November-December 2018

Happy Bark Day

Birthday parties aren’t just for people

Illustration by Goodloe Byron.

The party invitations, sent via email, were addressed to the dogs. “Ollie and Sadie are turning one!” the invites read, below photos of the two together.

Ollie, a miniature goldendoodle, and Sadie, a cava-poo-chon, have been inseparable since the day they met. When the dogs’ first birthdays were approaching—they were born a day apart—their owners, Rachel Rabin (Ollie’s mom) and Jaclyn Sandler (Sadie’s mom), decided to host a joint celebration. Rabin and Sandler, who were both teachers at Bells Mill Elementary School in Potomac, say their friends and families thought the idea was crazy. But neither of the women had kids at the time, and a pet party sounded fun.

Ten dogs—including Lucky, Lexie and Penny—showed up at the Cabin John Dog Park on a Saturday in May 2017, more than the hosts were expecting on a drizzly day. Guests gathered around a picnic table that was decorated with a blue tablecloth and paw-print plates and napkins. Everyone brought gifts or cards for the dogs, and they all sang “Happy Birthday” before indulging in a cookie cake. The dogs ate homemade, bone-shaped peanut butter treats and spent most of the party playing in the mud.

“I think it was probably a first [and] only birthday [party],” says Sandler, who lives in Chevy Chase and now has infant twins. “In the future, Rachel and I will get the dogs together around their birthdays and do something little.”

These days, pet parents have plenty of options when it comes to spoiling dogs on their birthday. At Bone Jour, a pet boutique in Bethesda, owner Becky Pugh sells everything from bake-at-home cake mix for dogs to themed toys like a singing plush birthday cake. At Henry’s Sweet Retreat in Bethesda, dog-friendly cakes come in peanut butter, banana or pumpkin flavors and can be personalized. Fancy Cakes by Leslie, a popular Bethesda bakery, has been offering “pupcakes”—dog-friendly cupcakes with a minibone on top—for 10 years.

Eleven-year-old Rebeckah Gothelf bought birthday treats from Bark! in Rockville this past February and invited neighbors to a party for her 4-year-old Australian Labradoodle, Chicago. Six dogs from her Rockville neighborhood came over with their owners, who brought biscuits, Frisbees and other toys. Rebeckah set up two tables of food, with signs that read: “Human Buffet” and “Dog Treats.”

Her family planned on an outdoor party, but the weather was bad so the dogs played in the basement. Weeks later, neighbors who couldn’t attend the party told Rebeckah how disappointed they were that they’d missed it.

Paul and Laura Abbott, owners of Life of Riley Pet Hotel & Spa in Rockville, started offering customized party packages for dogs four years ago. The $500 fee includes two hours of open access to the playroom for up to 10 adults and 10 dogs, birthday decorations, finger foods and soft drinks for humans, pet-friendly desserts, doggie gift bags and more. (It’s $100 extra for a professional photographer.)

A German shepherd-Akita mix named Beemer, who goes to Life of Riley for day care, celebrated his seventh birthday there, complete with a cake iced in blue yogurt frosting and topped with his name. His owner, who lives in Rockville, had seen photos of extravagant dog parties on social media and reached out to the Abbotts for ideas. With his owner’s help, Beemer blew out the candle on his cake and enjoyed a slice with his day care friends. As the dogs ran around together while party music played in the background, Beemer’s owner wondered why she’d never done this before. “Unfortunately, [pets] don’t stay around forever and that’s heartbreaking,” she says, “so my thing is, I want to be able to maximize every experience for my dog the most I can.”

Beemer’s gift bag from Life of Riley included organic treats and a stuffed alligator that became his favorite toy. The bandana he wore—the girl dogs get bows—read, “It’s my bark day!”