My daughter is a student at University of California in Irvine, which is on the coast between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach. For a journalism assignment she wrote the following true observations from a Pet Store at Fashion Island. If you have ever watched any of the Wives of the OC or Laguna Beach TV series, you will recognize much of what she is describing in the following paper. Which by the way received an A from her professor (sorry Mom is proud). I have visited this pet store as well, and this is just typical of what I have seen too. Hope you enjoy!!
Russo's Pet Experience
In Orange County, the heart of Southern California, buying a pet is just like buying another expensive accessory to complete an outfit. Women peruse the aisles of Russo's Pet Experience at the Fashion Island shopping center in an attempt to either find the pet that will fit perfectly into their designer Louis Vuitton bag or in search of a matching collar to slip onto their pet to avoid a clashing outfit. These women of the OC are regulars in Russo's; they shop with their blonde sun-kissed children for new toys. The children run around the store petting the puppies and knocking on the glass cages- startling the kittens to attract their attention. The children are still innocent and lack the superficial attitude that is sure to come with time in the lavish life of a Newport Beach trust fund baby. While not all the costumers that frequent Russoe's can be categorized into this materialistic genre, one particular family in the store today falls into this stereotype.
The family is small and consists of a mother and her son. The mother is tall and blonde, very thin and dressed head to toe in designer clothing- all in the latest fashion of course. She appears to be more concerned with fluffing her hair and fixing her lip gloss than with her child's desperate wish of getting a new puppy. "Mom, look at the one in the corner! It's a chocolate lab Mom! Oh my gosh I've wanted a chocolate lab for years now!". The little boy seemed to be about nine or ten years old and completely thrilled with the idea of fulfilling his childhood fantasy of having a chocolate lab as his new companion. His mother doesn't seem to hear her son's plea for the chocolate lab puppy as she furiously types away on her Blackberry. She finishes with her phone, places it in her hand bag, and before she directs her attention toward her son, she pulls a Brighton compact mirror out of her purse and takes a look at her perfectly polished makeup.
"Mom, Mom, Mom", the son cries out, in an attempt to pull his mother's attention toward the puppy of his dreams. The mother is still stalling at the front of the store, apparently not being able to walk and text at the same time. She finally looks up and makes her way past the pet rabbits and parakeets to the back of the store where the puppy is in the corner. His mom begins gushing over the chocolate lab puppy. As she talks to the puppy in a baby voice from the other side of the glass cage, it becomes obvious that her excitement is not as genuine as her son's . Her enthusiasm for the potential new pet begins to fade quickly. Her Blackberry beeps and she digs through her purse, directing her attention away from her son..
After finishing another round of texting, she heads over to the sales associate. "Can you show me where your purse dogs are?" she asks. The associate gives her a look of confusion. "Ummm..is there a certain type of breed you were interested in looking at?" asks the sales associate. The women replies that she is looking for a dog that will not exceed ten pounds at full growth and will fit into her new dog purse. "This one," she says as she pulls a large, black terry cloth purse with the Juicy Couture insignia out of a shopping bag. The sales associate grasps the woman's bag and directs her towards the section of the store where the smaller breeds are kept. The mother begins to browse the puppies, observing their colors, absentmindedly stoking their fur, even holding one in the crook of her arm as if trying it on for size. It was almost as if she were browsing another rack of True Religion jeans Bloomingdales
Judging from the lack of attention from his mom to the chocolate lab puppy, the little boy has now figured out that he will not be getting the chocolate lab puppy. He hangs his head and stares at the chocolate lab playfully nipping at his fingers and soaks up the last moments with the pet he wishes to have as his loyal companion. This event at Russoe's Pet Experience is exemplary of the trend that getting a puppy no longer means a playmate and a new addition to the family; however is shows that a man's best friend has turned into a woman's latest accessory.
The owner of Russo's Pet Experience is a gentleman named Dan DiGiacomo. He is an older man, tall with a round belly, white mustache, and a warm smile that he greets the costumers with to welcome them into the store. He enjoys talking about the forty-four years that he has spent running this store which is evident in the way he speaks about his time here since the opening of the first store in 1968. He opened the store a few years after he graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in plant science. "I always really liked plants and wanted to open an rare plants shop, but times were hard and I figured that people would be more likely to buy a bulldog than a cactus" Dan says with a slight chuckle and he goes on to boast that John Wayne's family is included in his clientele. When Russo's first opened, the store only carried a few types of animals. Puppies, kittens, bunnies and hamsters were the only pets to choose from. Over the years however, there have been new additions including parakeets, cockatoos, reptiles and amphibians, parrots, fish, finches and chinchillas.
While speaking of the nature of the store Dan says, "It is our goal here to provide the best service possible and quality pets to our loyal costumers...and we do not purchase our pets from puppy mills. I thought I would go ahead and answer that question since it seems to be a popular one around here". He says that in a cynical way, making it clear that being questioned about puppy mills is one way to get on his bad side. "We like to make it known that we accept no animals from puppy mills...but that doesn't keep the protesters away". He shakes his head disapprovingly and it is easy to see in his irritated expression the frustration that the protesters bring. They come every Saturday morning and parade outside of the store. They draw lots of attention- Dan notes that people in California just love a protest, especially if it's about animal rights. He begins shaking his head again and his frustrated expression returns.
Dan walks around the store like it's his palace- he is very proud of the career that he has built here over the past thirty years. He walks with me over by the puppies in the open cages and looks adoringly at the husky puppy that is sleeping like an infant in the open glass box. "This is what keeps me coming back every day," he says, his gaze still fixed on the sleeping puppy. A young blond woman makes her way over to where we are standing. Her name is Lindsey. She wears a T-shirt that says 'Russo's Pets' across the left side, below her shoulder. Lindsey has blue eyes that are accented with blue eye shadow, round pink cheeks, and a nonchalant attitude that add to her youthful look. A customer approaches Dan and he becomes preoccupied with his next potential sale. Lindsey asks me if I would like to hold one of the puppies. As I look around, I see the most adorable English bulldog puppy lying in one of the closed cages. Lindsey fetches the puppy from its cage, walking cheerfully as her blonde pony tail bounces up and down. She takes the bulldog puppy into a fenced area and beckons me to follow. These fences are another sort of cage that the puppies are placed in when the customers want to play with them outside of their confined glass kennel. The puppy is sleepy after just being woken from a nap, but he quickly awakens and his personality begins to shine. He is feisty- snipping at my hands and feet and nibbling on my shoes. As I am keeping the puppy away from my shoes, Lindsey begins talking to me about the store. "I love working here, I've been working here since October and it seriously never gets old. Even sometimes when I have to get here at 6 a.m. to let the puppies and kittens out and feed them, it's always fun because I get paid to play with them all day".
Lindsey begins ranting about the protesters that arrive at the store every Saturday morning. They never skip a week and arrive at 9 a.m. when the store opens like clockwork. They are loud, persistent and on a mission to spread their message. The protesters are trying to discourage people from buying pets from Russo's because they insist that the puppies come from puppy mills (even though Dan shakes his head at the thought of this misconception) and because the puppies are sent to the store as soon as 2 weeks after being born. They hold up signs saying WHERE ARE THEIR MOTHERS? as they stand outside the store, informing customers before they enter the store about the dangers of puppy mills and the "tragedy" of taking puppies away from their mothers soon after birth. Lindsey expresses the frustration that these protesters cause the staff and especially Dan. A slight smile appears on her face as she says, "Even though the protesters are trying to get people to stop shopping here, it doesn't work because a large part of our clientele are women who come in to buy dogs when they are mad at their husbands". Lindsey laughs as she says this, and explains that it is not a rare occurrence for women to come in and buy pets to get back at their husbands. She is amused by these wives and continues to elaborate, "We once had a woman who said that her husband stayed out until 2 a.m. the night before with his friends so she wanted to buy a puppy without telling him first to get under his skin". These ulterior motives allow the women to breeze by the protesters without a care- vengeance is more important.
It is a Saturday morning around 10 a.m., an hour after Russo's Pet store opened. Families are strolling leisurely, going in and out of the Pink Berry and the Y-3 stores. Y-3 is a new upscale store that fuses the work of Japanese designer Yoshi Yamamota's with Adidas sports wear. These are Russo's neighbors. From inside the store, you can see the sign in front of Russo's that reads in large blue childish font "Russo's Pets". On any other day, the sign in front of Russo's is all that you would notice about the store from the view of Y-3; however, today is an exception. Protestors march in front of the store- signs in hand. There are only three of them out today contrary to the chaotic and crowded description the sales associate gave about the protestors. There is a blonde woman wearing high-waisted Levi's and tennis shoes. Her typical soccer mom outfit is complimented by her daughter that is standing there with her face on the side of her mother's hip. Her daughter stares at the ground bashfully as her mother introduces herself. She extends her hand, "Becky Dinsmore. Nice to meet you...and this is Adalia. Adalia, can you say hi?". The mother prods her daughter who says hello and announces that she has just turned seven years old. The other woman does not come over to join in because she is still focused on spreading her anti-puppy mill message. She holds a sign that reads NO DOCUMENTATION? NO WAY that voices her concern of non-documented animals from puppy mills which she suspects are being sold in the store. Becky pardons her protesting friend by saying, "Yeah we had a bad experience of our own here. We bought a golden retriever not too long ago but when we got home, she immediately got sick. We took Goldie to the vet and he said that she had parasites and was dehydrated". The vet was suspicious of Goldie being bought from a puppy mill. Becky says that after this incident, she did research and found that down near the San Diego border federal agents see puppies being imported illegally all the time. Her suspicion is what has brought her to the front of Russo's today.
After the protestors have cleared, the climate inside of Russo's returns to normal. Another glamorous mom comes into the store, Chanel bag in hand. She walks straight over to the cat collars and picks one up that is leopard print and one that's sparkly pink. Lindsey walks up to the customer as she is browsing the collars to offer her assistance. Lindsey was just about to put away the Doberman that she was holding back in its cage when she noticed the Chanel-Bag-Holder looking indecisive. As Lindsey approaches, the customer's eyes grow larger and she nervously backs up a few inches. She is clearly afraid of the doberman puppy which can be seen when the puppy begins growling softly at the sight of the woman. Lindsey soothes the puppy, then the customer. "Really, don't be scared. I know she seems a little rough around the edges, but she's really sweet once you warm up to her," Lindsey says to the woman as she pets the growling puppy. While the Doberman appears threatening as his stereotype built by movies like Beethoven that have scenes of snarling dogs of this breed foaming at the mouth and chasing children down back alleys; however, that stereotype is proved wrong by the calm demeanor of this particular Doberman that can be seen in his docile mannerisms as the sales associate speaks with her customer. After seeing that the pet is harmless, the woman relaxes and then asks Lindsey, "Which collar do you think would best match an all white cat with baby blue eyes".
Russo's Pet Experience is a representation of the extremist lifestyles of wealth
that these residents of this live in. From the coastal view of the Newport Beach shores that are visible from the shop, to the eccentric clientele that this store attracts, this store shows little resemblance to perhaps a stereotypical pet store filled with families embracing the new additions to their families. While families would usually be concerned with details regarding the personality of their new pets or if their new pet is safe to have around children, the customers at Russo's have a different agenda. Their motives are materialistic rather than nurturing. Lindsey is aware of these paradoxes but she is still comfortable with the fact that the Newport eccentrics are buying these precious pets; even though their intentions would disgust most pet lovers- especially the protestors. Lindsey expresses her mixed feelings and sighs, "Sometimes I worry about who we are selling the animals to and if their owners will take care of them properly, but then I remember that these animals probably have a personal nanny and a spoiled life on a plush pillow and then I feel better about it".