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The collar of money

They lap up the luxury, as well as spring water, at this doggie day care

T.J. lives at the Ritz-Carlton, Henrietta comes from Beacon Hill, and William calls the South End home, though he is on the Cape for the summer. But several times a week these preppies meet at school, where there are ice cream breaks, art projects, movies, and, in hot weather, wading pools and water slides. There are Christmas parties with personalized stockings, Halloween gift bags and birthday celebrations. Tap water is verboten; it's strictly Poland Spring here. Door-to-door chauffeur service is available. Report cards are sent home regularly, and the students of the week get framed certificates.

T.J., Henrietta, William , and about 30 others attend Dog Day Afternoons Country Day Prep. T.J. is a Portuguese water dog, Henrietta an English bulldog, and William a Bernese mountain dog.

Country Day Prep is to the dog world what Milton Academy is to the human world. Canines must go through an extensive application process before being admitted. Many aren't. As the website puts it: ``Salty dogs, junkyard dogs, and dogs who wear polyester needn't apply."

OK, that's sort of tongue-in-jowl.

``We do have a few mixed breeds," says co founder Nora Meiners, pointing to Gershwin, a ``golden doodle," a poodle and golden retriever mix lying in the shade of the school's long yard. ``Gershy, you're beautiful and smart, too," Meiners coos. Gershy wags his tail.

To get in, Gershwin's owners had to fill out a four-page application, take him in for a ``personal interview," be interviewed themselves, and produce two letters of recommendation -- for their dog. On the application, ``parents" must describe their dog's character and personality, special interests and abilities, and answer other questions: ``In the last two years, has your dog seen a counselor, psychologist, or therapist?" ``In what areas does your dog excel?"

Tuition is $30 a day, or $120 for five days.

The school says it does not discriminate ``on the basis of breed, color, or age." According to its mission statement, Country Day Prep is ``a highly exclusive educational community . . . . We guide our students to carry out, with credit, the manifold family and social duties that are expected from a dog of good position; prepare them for happy lives at home, on the boat, at the club, on the slopes, or wherever fortune dictates. . ."

About half the dogs who apply make it in.

Who's rejected? ``Aggressive dogs, food-possessive dogs, toy-aggressive dogs, dogs who aren't very social and are not going to get along with other dogs, dogs who wear polyester," says headmaster Jeffrey Walker, who went to Rutgers Prep School in Somerset, N.J., before going on to Penn and then Harvard, where he has almost completed his PhD in American Civilization.

``I had a great experience at prep school, and I thought everyone should have the same experience I did," says Walker, who is 30. ``I made lifelong friends."

He and Meiners, who also attended private school, opened Country Day in 1998. It operates out of a 5,500-square-foot warehouse on Harrison Avenue on the Roxbury/South End line, with a huge fenced-in lot. Dogs can come one to five days a week, but they must attend regularly so they get to know one another. Drop-ins are not allowed. About half of them are picked up at their door by Country Day staffers in the morning and taken home at the end of the day; the others are dropped off by their owners.

``A lot of our people have high-powered jobs . . . and they work long hours," says Meiners, as she counts heads and takes attendance. ``Riley, Kenmore, Bailey, Pasha, Dutchess. . ."

On a recent day, two dozen dogs of many varieties played -- or napped -- in the lot, supervised by staffers who scratched ears, rubbed bellies, and baby-talked for their charges. ``The standard poodle is Jake, and the little Visla is Lily," says Meiners, 31, who graduated from Emerson College with a degree in creative writing. ``The Bernese is Boots, and he has a brother named Louie who's a chocolate Lab. The dachsund is Archie, and he has tons of clothes. He's the best-dressed dog in day care."

Several metal bowls are placed around the yard, and they're filled with Poland Spring. Surely the dogs don't know the difference between tap and spring water.

``But we do," says Walker.

He notes that his own English bulldog, Wellington (nicknamed ``Fatty"), does know the difference between polyester and cashmere. ``He has a full wardrobe, a minimum of 20 sweaters, raincoats and boots for the winter, hats, sunglasses , and goggles."

Teacher's pets
Most of the dogs eat before or after school. If they're puppies, or on a special diet, they can eat lunch on campus. But they can't play for at least 45 minutes afterward. ``They're prone to bloating if they run too soon," Meiners explains.

This summer, the dogs have been part of a test kitchen for Walker's new enterprise: doggy ice cream. Frostbite (``Simply Fetching" is its motto) shares offices with Country Day Prep. For regulars who are summering at their second home, Walker overnights them samples on dry ice. ``We started blending in herbs and vitamins so it's healthy. It's low-sugar and low-lactose," he says. So far there are 15 flavors, including Heath Bone Crunch; Walker's favorite is jalapeno and cheese, which he and his dog share.

On hot days, staffers put wading pools outside, or set up tarps and cover them with water and ice chips, the better for the dogs to slip and slide, or just chew on the ice. But if it's broiling -- or cold, or rainy -- their outdoor time is limited.

Inside the warehouse lobby, a bulletin board serves as a face book, with all the students' photos pinned up. The floor is covered with rubber matting, the walls with a forest mural. Sometimes ramps and tunnels are pulled out for fun. Art projects include paw-painting on paper or tiles. Movies are shown, such as ``All Dogs Go to Heaven " and, of course, the `` Wishbone " series. ``They get excited by the sound effects," Meiners says.

Birthday cakes from a nearby dog bakery are ordered upon request, and the dogs wear party hats. Gift bags with treats and toys are sent home on holidays, and owners get gift baskets on their birthdays, too.

Then there are regular report cards. Vinny, a soft-coated Wheaton terrier from the Back Bay, got a good one recently. ``Vinny's best friend today was Dakota. His favorite activity was wrestling with his friends. He was a happy camper today. Vinny is such a sweet boy and is well-liked at school by all. He's quick to make friends with the newbies and makes them feel welcome!"

The school would like to install an indoor pool, and is working on getting a city permit. ``It would be great for our senior dogs," Meiners says. ``It keeps their joints strong. Lots of our dogs slim down here."

Henrietta is one. Her owner, Margaret Brady, calls Country Day Prep ``the Canyon Ranch for dogs." ``I can't afford to go to Canyon Ranch, but my dog can," says Brady, 36, who works for a public relations firm. Henrietta goes to school five days a week. She's picked up at 7 a.m. and dropped off in the late afternoon.

Brady lives in a small apartment on Beacon Hill, and says she couldn't do without doggy day care. ``Henrietta loves it. I have all her report cards. They did finger painting, and I've got her pink pawprints on parchment on my refrigerator. They sent a DVD home; it was different photos of Henrietta all over camp. Henrietta with her best friend, with quotes from her best friend. Hen resting, Hen playing. It's just peace of mind to know she's safe and happy and out and running around."

Brady adds: ``And she drinks better water than I do."

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