Since Heidi and I have been invited to share our column with the Echo Park Patch this month, we checked in with its editor, , to see how we were doing after our first shared effort, the story of
Here’s what Anthea had to say via e-mail about her readership’s reaction: “They have not REBELLED, which I consider a good sign. You must remember there is a store here called , so you get the vibe.”
Hmm…was this perhaps a veiled insinuation that a Valley girl and her Valley pooch were not tough enough for Echo Park, even after ? I knew as soon as I read the e-mail that we would step up to the challenge. Heidi and I were going to Blue Collar Working Dog, a store that caters to big dogs with big jobs. After all, isn’t a canine who writes a column a working dog?
Our Wednesday plan to go to Blue Collar was on my mind on Tuesday, when I met a friend in Beverly Hills to meet her new dog, an 18-pound rescue thought to be part Bichon and part Wheaten terrier. Before adopting this portable white cutie, she had always owned large-breed dogs and seemed almost apologetic about downsizing this time around. Clearly, there exists a big dog vibe we needed to explore.
As soon as I told Heidi she was going to Echo Park, she started bouncing with joy. I realized tool late that she didn’t hear Echo, just “Park” (I usually spell that word in front of her), leading her to expect a different trip than the one we were about to make. But as usual she’s pretty much game for anything, so off we went, with no ball or Frisbee.
First, we met a couple of old friends for lunch at Xoia, a terrific Vietnamese restaurant on Sunset Boulevard that also offers some Mexican fusion dishes. We were counting on the outdoor seating, but were told when we got there that dogs are not allowed on the enclosed patio. Still, Xoia made the place dog-friendly by dragging a table out to the sidewalk so Heidi could sit with us, and brought her a nice dish of water to make up for the hot sun of our improvised locale.
Then, we hit Echo Park Boulevard, and marched in to Blue Collar (uh oh, Heidi’s “collar” that day was a pink bandana, but we went in anyway). Whoa! This place was a virtual German shepherd theme park, with artwork of this large breed proudly displayed all over. There was even a stuffed GSD (that’s German Shepherd Dog) wearing what looked like Tom Cruise’s wardrobe for a scene from Mission:Impossible.
The reason for all the shepherds is that Barry Hewitt, co-owner of the 2-year-old establishment with Michelle Van Arendonk, is a GSD parent, with “children” Aliester, 4; Grimm, 3, and Atilla, 4 ½. “We’re partial to the shepherds,” Hewitt said.
There is one kiosk here featuring frou-frou collars and leashes for purse dogs, the kind who end up dressed as frowning bumblebees for Halloween, but everything else in this store says big, and tough. Frankly, at first glance, this place had to be either a shop for large canines or a bondage boutique.
On these intimidating shelves were big metal muzzles, heavy choke chains, K9 police equipment, chunky leather harnesses and “bite sleeves” and “bite suits” – what trainers wear to work with dogs learning to use their teeth on human body parts, either for sport or protection-on-command. The suits are used in training police dogs and Schutzhunds, GSD’s who go through a specific protection-training program developed in Germany. Available signs and stickers here include phrases such as “Do Not Pet” and “Out of Control.” Big rubber chew toys seemed designed for teething crocodiles. Even the bags of food here are huge.
It’s true that many of the shops’ patrons are German shepherds and pit bulls, a breed Hewitt believes gets a bad rap (not only are many American mutts part pit bull, he says, but an untrained small dog is more likely to give you a nip than a well-trained pit bull, though perhaps resulting in less damage). But the idea is not to cater to aggressive canines, but sporting dogs and their owners, who might take as much pleasure in agility training as teaching dogs to attack. “We fancy ourselves as the skate store for dogs; the REI for dogs,” Hewitt says. “We’re not high-fashion. It’s more about function.” No kidding.
When I walk Heidi in Studio City, toddlers often point and say to their parents: “That’s a big dog!” Depending on the parent, they either bring the child close to pet her, or back away in a hurry. In Blue Collar, however, my pink-bandana big dog looked rather petite.
Coincidentally, on that same day, Thelma, a loyal reader in Toronto, Canada, had sent me a link to a story about George, a 252-pound Great Dane believed to be the biggest dog on record. I sure would have loved to walk him into Blue Collar.