I emailed this kid, a delightful and talented girl, Rio Rojas, who wants to break into cartooning.
"Draw something to make fun of Studio City's pet-centered world, could you? Can you make the pups into the owners, humans into their pets?"
Rio conjured up a poster, centered around Peet's, a coffee shop known for strong beans, rich herb teas, fresh pastries and baked cookies (vegan cookies are actually good here). There is often a dog or two, the occasional smartass bird, and sometimes a lizard on a lapel. You never know at Peet's. The pets seem to blend in seemlessly, and the customers break the ice with one another talking about the cute creatures.
Later that day, as I was getting my latté, I passed a couple sitting on a bench with a large dog sprawled across their laps. It seemed an odd moment to cuddle. The courtyard outside Peet's was warming up like a steamy expresso in the hot California sun. I was sweating like a representative of BP giving testimony.
The way the big dog was squirming in their laps, pushing the couple playfully, it could have been a small child. But it wasn't. It was 110 pounds of pure doggie shlurp-and-wiggle. The dog was licking their drinks and faces.
Without worry of a reprimand or consequence, without the couple flinching or rearranging him, that huge dog made their breakfast muffins into his snack. The couple smirked, and then patted him.
Excuse me? Good dog? It was clear the people were his pets. The dog ruled this scenario. It was Planet of the Apes for canines, Planet of the Pups!
Our fondness for animals leads to the all-too-human tendency to anthropomorphize our best friends, which can make us ineffective pet owners and ridiculous objects of ridicule. But how can we not see dogs as our furry people-ish pals? They play into our imaginations so easily.
The whole cartoon industry, part of which shaped early Studio City and its surroundings, made us envision animals as people, with the likes of Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny and Quick Draw McGraw. (Not to mention, the whole Mouse thing, though that's a Patch to the east.)
There is a desire to make dogs the same as us, or to make them greater than we are. (And with increasing divorces from philandering, traitors in politics, party jumping opportunists and other weasels in adult human life, loyalty is hard to devalue, frankly, worth more than gold, or in the case of investment banking in this decade, the thing that would have helped us keep our gold.)
We give them regular, human names, like Sammy or Bob. Or we make them larger than life, bestowing upon them names like Elvis or Ringo. Then we struggle, because it seems nearly impossible to treat them as mere members of our pack -- with essential animal needs, emphasis on animal needs. Sadly, sometimes our dogs are better friends than our fellows.
So, a few hours after talking to Rio about making a cartoon for me, I'm inside Caioti Pizza Cafe, in the middle of an excellent pizza, tangy and crunchy salad, fresh-brewed coffee with cream.
I have, so far, noticed a few typical Studio City things:
One, some beautiful people in very hip fashions;
Two, a big, friendly, hairy dog with his own dish of water just outside the front door, occasionally successfully begging a treat from his master;
Three, a loving pet owner and her double-dogs, cruising past in a hot pink stroller, no less. I holler to my date:
"Did you just see that?"
"Excuse me? What is it?" she asks.
"It's my cartoon! It just walked by!"
I jump up to shoot a few pictures.
I motion for the woman to stop and let me photograph her and her two, adorable little pups. They are trained perfectly.
She is deaf, and they watch her hand signals attentively and comply with delight, moving together tightly, like a show team. They perk up to be photographed. It's a real ensemble, and I feel a rush of excitement at a dog owner who is so in love with her dogs but also in charge.
The hot pink stroller into which she has placed them? I don't know. But as she pushes them on down Tujunga, past Aroma Café, into the sunset, I am left feeling the partnership of human and beast. It feels better than just okay. I want to ridicule her for putting animals in a baby container, but I can't. She loves them. They love her. Isn't that the main objective of this life?
We can't seem to help ourselves from putting dogs at the table, into our beds, across our laps, or occasionally into strollers.
If we love one another, it's not a bad thing—as long as you don't allow the dogs to eat your muffins, to lick your face while you're eating, or to ride in strollers unless they've had a decent walk.
The deaf woman had trained her dogs to perfection, groomed them, exercised them so that they were examples of stability and contentment. (If you think it's cute to put your little dog into a stroller, fine, but only if you feed it dog food, exercise it to be fit, relaxed and contented first.)
Please train Fido to have good manners and to be a good member of our community. Remember, the humans push the stroller of dog ownership; the dogs are just going along for the ride.