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Pamela Clemente is en route to pick up two more dogs to add to her pack on their way to a Buenos Aires park for play group.
Pamela Clemente is en route to pick up two more dogs to add to her pack on their way to a Buenos Aires park for play group. (Hector Tobar/Los Angels Times)

Dog days every day in Buenos Aires

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter Mandel
Globe Correspondent / January 15, 2006

BUENOS AIRES -- Palermo, Recoleta, Monserrat, Congreso, San Martín: The neighborhood labels on my map belong in Italy, the Caribbean, Peru -- somewhere, but not here.

So do some of the words on signs, and smells of cakes in bakeries, and plants in parks. But this is Argentina, which changes colors like a checkered blanket. It is a shawl of small worlds.

The square of the blanket that I don't expect is Paris. Here are buildings with blue and white enameled numbers and elegant ironwork along the balconies. Here are popular French chains like Société Général and 5àSec, the dry cleaner that will, if you like, professionally brush, or gingerly hand-iron your clothes.

Then there are the dogs. Boxers, dachshunds, golden retrievers, Weimaraners, cocker spaniels crowd the sidewalks, tugging at fashionable leather leashes, like in Paris, while herding humans to the side. La Avenida de Mayo is wide and shady like the Boulevard St-Germain, and there are at least as many pets here poking their noses into tree cutouts.

When the jacarandas are in bloom, dogs wind up with violet snouts from sniffing the sidewalk cracks where petals have collected. On a windy day, it is a fiesta, a hero's parade: proud, promenading pets sprinkled with flowery confetti from the branches waving above them.

In the city's wealthier districts, like this avenue, the poodles of Buenos Aires rival their Parisian peers. If you are a well-heeled animal, you are picked up daily at home by a trained, certified dog walker and exercised in a fenced dog park or on the street for a minimum of two hours. That's right: dois dog-pleasing hours.

Buenos Aires is a nighttime place, it's true. Some people come here to catch the city's blasts of street-corner tango. Some head straight for steaks. And some ride around in radio taxis until it's time to pour wine at a cafe. But it is the dogs and their walkers that add a dash of strangeness, a little dance action, to the day.

On a bus tour, even drowsy passengers perk up, pointing and laughing every time we pass a walker getting wrapped up like a maypole or whirled like a top. We see one stuck on a median in a busy road with half his pack stretching into petulant traffic and the other half tugging him backward in the direction of a passing cat.

Dog walkers are around every weekday, some in uniforms or specially printed business T-shirts, most with groups of six to 10 pets apiece. I catch up with one of them, Domingo Tiscornia, who is pulling on a German shepherd, a black Lab, a Newfoundland, a retriever, and a collie near the Plaza San Martín.

In his 40s, Tiscornia is wearing a windbreaker in the spitting rain. The Lab has his own gear, a nylon jacket with a hood, and the collie is outfitted in rubber boots.

''Most days," says Tiscornia, ''I have 10 dogs. But today the weather is very bad. The owners are rich and they do not want wet fur inside the house." Tiscornia says that, like other pros in the business, he trained for four months in physical education, biology, and veterinary science before earning his certificate. He says if he builds up his reputation, he can make more money than a teacher.

At the end of the block, Tiscornia shows me a store called Mr. Puppy. Buenos Aires has a lot of pet boutiques like this one, and when I go in, I have to step around a skyscraping stack of premium biscuits and food. Here is a box of Excellent brand Adulto dog food ''con pollo y arroz" (with chicken and rice). Over here, Purina Dogui is, as far as I can make out, a bag full of ''marinated, barbecue-flavored chips."

The leashes look like high-end stuff, not only leather but carpincho hide, something I would like for a belt. (Carpinchos are capybaras, those largest of all rodents you see at the zoo that are native to Central and South America.)

This is where Tiscornia stocks up on all-natural, high-protein biscuits, the expensive snack his clients demand. I ask him why the dog owners of Buenos Aires don't get out and buy them themselves. Or for that matter, why they don't exercise their pets.

''That is how it is," he says, shrugging. ''These dogs are like their children. They are busy, but they want only the best for them. Best food, best parks, best care, best of everything."

''Best professional walkers," I add.

Shaking biscuits out of the box, he brightens.

''This," he says, ruffling the Lab around its puffy neck, ''this is why I am here."

Contact Peter Mandel, a freelance writer in Providence, at pmandel@worldnet.att.net.

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