Danville Express

Living - July 27, 2007

Running with the big dogs

Love of a dog leads to dream jobs for two pet store owners

by Christina Straw

Walking into Pyrenees Pets in Blackhawk is not unlike walking into other pet boutiques catering to cat and dog lovers. Except you're likely to be greeted by two large, white fluffy dogs resembling polar bears.

These are "the girls," aka Sierra and Nyack, two Pyrenees that hold court behind the counter with boutique owners Karen Reese and Tina Engineer.

Whether you're looking for that perfect rhinestone collar for kitty, a trendy dog carrier for your new puppy, a colorful chew toy or friendly conversation about dogs, cats or other pets, you've come to the right place.

"I love coming to work," says Tina. "When I'm not here, I miss it. We know a lot of people who come in. Sometimes people come in just to say 'hi' to the girls."

A woman comes in to drop off tickets for a drawing that she's sold for Pyrenees Pets and to pick up some more. Karen and Tina are getting ready for their second annual summer fundraiser, benefiting animal rescue groups. This year's proceeds will be given to ARF, the East Bay Animal Rescue Foundation started in 1991 by Tony and Elaine LaRussa. ARF's mission is to respond to the immediate needs of animals that have been neglected, abused or deprived of love to ensure they find high quality homes.

"We like to give a certain percentage of our earnings back into rescue programs, and this year, we wanted to do something locally; that's why we chose ARF," Tina says. "I've been involved in rescue programs for 10-12 years. Since Sierra's adoption, I've been involved with Pyrenees rescue."

Karen had lost a dog a few years ago, and Tina, being a supportive friend, went online to look for a rescue dog she might want to adopt.

"I found a dog that was up for adoption - and that was Sierra," said Tina. "She was a working dog. Pyrenees are sheep guardians. A rancher brought her over from Wisconsin to his ranch to work, but she didn't take to it. A neighbor convinced the rancher to give her to him and then he put her up for adoption."

The Pyrenean Mountain dog, known as the Great Pyrenees in the United States, is a very old breed of dog traditionally used for protecting livestock in pastures. Pyrenees have been used for hundreds of years by the Basque people, who inhabit parts of the region in and around the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France. Males can weigh anywhere from 100-160 pounds and the females around 85-115 pounds.

"The problem is they're cute as puppies and then they get so big and people don't want them anymore," Karen says.

Karen and Tina, friends for 20 years, were both working regular jobs when they came up with the idea for Pyrenees Pets.

"We thought, 'Let's open up a shop! Let's bring Sierra to work,'" Tina recalls. "Karen was managing a coffee shop and I was a financial planner. We both left our jobs and started looking for locations. That was two years ago this August."

While Tina was doing a lot of fundraising work on behalf of Pyrenees rescue, she started corresponding with a woman in Tennessee who worked for the organization as well. The woman e-mailed Tina with pictures of a Pyrenees puppy that she found irresistible.

Tina soon adopted the puppy and named him Nyack after one of the mountain towns heading up to the Sierra.

Today, Nyack curls up near Sierra on the floor for an afternoon nap.

"They're working really hard," Karen says with a chuckle.

Tina says she's working with Anderson Valley Rescue, the same organization where Karen adopted Sierra, to create a sanctuary for working Pyrenees dogs.

"Eventually I'd love to see a rescue arm for Pyrenees Pets down the road," Tina said. "But right now, this is it. We love it. This is our dream job."

Support the big dogs

What: Pyrenees Pets' second annual summer benefit

Activities: Food, drinks, music, drawings, a mini-grooming dog spa, a veterinary acupuncturist, animal communicator and more

When: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 4

Where: Parking lot near the store Pyrenees Pets, 3440 Camino Tassajara

Information: Call Karen Reese and Tina Engineer at 648-7387


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