SAN ANTONIO -- A panda bear would probably be the coolest pet in the world -- except for the razor-sharp teeth, unpredictable rage and massive body.
It's true that a wild animal probably isn't the best thing to parade around in public. Although super-cool, it would actually be very dangerous, not to mention illegal. But suppose the panda were always happy, playful and cuddlesome. Like a puppy.
Like a puppy!
Allen Hanauer is making those panda dreams come true.
A longtime dog trainer and groomer, Hanauer explained that dyeing dogs to look like other animals has become hugely popular in China. Now, it seems, panda fever is spreading to the States.
"It's definitely picking up," he said. "We're getting a lot more coloring jobs. I think its something people always wanted to do, but just didn't know where."
Or, Hanauer said, they were just scared to get it done. After all, what would the neighbors say?
Dyeing for attention
"They love him," Paul Skermetta said about his white poodle Coco.
Only Coco isn't always white. This year he sported colorful polka dots for the King William Fair Parade. On Halloween, he's pumpkin-orange with a black mohawk. On Wednesday, Coco left the Bark salon on S. Saint Mary's with a blue mohawk, blue ears, a black jacket, orange pants, black boots and a blue tail.
"Hopefully he will look like a punk rocker wearing a jacket," Hanauer said of his client.
It's a bit ridiculous. Some may even say it's cruel. But Skermetta swears the dog likes it. And everyone they encounter on their walks through King William seem to like it. And Coco especially likes all the attention he gets because of it.
"Everybody over there knows Coco and his mohawk," Skermetta said.
After a quick blow dry and some work with the clippers, Coco was ready to rock his new mohawk. He didn't seem embarrassed at all. But then again, he wasn't the only one in the room with a blue mohawk. His groomer had the same one tucked under a hat.
Another one of Hanauer's clients is a maltipoo named Chicken. The poor dog must be quite confused. He's a dog named Chicken that now looks like a panda bear.
His transformation took only about four hours. Hanauer explained that he usually likes to let the animal-friendly dye set for about six hours, but that it all depends on the dog's coat. The key to a good dye job? Patience, Hanauer said.
Panda dogs are especially popular in China, where the panda bear serves as some sort of unofficial national emblem. But their admiration isn't contained by the Great Wall. Everybody loves pandas. And why not? They're so cute.
A quick Google search for "panda dogs" will come up with loads of photos of the "hybrid" breed. The chows, it seems, can pull of the most convincing panda impersonations. But the dog-dyeing craze doesn't stop at pandas. Some owners are giving their pups tiger stripes, or grooming them to look like camels, horses, lions and animals that don't look like dogs.
The images resurface a long-standing question that budded the first time somebody tried to make their dog wear some silly costume for Halloween: Is it cute or cruel?
The big question
With a pink poodle in his lap, Hanauer explained the reactions the dogs receive.
"You get from positive to negative," he said. "The positive ones are like, 'Oh my god, look at that dog, it's so cute!' Then the negative ones, you know, 'What have you done to that dog!' But a long story short, the dogs really much like the attention."
The panda dog, the pink poodle and Coco the punk rocker are extreme examples, Hanauer explained. Most pet owners just want a little color on their dog's head and tail. Just like Charlie, a young shih tzu who left the doggie salon with some yellow highlights.
A simple coloring runs about $15, while a full out coloring can cost hundreds, depending on how much dye is used. Hanauer explained that the dye is non-abrasive, that he never uses hydrogen peroxide-based dyes, and only works on dogs with white coats.
Hanauer said he does about six dye jobs a week, and expects that number to go up as the trend continues to catch on in the States. That means more panda bears and dogs that look like colorful Care Bears may be strolling the neighborhood.
Hanauer started as a dog trainer and still trains at his Superior K-9's in Pipe Creek. He grooms once a week at the Bark solon, just south of downtown, and is opening a grooming salon of his own in Pipe Creek in the near future.
This weekend, Hanauer will be penning his name in Guinness Book of World Records by trimming the most dog nails in a one-hour period and an eight-hour period at the San Antonio Pet Expo.