Since becoming a proud (read: annoying) dog owner, I’ve made a monumental discovery, and it hasn’t been that of my inner child or a sense of wonder about the dynamic canine species with which we coexist.  The discovery, my friends, has been Petco.

That’s right: Petco.  You know–where the pets go.

This geeky place was never on my radar before, for two obvious reasons:  1)  I didn’t own a pet, and 2)  I was busy shopping at Walmart (which, as we all know, isn’t geeky at all.)  The only time I thought about Petco was when I passed it on my way to Walmart and vaguely wondered:  how do they stay in business?  Just looking at that brown box of a building bored me; I shuddered to imagine how boring it was inside.  Now, let me assure you that this distaste for Petco had nothing to do with a distaste for pets or for pet owners (okay, maybe a little distaste for pet owners.  Sorry.)  But really, I cringed at the sight of Petco mainly because the presentation was shabby enough to be offensive.  A mudcolored square structure with puffy red letters on the side spelling out the (wildly imaginative) name–Petco–and they expect the masses to flood?  Obviously, the higher-ups at Petco know nothing about where rich, sexy dog owners like me want to spend our money.  A fool’s store, I thought to myself.  Or worse, a dork’s store (!)  I may have succumbed to the greasy enticements of Walmart, but some things still remained beneath my dignity.   Petco was one of them.  I knew–in the same way I knew I’d stay young forever–that I would never, ever shop at Petco.  Turns out I was wrong (about the latter, not the former.)  (Obviously.)  The epiphany hit me one crisp autumn afternoon, as I found myself walking through the front entrance of Petco with my dog on a leash.  Pushing through the heavy glass door, I was unprepared for what waited on the other side.

Rich, did I say?  Sexy?  Yes and yes.  But wait–Petco is so much more than that.  Don’t be fooled, as I was, by the clumsy simplicity of the red-puffy-lettered-brown-box of a building.  Here’s what happens inside Petco:

You walk through the front doors and smack into a “treat table,” which is an understatement; a long counter with dozens of different dog delicacies stands with style and color that rivals the cosmetic counters at Nordstrom.  (I mean, the way I imagine the cosmetic counters at Nordstrom look.  See, I don’t shop at Nordstrom.  I shop at Petco.)  Each dog treat looks like a fancy handmade Christmas cookie, and you can fill your bag to the brim–for only $6.99 per pound!  (Twice the price of ground beef, but who’s counting?  Your spoiled, fat kids can eat cereal; your doggie deserves a treat.)  Before you can select your goodies, however, you are flanked by two–wait, three–Petco employees who pounce on you like a kitten pounces on one of those beige-carpeted catstands they sell for just $124.99 (aisle P4.)  These chipper employees seem to have but one purpose:  serving you.  Not exaggerating here–they are the most cheerful, accomodating pet-product-pushers I’ve ever encountered:

“Need a new dog collar?  Let me show you our rolled leather ones–do you prefer jewel or earth tones, vibrant or hidden stitching?”  “Looking for a bone?  Well, what’s your puppy’s age, breed, and temperament?  Because we have natural bones, synthetic bones, teething treats, chew toys and–for the very invested owner–antlers.”  Antlers.  (True story, my faithfuls; they’re on a display shelf in front of the checkstand.)  “Oh wait; is it dog food you’re in need of?  Well then.  What’s your breed?  Because for each breed, we have newborn puppy/small puppy/growing puppy/small dog/medium dog/large dog varieties; and each of those comes in meat lovers/vegetarian/vegan/organic/sugar free/preservative free/fat free/flavor free options.  None of it, however, will be free to you.  Far from it.  But don’t worry; when your bill for a “few things” totals $176.00, we’ll ring you up with a smile!  And a complimentary Dog/Human Crossover Cookie.”  You gave the cookies this title when you learned, upon asking, that their free “dog cookies” at the checkout counter are actually human cookies that are simply sugar-free.  (Which says something about how good sugar-free cookies actually taste.)  (And how weird it is that dog owners eat the same food as their dogs.)  (And how thinking this is normal is what makes people without dogs kind of despise people with dogs.)

You pay for the “groceries” with a credit card (whose checking account can cover a diet like this?) and head toward the exit, thinking that you’re done.  Oh my sweet, naive faithful–you are not done.  Far from it.  Because how did you think you were going to to serve that highbrow food to your dog–in a plain old dog dish?  A pox on the thought!  You must take a left down aisle P7 and decide between a Bronze Elevated Pet Diner, a Bamboo Bistro Double Dog Diner, or the classically simple Two-Tone Ceramic Crock.  And were you really just going to leave stale water in that poor puppy’s dish all day?  You will obviously be needing the Deluxe Fresh Flow Purifying Pet Fountain, in ebony or stainless steel.  (I’d go for the stainless–so sleek!)  And since the dinnerware should never outgloss the dog, you’d best speed over to P9 for some Evening Primrose Oil Shampoo and Jasmine and Vanilla Silky Coating Brush Conditioning Spray.  All of this, of course, means nothing without an Ionic Waterless Pet Massage Brush with which to apply it.  What–you thought you could just wash your dog with your own grubby human hands?  Talk about passe.  I mean:  Welcome to the nineties, Mistah Bahnks!

You mentally compute your purchases and decide that you really must be done shopping now, lest you start dipping into the Target budget (a pox on the thought!)  Spinning past the aisles toward the front, however, you can’t help but toss in a Pink Polka Dot Diva Dog Tank Top, a UV Protective Visor, and a Holiday Mrs. Claus Dress for Dogs.  (Your dog is a girl, after all, and ’tis the season.)  The clerk beams at you as her fingers fly over the keypad and approval oozes out of her eyes.  She pauses in her bagging to hold the Mrs. Claus getup at eye level then announces with bravado, “I got this for my puppy last year and it was”–she turns it sideways to show everyone in line behind you–“SOO CUTE!”  A series of gasps and clucks validates your already confident purchase; you may have even heard some applause break out in the back.  Eyeing your audience, you notice that several of the patrons and their puppies are wearing matching sweaters.  No matter–you still bask in the glow of their admiration.  You smile and nod modestly to your fans as the clerk folds the dress gently and places it in its own bag.  You appreciate her care and, in what you hope will be seen as a gesture of goodwill, help yourself to two complimentary Crossover Cookies.  She smiles magnanimously as you pop one of them into your mouth.  With shining eyes, the clerk says softly, “Tastes good, doesn’t it?”  You are instinctively aware that by consuming this Crossover Cookie, you have actually crossed an ideological divide. What the clerk really meant was, “You’re one of us now.”

And you come to realize, as you chew (and chew), that the Crossover Cookie does taste good.  Or at least, it doesn’t taste bad. Which is all it takes to satisfy the palette of a dog–and, it would seem, a dog’s owner.  Masticating that pasty lump in your mouth, you also realize that for all its talk about animals, Petco understands some pretty basic human psychology.  They know that we know that If We Love Our Pets, We Cannot Have Better Stuff Than They Do.  Seriously:  how elitist would it look if we, as mere humans, hogged all the fine food, fashionable clothing, and luxury grooming goods for our own species?  After some more (prolonged and determined) chewing, you finally swallow the cookie and realize something even more profound:  you will, heretofore, join yourself up with Petco’s righteous crusade.  From now on, it will be organic food and sparkly tutus for the dogs, Top Ramen and hand-me downs for the kids.  And you understand that we should all–dog and human alike–be eating stale sugar-free cookies.  Together, forever.  It’s only right.  And if the non-dog-owners roll their eyes at you, rest easy knowing that the matching-sweater crowd will fling your name to the heavens.  Your decision is made and you tell the clerk boldly, “Sign me up for the PetPals rewards card.”  This time applause does break out, as your new wool-clad comrades whoop and cheer behind you.  You refrain from bowing, tempted though you are.  You simply grin and leave the store, heavy with bulging bags and a happy heart.  “Next paycheck,” you think excitedly, “I’m coming back for the Luxury Tuscan Villa Dog Castle!”  Fixing the roof on your own pile of bricks can wait.  I mean, really.  Doesn’t your dog deserve an upgrade?