The Raleigh Hotel's Dog of a Brunch

A columnist can't bear to make fun of these South Beach pet lovers.

People spend ungodly amounts of cash on their bitches. Check out ILoveDogsDiamonds.com, for instance, where one can buy the "Amour Amour" dog collar. Made from crocodile leather, platinum, and 52 carats of diamonds, it goes for the bargain price of $3.2 million.

And of course South Beach, the nation's playground of pointless indulgence, is into the canine thing too, if on a smaller scale. The Raleigh Hotel (1775 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-534-6300) charges guests $100 to bring their pets, and at The Setai (2001 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-520-6000), Fifi gets complimentary bottles of Evian and will soon have a temperature-controlled water bowl from which to slurp. Not far away, at the Dog Bar pet store (1684 Jefferson Ave., Miami Beach, 305-532-5654), a Swarovski crystal-studded leopard-print retractable leash goes for $200, and a tiny dress with a pink hoody and a cut-off jean skirt for your pooch has a price tag of $69.99.

This is some straight-up foolishness I just can't ignore. So around 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday, I headed to the pool area at the Raleigh for the totally fabulous Bark Brunch — a $55 slobber soirée complete with food, drinks, canine competitions, pet portrait painters, and doggy massages.

I harbored the most cynical of intentions: to make fun of the people who blow that kind of money on their pets.

It was about gazillion degrees when I arrived with my hot mess of a dog, Oliver. He's a schnoodle (a crossbreed of a poodle and a schnauzer) with a white (or gray, since he hadn't had a bath in a week or two) coat complete with prickly spurs and tangled beard. The well-trained mongrel almost immediately did what he was supposed to do — he gritted a few bottom teeth that jutted out due to an extreme underbite and then took a large, steamy dump in front of the buffet table.

"Eew," I overheard someone say.

Being that I was busy double-fisting free mimosas and Bellinis, allowing Oliver to roam freely on the patio, leash still attached to his collar, I'm sure this wasn't the first complaint. So I slammed my spiked juice, grabbed a handful of napkins, picked up the pile, and threw it out.

Then someone dropped a piece of bacon on the floor.

Oliver dove for it like a Survivor contestant, downed it in one bite, and lifted his leg to mark his territory on a palm tree.

"Good job, little guy," I said as I bent down to pat him on the head.

Now don't get me wrong. I adore dogs. How could anyone, free of allergies, not value pure, loyal love wrapped up in a bundle of fur? But dropping big money on a mutt that can't comprehend, remember, or even appreciate that level of lavishness? Puh-leez.

My first victim was to be a pretty, laid-back woman with a tiny Chihuahua named Olive. The dog, not the human, was wearing a sundress — because an animal, with a full coat and a tongue panting from Miami's sweltering heat, needs something light and cool to wear to brunch. "A waste of money?" I asked.

"Actually, I got this dress on eBay for $19," she said. "Anywhere else it costs double that."

All right, strike one. You can't mock thrift.

So I grabbed a full plate of sausage and eggs, plopped onto a plush coach under a shaded canopy, signaled Oliver to sit next to me, and began feeding him from my fork.

Surprisingly, no one was offended. So I headed to the champagne table, where a sassy sixtysomething broad sporting a superbouffant was lingering. She was boasting loudly that the only thing her Scottish terrier really wanted was a "Scotch on the rocks."

Soon we got to talking. She adopted her Scotty, an ex-show dog, because his owners believed he was sterile and therefore useless. So she showered him with love.

"And since then, he's become a father to two litters!" she said.

Strike two. How can you ridicule that?

Desperate, I headed for the massage table. The cost: five dollars.

Karen, a Coral Gables resident with shoulder-length brown hair and two blue eyes neatly contoured with dark liner, was having her mutt, Jack, massaged. Jack was a smallish dog with pointed ears, a pudgy torso, calico coat, and sharp teeth that attempted to bite the masseuse's hands when she rubbed his back.

"He has a few issues," said Karen, who adopted the 10-year-old stray while she was volunteering at the Humane Society one weekend. "He doesn't like people touching his back. Today is actually Jack's social debut, and I think he's doing pretty well!"

Going into extra innings, I blew five bucks on a massage for Oliver. My plan was to get something out of Hope, the dog masseuse, who had to be a little loony.

"I used to be a massage therapist, but I never really got any satisfaction out of it," she said. So, naturally, when one of her dogs began having spinal problems, she decided to give the pooch a massage. Soon she started noticing a positive response. After speaking to a vet, she learned about animal massage and has been practicing it ever since. "I do a lot of these kinds of events," she admitted, "but what I really love to do is help dogs with social issues. I have this one husky I work with, and when I first started with him, he couldn't be touched for more than a minute without getting finicky and nervous. But now I can massage him for 20 minutes straight."

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