When Judy Basteri looked at the three-story house in Somerville, she knew, without even taking a peek at the bathrooms or the kitchen, that it was perfect.
The realtor showed me the basement and said, "This would be good space for your dogs," chuckles Basteri, president of Pet Companions, in Somerville. What Basteri had in mind for her dogs, however, was the entire house.
Only a few barks resonate when the doorbell rings at 191 Broadway. But inside, more than 20 dogs are experiencing a canine kind of heaven while their owners are at work.
Gus, a chocolate lab, gallops up to greet a visitor while wriggling happily and carrying a sodden rawhide in his mouth. Mixed-breed Taylor worms his way through the pack of wagging tails, ignoring tiny Otis, a Jack Russell terrier, who scampers unhindered among the 80 legs. And Ed, the lone basset hound, just woofs.
The frenzied competition for a pat soon dies down. Some dogs retire to a double bed, while others loll on the couch or tussle over a rope ring. Most end up following Basteri into her office and settling down on hair-covered blankets and dog beds, chewing or napping.
"Dottie! Very pretty. Lie DOWN!" Basteri commands a young yellow lab who prances before her, holding a blue bone. Dottie eventually obeys, and Basteri is free at last to recount her journey from a teacher of special education to a day care provider for dogs.
It started 11 years ago when she had a deaf cat she was reluctant to leave in a kennel while she traveled. Having her sister come to the house took care of that problem, but Basteri began to wonder if there weren't other pet owners facing similar dilemmas.
"So I put up signs, and my phone started to ring," Basteri says simply. "I thought I'd be getting vacation clients, but people wanted their dogs to be walked in the middle of the day. But there are so many dogs you can walk. And the middle of the day is only so long." She talks while holding her coffee cup down so Max, a black mutt, can lap up the dregs. "So I created doggy play group and doggy day care."
A staff member lives on the second floor, but Basteri lives elsewhere, arriving during the day to supervise, screen potential clients, mediate disputes over toys, dole out treats, and, of course, clean up the yard.
"It doesn't bother me," she insists. "Really." Nor does it bother the neighbors, she claims, although her decision to create a doghouse was initially met with skepticism.
Basteri keeps the stereo turned to WBUR; classical music, she insists, calms the dogs. At $22 per day for day care, such pampering doesn't come cheap. It's less expensive to enroll Fido in one of the two play groups, where dogs get picked up and dropped off from a customized van, but Basteri still boasts over 500 human clients. "These dogs are people's children," she says, glancing at a sleek greyhound flopped on a plaid bed atop two other dogs.
"Are you comfortable, Benjamin?" she asks. "Because it's important that you're comfortable."
Benjamin is only one of the 14 sprawled around Basteri in various states of relaxation which vanishes the instant Gracie, an elegant golden retriever, is dropped off, causing a flurry of sniffing.
It's no trouble getting Gracie to stay with Basteri, says owner Nancy Kays-it's getting the dog to leave. "Sometimes I think she'd just like to stay there and have me visit," Kays laughs. Basteri she calls, "just a live wire! She's just got such a command over all those dogs-it's amazing!"
Basteri presides over her now-settled pack, musing over how much fun she has. "I just love my dogs. Material things are not important to me," she insists. "They're replaceable." As if on cue, Dottie begins gnawing on a chair arm. Basteri laughs, gently reprimanding the dog, then takes in the tranquil scene and says, "The world would be a better place if we were all treated like this."
-Sarah P. Jones
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