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Daily Archives: August 17, 2008

US happy hour goes to the dogs

by Virginie Montet*

With a beer in his hand and his two pugs by his side, Rick Schapira looked as happy as a dog with a bone.
"It's the highlight of their week," said Schapira, referring to the doggy happy hour held on the Hotel Monaco's patio and gesturing to his miniature pooches, Teddy and Jingles.
"When I say, 'Let's go to the doggy happy hour,' they get all excited and run to the door."
Almost all US restaurants have a no-pets policy, so the happy hours that have sprung up over the past few years have become a big hit — not only because they give people a chance to socialize with their canines, but also because they give them a chance to meet other dog lovers.
At the Hotel Monaco in Alexandria outside Washington — one of the first in the area to set up a doggy happy hour — nearly 80 people and several dozen dogs gathered in the interior courtyard on a recent Friday.
Poodles, chow-chows, a Saint-Bernard and various mutts milled about — sniffing each other, sharing a bowl of water and sampling organic delicacies listed for two dollars on the menu — while their owners drank wine and complimented each other on their dogs.
The get-togethers have become so popular that some people even show up sans four-legged companion. "We don't even have a dog," confessed Judy Curtis, who has been bringing her 13-year-old daughter to doggy happy hour here since she was 10. "My daughter loves dogs, and here she can see all kinds of breeds."
"People love this," agreed Richard Hannigan, the hotel's assistant general manager, who is planning a canine costume party with prizes for October.
The dogs get plenty of benefits, too. "My dog trainer told me I should bring him for socialization purposes," said Judy Bennett, referring to her American boxer, Salvador.

Dogs are a good social lubricant

Her trainer, John Landry, who accompanied her and Salvador to the happy hour, explained: "These social outings help the dogs not be aggressive. As for the owners, it makes them feel they're not the only crazy person who loves dogs."
That's an understatement. Some 75 million dogs live in 45 million homes in the US, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.
This year pet industry sales are expected to top 43 million dollars, almost as much as Americans spend on toys for their children and twice as much as they spend on cosmetics.
People also benefit in unexpected ways from the happy hours, say devotees. When dogs make friends, so do their owners.
"Dogs are a good social lubricant," said John Carpenter, a regular at the Frisky Business Happy Hour at the Helix Hotel in downtown Washington. "It's easier to meet someone."
"Meet a future boyfriend?" asked Kara MacWilliams, flanked by her two Bernese mountain dogs. "We hope!"
In fact, for some, the dog is just an excuse. "Some people really go there to mingle," said Annie Gillette, a spokeswoman for Hotel Monaco. "The other day, four young men showed up … with one dog."
Every Wednesday the Hotel Helix, which donates a dollar per happy-hour sale to a dog shelter, draws between 15 and 30 people and almost as many dogs.
"It's just a nice opportunity for people to be able to sit down and relax and bring their dogs with them so they don't stay at home with their dog," said spokeswoman Sarah Crocker.
"People with pets generally get along very well with other people with pets."
But even when the last glass is empty and the last canine treat devoured, the fun isn't over.
"We go to this restaurant across the street," Schapira said at the Hotel Monaco.
"They've got a dog menu — it's awesome!"
His pugs love the lamb stew, he said, and — as a treat — the froth off the top of a pint of Guinness Stout.

* AFP

Track champions in clover at Australian racehorse retirement home

by Neil Sands*

Horseracing can be a tough, unsentimental sport, but an equine retirement home in Australia is giving champion thoroughbreds that excelled at tracks across Asia a chance to relax in clover.
Living Legends on the outskirts of Melbourne is home to 11 horses that between them have won four Melbourne Cups, two Cox plates, two Caulfield Cups and one Japan Cup.
Among the champions enjoying retirement in paddocks where wild kangaroos can be seen hopping in the distance is Silent Witness, who set Hong Kong alight between 2002 and 2005 when he won a world record 17 consecutive starts.
The ageing warriors of the turf have collectively won more than 40 million US dollars in prizemoney during careers that have caused fortunes in cash to ebb and flow between punters and bookies.
But Living Legends' chief executive Andrew Clarke says his rest home is not about money, it is about caring for horses and giving the public a chance to experience meeting thoroughbreds close up.
"To go up to the fence and pat a Melbourne Cup winner like Doriemus, that's a magical experience, especially for kids. Some of them have never been near a horse before," he says.
"And the horses love the attention. Kids are like a drug for (1997 Melbourne Cup winner) Might and Power. If there's kids around, he's there lapping it up."
The old champions are no longer ridden but Clarke said they would often ignore creaking joints and roll back the years to take off on full-pelt gallops around their enclosures.
"Racing's in their blood," he says. "I don't think they can help it, even at their age."
Living Legends, the only horse retirement home in the Asia-Pacific region, was inspired by Britain's Rest Home for Horses, where Clarke did his PhD in veterinary research.
While the British home houses all types of retired horses including pit ponies, cavalry chargers and police mounts, the Australian version concentrates solely on racehorses.
It opened 18 months ago, after the owners of two-time Cox Plate winner Fields of Omagh told Clarke they were looking for a home for their horse as none of them owned a farm.
Clarke approached the Victoria state government with his idea for a racehorse retirement home and was told that a historic property named Woodlands was available about 20 kilometres outside the city centre.
By happy coincidence, the 700 hectare (1,730 acre) property, which contains a homestead built in the 1840s, was the site of some of the first horse races ever staged in Victoria.
"We had no idea about that when we were looking for a site but it all seemed to fit," Clarke recalls.
He says the visitors are a mix of veteran punters keen to see their raceday winners in the flesh, schoolchildren and people with special needs whose trips form part of their diversional therapy.
Funded entirely by donations, Living Legends is set up as a charity, with any profits going to veterinary research.
"I saw it as an opportunity for people to focus on funding research education," he says.
"The Home of Rest for Horses (in Britain) is the biggest funder of equine research and education in the UK. They've rebuilt all the vets' schools and hospitals in the UK.
"That's what we'd like to do."
However, Clarke admits profits are non-existent at the moment, as the home tries to recover from losses incurred during an outbreak of influenza in the Australian racing industry.
While there was no flu at the property, it still had to close for three months as the racing industry went into lockdown in a bid to contain the virus.
"We're going month to month at the moment," Clarke says.
Despite the difficulties, Clarke believes his time at Living Legends has been among the most rewarding of a career that has included stints at top studs in Britain, Ireland and Australia.
"One of the main things for me is seeing the interaction between the people and the horses," he says.
The age of the horses at Living Legends ranges from nine to 24, with the typical lifespan of a thoroughbred estimated at about 30.
Clarke says the horses have distinct personalities, including the powerfully built Brew, who won the Melbourne Cup in 2000 but whose mischievous nature saw him flunk out of police training school.
He described the Hong Kong legend Silent Witness as unflappable.
"That's one mentally tough horse," he says. "I flew with him from Hong Kong and they put him in a float and pulled him all over the airport, underneath jets that were screaming, then put him in a cargo hold.
"He didn't even blink."
Silent Witness was also unfazed by his first sight of a kangaroo when he was let loose in the paddock at Woodlands after more than five years being stabled in Hong Kong.
"He had a bit of a stretch, bucked a bit, looked left, looked right, then settled right down."
The big day out for the property's four Melbourne Cup winners is in November, when they are displayed before the crowd at Flemington racecourse in a parade of champions just prior to Australia's biggest race.
"Might and Power thrives on the crowd," he says. "He stands taller, his veins are sticking out and he's all business — he's ready to race."
If Clarke has a favourite among his charges, he's not giving it away.
"People ask who your favourite is but you can't choose between your children," he says. "They're all special."

* AFP

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