Charlotte Reed was a corporate lawyer on Wall Street when she decided she preferred four-legged clients to two-legged ones. She left the world of law to open a full-service pet care company in New York and the Hamptons. She called it Two Dogs & a Goat the dogs were her own; she was the goat, falling under the Capricorn symbol of the Zodiac.
It being New York and all, Reed soon found herself not only taking care of pets but also answering all kinds of pet-related questions: An owner of a poodle wanted Reed to teach the dog how to eat at a favorite cafe on Madison Avenue. Another dog owner wanted to learn how to run errands with his dog. She's been asked to help prepare a dog for a condo or co-op interview and been asked for help in dealing with difficult nonpet-owning neighbors.
More than a decade later, Reed's realized a couple of things pets are increasingly being treated like family members and are moving into all kinds of situations; and good manners have to be practiced on both sides of the leash.
Reed has put some of her experience and expertise into a book called "The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette" (Adams Media, $12.95) and recently did a telephone interview from her home in New York City.
"Pet etiquette goes beyond training," she said. "Pet etiquette is the art of understanding and behaving properly with your companion. Pet etiquette is about taking the basic skills and becoming a successful dog owner, a good neighbor, a good customer."
As she has traveled around the country, Reed has paid attention to how dogs are being accepted in more and more places: not only on the street but at baseball games, weddings, hotels, outdoor restaurants. "Sharing favorite activities is the latest pet trend for dogs and owners," she said.
More and more companies sponsor bring-a-dog-to-work days or include having dogs in the office as a basic employment perk. Most baseball teams now have a "bark-in-park" night.
In New York, it is trendy and popular to hold doggy high teas (the dogs get some type of chicken or beef broth as their tea and doggy Spam sandwiches); pet-allowed art shows, with dogs allowed to stroll about on leashes and even attend art auctions to raise money for animal shelters; pet fashion shows, where dogs also get to wear the latest fashions; and "yappy hours" that also include doggy treats and costumes at favorite watering holes.
Don't be surprised if a lot of these things start showing up in other parts of the country, said Reed. Spending more time with these members of the family is what it is all about.
She can't tell you how many times she's sat down by strangers at an airport, say and the conversation turns to pets. "They open their wallets and pull out pictures of their dogs. It's the same thing as with grandchildren."
And why not? "Dogs are great companions. They are social animals. They offer built-in camaraderie. At the same time, they can force you to get out of the house, to get exercise."
The increased visibility and presence of dogs increases the need for basic pet etiquette, she said. "You run into dogs wherever you go. But if you are a dog owner, you have to realize that not everyone likes dogs. You have to be considerate. Even if you are around other dog owners, you need to show basic consideration."
That starts with treating your dog well, she said. Dogs that look healthy and happy and that have direction in their lives chances are good they will be well-behaved. "My mother always told me that appearance matters. That's true for dogs, too," said Reed. "And everything begins at home. If you have a dirty, ill-mannered dog, that says a lot about you."
You have to teach a dog the basics of obedience, she said. "But you also have to provide leadership. Dogs and owners must know basic leash skills. Owners must pick up after their dogs."
There's a right way to conduct yourself with your dog, said Reed, "and knowing the right way enables you to enjoy each other's company and spend more time with your pet."
Dog ownership is not something to be taken lightly, and that is a danger she sees in these latest trends. As a dog owner first and pet expert second, she is sometimes troubled about the cavalier attitude displayed by the media and many pet owners when it comes to the responsibility of owning a dog.
"Despite all our anthropomorphizing," she said, "dogs are not human beings. And even though they are covered in fur, leather or lace, they're not accessories. Dogs commit faux 'paws.' They bark at inappropriate times. They potty on the rug and in unexpected places. They can cause people to have allergic reactions. They can get on people's nerves."For dogs to co-exist in a world with dog owners and nonowners alike, it's really very simple, said Reed. "Dogs need health care, training, daily exercise, appropriate diet, grooming and companionship."