Puppy Love
Celebrating the precious bond between pets of all kinds and the humans who love them
by Bill Donahue

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” So said someone who knew a thing or two about dogs—Charles M. Schulz, the man who brought Charlie Brown and his best friend, Snoopy, to life. The relationship between an owner and the dog, cat or any other furry, feathery or scaly companion that shares his or her home is a special one. For some of us, the bond is so strong that we consider the term “owner” unsuitable, even callous—instead preferring to go by “pet caregiver,” even “pet parent.”  

Based on the number of locally based pet spas, rescue organizations, pet boutiques and nonprofits devoted to serving animals of all kinds, those who live in the Philadelphia area love their pets more than most. On the following pages are some of our favorite picks for the people, places and things that prove the love we have for our pets has no bounds.

In Stride
Blue Bell Dog Runner keeps dogs happy, healthy and on the go

Consider Ed Bruzek a personal trainer for your dog. Bruzek, a longtime distance runner, launched Blue Bell Dog Runner on the idea of “combining the two loves of my life,” which are, as one might guess, dogs and running. A dog owner since he was 8 years old, Bruzek says he’s happy to run with dogs of any size, age and temperament.

“Everybody loves their pets, but at heart they are still wild animals,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have the time or energy to give their dogs what they are used to in terms of exercise. For the first meeting, I visit [the client’s] house and get to meet them and their dogs to see if we’re a good fit, and to make sure the dog feels comfortable working with me.”

Since the company’s founding earlier this year, Blue Bell Dog Runner has grown to serve dogs (and their owners) based in Ambler, Blue Bell, Conshohocken, as well as Horsham, Lansdale, Plymouth Meeting and other Montgomery County towns. Bruzek is now considering adding another runner to satisfy demand in surrounding counties.

“I run local to their house, in their neighborhood,” he says. “Some dogs will run a third of a mile, and some dogs are pushing three miles. I always start slow and build them up, because it’s about conditioning, just like with people; the more often they run, the more they can run and the more they want to run. I have one dog, a Bernese mountain dog—it’s a shepherding dog—and it could barely run a quarter of a mile when we first started; now it’s pushing two and a half miles.”

Bruzek runs with clients’ dogs rain or shine, and each 30-minute session costs $19 (including any necessary “cleanup” in the course of the run). He offers discounts for more than one visit per day.

“Owners have told me their dogs are much better behaved afterward; the dogs are burning their energy during the day so there’s no excess,” he adds. “Besides, running is what dogs were meant to do.”

Blue Bell Dog Runner | 267-470-4321 | bluebelldogrunner@gmail.com


Preserving the Moment
Through Pet Imagery, owners capture the spirit of their companions forever

As owner of Pet Imagery, Lauren Kaplan excels at preserving the precious moments that occur between people and their pets—be it an inquisitive cat in South Philadelphia, a ferret in Newtown, a family dog traipsing along the boardwalk of the Jersey Shore, even a herd of alpacas in Gladwyne.

“I always recommend doing the shoot at the person’s home first,” she says. “That’s where the pets are most comfortable, and those are the types of moments I want to capture: them in their space, doing the things they love. A beautiful landscape is nice, but I tell people that the background is less important; the star of the show is the pet.”

Kaplan, who was born in South Philadelphia, raised in the northwest suburbs and now lives in the city’s Point Breeze section, was an aspiring photojournalist when fate intervened. Her family’s dog, Norma, had gotten gravely ill, and she wanted to “memorialize the moments for my family,” she says. Although she has since photographed many sick and senior pets, she suggests preserving the moments when pets are young and healthy, which can be even more special to the owner.

Clients can choose either a full session, which costs $300 and ranges from one to two hours, or a mini session, which costs $200 and typically runs less than an hour. Kaplan shoots weekdays and weekends alike, and she has some flexibility in scheduling to accommodate sick pets. She also has patience in reserve when it comes to working with shy pets.

“I let the pet dictate the shoot,” she says. “Pets generally pose themselves, and I like to encourage the owners to get involved, because pets come to life when their owners are there. That bond is a big part of what Pet Imagery is all about.”

Pet Imagery by Lauren Kaplan Photography | petimagery.com

The Good Life
At Wagsworth Manor, pets find themselves in the lap of luxury

There’s nothing quite like indulging in some well-earned pampering away from home, surrounded by good friends. This is exactly what Brad and Deedee Francis were thinking in 2007, when they opened Wagsworth Manor Pet Resort—a destination “for furry family members.”

With 24,000 square feet of indoor space, six acres of outdoor area, four artificial turf fields and a 25-foot-by-40-foot saltwater swimming pool, Wagsworth Manor is a pet’s version of a Four Seasons hotel and resort: day camp; water sports; grooming, nail trimming and other “spa services”; agility, obedience and scent-work training; lavishly appointed suites for overnight guests—canines and felines alike; and much, much more, all provided by a team of caring, veteran staff members.

“Dogs love to come and socialize and be with other dogs,” says Deedee Francis. “When they can interact with their own kind, it makes them more well-balanced animals and healthier animals. They love their human families, but this satisfies a different part of their makeup. It expands on their satisfaction.”

Wagsworth staffers get to know pets well in order to accommodate their needs. An active dog might needs lots of swimming and group playtime, while a shy dog might need more one-on-one TLC and plenty of naptime. In group play, Francis notes, dogs are grouped according to size and temperament to make sure each pet makes the most of its time at Wagsworth. Of course, the Francises’ two dogs are regulars.

“We have a golden retriever, Ice Cream Sundae, who’s one and a half,” Francis says, “and we have a mixed-breed that we rescued, Tamale, and they are both swimmers. They have a good life.”

Wagsworth Manor Pet Resort | 610-251-9247 | wagsworthmanor.com


Best Friends
The nonprofit Pinups for Pitbulls aims to protect unfairly maligned dog breeds

Yardley-born Deirdre Franklin has always had a soft spot for American pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and other dogs described, collectively, as pit bulls. Since 2005, when she launched her nonprofit, Pinups for Pitbulls Inc., she has been doing everything in her power to undo the negative stereotypes surrounding these maligned dogs, which have been victimized by breed-specific or breed-discriminatory legislation—i.e., breed bans—that have placed them squarely in the crosshairs.

The nonprofit was inspired largely by the late Carla Lou, Franklin’s longtime pit bull companion who passed away in 2012 at the age of 18. Franklin’s experience in New Orleans, where she helped rescue abandoned animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, also motivated her to go “all in.”

“I realized all the dogs in the makeshift shelters there were pit-bull-type dogs, which are popular in a lot of impoverished regions,” says Franklin. “Their owners couldn’t get back to them, and it didn’t seem fair to me. I decided to do a pin-up calendar to raise some awareness. … I had no idea people would care as much as they have.”

In 2015, the Pinups for Pitbulls calendar (now available) will celebrate its 10th birthday. Thanks in part to the expertise of two of Franklin’s longtime collaborators—photographer Celeste Giuliano and graphic artist David Seidman, both of Philadelphia—the calendar has become Pinups for Pitbulls’ greatest source of funds.

Of course, the calendar is hardly the only way Pinups for Pitbulls connects with its constituents. The nonprofit has nearly half a million fans on Facebook, a network that helps spread the word about dogs in need of swift adoption from allied shelters and rescue organizations. As a direct result of its reach, as many as 50 dogs across the country find a new home every month. It also connects with several thousand people per year at tattoo conventions, comic-cons and animal events.

Franklin remains busy apart from the nonprofit. A pin-up model and burlesque dancer with a master’s in public policy who also works as a bankruptcy counselor and mediator, she had her first book published—“Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls,” from Overlook Press—in October. The book is filled with not only glossy shots of “beautiful ladies and beautiful dogs” featured in past calendars but also stories about Carla Lou, survivors of dog-fighting rings and “spectacular dogs that have helped get the message out there and undo the negatives,” Franklin says.

Franklin has since moved to Asheville, N.C., where she recently opened the doors to a boutique called Darlings. The store’s aisles are filled with eclectic clothing, art and other gifts, including Pinups for Pitbulls merchandise and, of course, a nice selection of dog treats.

Pinups for Pitbulls | 828-645-9273 | pinupsforpitbulls.org

Staying Strong
Caregivers of aging and ailing pets find comfort and support through Day by Day

Perhaps the only unkind act a beloved pet can commit is to leave its human too soon. Yet this parting of ways is inevitable, and when it happens, the absence can be absolutely crushing.

Drexel Hill resident Kathryn Jennings’ heartbreaking experience with the declining health, and eventual loss, of three pet schnauzers—Pookie Poo, Hallie Boo and Sallie Lou, to whom she still refers to as “my girls”—inspired her to help other caregivers of aging and chronically or terminally ill pets heal after the death of a pet. In September 2012, she and her husband, Chris, founded Day by Day Pet Caregiver Support, which has since achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

“So many people think they are alone,” Jennings says. “They think it was only hard for them, that everyone else must be able to handle this. It’s a big relief for them to find out that it’s OK to feel this way. … We call ourselves ‘owners’ of these animals, but I’m always a big proponent of something that has more of a relationship component. The moment we start looking at the ties to our pet as a relationship, it’s then that we allow ourselves to grieve over the loss.”

Day by Day offers monthly support meetings at area specialty veterinary hospitals, where “pet parents” can share their stories, as well as ask questions as a means of understanding in a secure, nonjudgmental environment. The organization also offers access to individual support with professional licensed counselors, as well as a support hotline staffed by Day by Day team members.

Jennings, a Certified Pet Loss Professional, suggests most of her clients are grieving over the loss of a dog or cat, though she and her team members have comforted those coping with the death of horses, rabbits and birds. “We had one woman who lost a parakeet, and she was devastated,” Jennings says. “The sense of loss over a bird is just as powerful as it is for a dog or a cat.”

Although based in the Philadelphia area, Day by Day is expanding to areas such as Scranton and Buffalo, N.Y., according to Jennings. Day by Day has also started a Veterinary Professional Support program to help veterinarians deal with stress and compassion fatigue, prevent burnout and, essentially, learn how to help grieving clients more effectively. The program includes quarterly “support circles,” as well as half-day workshops.

“This job can be emotionally draining at times,” she says. “Then you get an e-mail from someone saying, ‘Thank you for helping me at a time when no one else understands,’ and you become completely reinvigorated. … I feel blessed to be able to be in people’s lives, to help them through the hardest moments.

“We never truly get over grief; we get through it,” she continues. “We help people get through the grief process and get to the other side where they are able to move on. At least we can help them get o a point where they will be able to look at some of the items from their pet and not feel quite as painful about it.”

Day by Day Pet Caregiver Support | 484-453-8210 | daybydaypetsupport.com

Give a Dog a Bone
Radnor-based attorney (and animal lover) Randi J. Vladimer founded Give a Dog a Bone in 2009, just in time to make a holiday donation of blankets, toys, food and, given its name, bones for animals in need. Now in its fifth year, Give a Dog a Bone has expanded its mission and is able to make donations all year long. Since its inception, the organization has donated more than 10,000 pounds of items—all from donor contributions—to animals in shelters and rescue organizations up and down the East Coast. giveadogabone.us

Perfect Pooch
From day care and boarding to grooming and training, Perfect Pooch provides the full gamut of services at its expansive three-acre campus in King of Prussia. The expert staff devises individualized plans and activities for each of its four-legged clients, all designed to enrich dogs’ daily lives, while teaching them to acquire “manners,” social aptitude and other important skills. 610-337-7698 | perfect-pooch.com

The Philly Pack
This team of dog trainers and behaviorists, led by Krista Milito and Jeremy Burger, takes a holistic approach to training by mimicking natural pack behavior. Dogs learn through “correction and direction,” says Milito, as well as positive reinforcement. In addition to the training and behavioral elements, Philly Pack also has a Philly Pack Pet Shop, located in the city’s Grays Ferry neighborhood. 215-279-7240 | thephillypack.com

Red Paw Emergency Relief Team
Red Paw, which is based in Philadelphia’s Point Breeze section, provides 24/7 emergency assistance, including emergency transport, shelter and veterinary care—all free of charge—to animals involved in fires and other residential disasters. Philadelphia firefighter Jen Leary founded Red Paw as a pilot program to serve Philadelphia, yet it continues to expand its services to surrounding areas. redpawemergencyreliefteam.com | 267-289-2729