 years,
with dozens of such businesses in Los Angeles, one of the first
cities to offer them as an alternative to traditional pet salons,
where a smattering of dogs in recent years have been killed by overly
hot hair dryers.
Mr. Ogden said he chose the spa theme to differentiate himself
from grooming vans, many of them owned by franchises, that offer
just cleaning and clipping.
Dogs, as it turns out, are more lucrative than cop shows.
“Ten years ago, this business wouldn’t have worked because people
didn’t care about their dogs the way they do now,” said Mr. Ogden,
who used to rescue pigeons in his youth, as he prepared his van,
which is fully appointed with a bath, mobile grooming table and
plastic containers filled with cotton swabs, shampoos and bows.
“Dogs have become like children now. People want the best for them.”
The advantages he offers over pet-store grooming, he says, are
that animals get individual treatment, rather than sitting in a
mass of cages under a giant blow-dryer, and there is no dragging
the dog away from home. His van offers a gentle experience for a
grooming-averse dog, he said, with extras, like nail polish (“for
special occasions”) and hair dye, if an owner craves a dog with
a pink tail for Easter.
“Some dogs, when they hear my truck, just come running,” said Mr.
Ogden, as Buck, a lumbering bull mastiff owned by the music producer
whose assistant is romantically involved with the dog walker of
the rock star, also a client, hopped in the van.
Buck, whose snout alone dwarfs the entire body of Golly Gee, offered
up his paw for a gentle clip, and stared expectantly at the tub.
As Mr. Ogden rubbed him with soap and the Jacuzzi pump doled out
its stuff, Buck licked at the air with pleasure, and sat slack jawed
through his paw massage.
“Remember, this is a dog that head-butted his way through a plate
glass window because he didn’t like the gardener,” Mr. Ogden said
Buck got a kiss on the head, a sniff test of sorts, (“Because that
is exactly what is going to happen when they get in the house”)
and then it was Moose’s turn.
A rescued dog hampered by fear and distrust, Moose needed to be
muzzled for his clipping. (Mr. Ogden said he had never been bitten,
but he said he refused to groom dogs who snarl at him. He also does
not do poodles with a show clip, which requires elaborate styling.)
Mr. Ogden’s phone rang. A client going out of town would be leaving
a picture with the housekeeper of how she would like her Labradoodle
(part Labrador retriever, part poodle) to be trimmed.
Next stop: Ms. Bergen’s home in a gated area of Beverly Hills,
where the mailbox is in the shape of a dog. Dickles the basset hound
was delivered for his weekly bathing, and later Phyllis, a Cavalier
King Charles spaniel mix, whose eyes flickered with tension as Mr.
Ogden carefully blew out each strand of her hair so as not to spook
“She really is the princess,” he said of Phyllis, not Ms. Bergen,
who, as it turned, out was very nice when she greeted Mr. Ogden
and looked swell in a polo shirt.
In the dogs-are-like-their-owners category, Mr. Ogden said, people
who do not bother to comb their own hair also neglect the grooming
of their dogs. Likewise, clients who have problems with respecting
personal space have dogs with the same.
People whose pets are farmed out to the help, he said, are left
with lonely dogs that look forward to his visits.
Anyone feeling skeptical about Mr. Ogden’s devotion to animals
would be moved by the gentle attention he gave to the ears of Kodiac,
an aging golden retriever whose many operations and arthritis have
rendered him unable to hop into the van.
Mr. Ogden bathed him in the front lawn of his owner’s home in Beverly
Park, whispering soft words of comfort.
“I have lost a few dogs to old age,” Mr. Ogden said. “It definitely
hurts. You wash a dog every week for two years, there definitely
is a bond.”