On their first date, Lindsay Velez and Victor Solomon went dog walking. Velez, who founded popular dog hiking company Eastside Hounds, handed off four of the eight pooches in her charge that day to Solomon. He’d never worked with dogs at that point, but that would quickly change.
Now, Velez and Solomon have a home they share with three children, four dogs, and a slew of canine guests that join them for overnight stays. Last weekend, they celebrated the grand opening of DEN Urban Dog Retreat, a spa and daycare inspired by their own home. The Cypress Park facility is a crystal-filled oasis where dogs can be pampered in the grooming salon, chill in the meditation area after a hike, and take care of their business in the tranquil yard. Services range from hikes and haircuts to reiki and intuitive energy healing with crystal therapy (the latter two are available for dogs and owners). “They want to be around what we like and that’s what makes them comfortable and relaxed,” says Velez. “It’s more about engaging with them, helping them learn when it’s appropriate to be running and crazy and when it’s appropriate to be relaxed. It’s kind of like training all day. It’s structured.”
“It’s like Montessori for dogs,” Solomon adds.
DEN (an acronym for Dogs, Exercise, Nutrition) had been Velez’s dream for years and is based on services that her dog-walking clients needed. People asked about grooming, nutrition, and even reiki for their pets. Velez kept up a sketchbook with ideas for a center that had all of this.
DEN wasn’t the easiest business to get up and running. They had to find a space in a neighborhood that was OK with the daily influx of dogs. Plus, with its holistic approach, DEN isn’t a typical dog-care center. “People couldn’t wrap their head around it really,” says Velez. Last October, they soft-opened exclusively for Eastside Hounds clients. Now, they’re ready to work with the general public.
Their weekend-long grand opening was designed for dogs and their humans. Sunday afternoon’s event focused on meditation. Paola Echeverri, who has been a client of Velez’s for about a year and a half, stopped by to check out the meditation with her dog Cholla. “They’ll send me pictures of her chilling out in this space and she looks so zen,” she says. “I’m always like, if I could be here all day, I would love it.”
Pamela Robins, author of the book Meditating with Animals, led a sound bath. As she played the singing bowls, dogs gradually settled in next to their owners, who petted them, both appearing more relaxed as the half-hour meditation session progressed.
Robins’ meditation practice developed after a series of events that included the death of her mother, a thyroid cancer diagnosis, and the breakup of her 15-year marriage. “In the process of that, my animals are what were there for me,” says Robins, who has a horse and two cats.
More recently, Robins, who is from Agoura Hills, lost her home and meditation space in the Woolsey fire. “I was fortunate enough to leave with my car, my two cats and my computer,” she says. (Her horse is in Ojai.) In the past three weeks, she’s moved six times. “My cats are obviously stressed. Cats don’t like to move,” she says. “I’m having to use my own teachings, really dig in and see what works with them. I don’t want them to be more stressed because I’m stressed.”
The team at DEN has been tending to the needs of a couple dogs in need of forever homes too. Their big success story, so far, is Sona, a young dog who was abandoned at Culver City Dog Park. Olivia Rae, a healer at DEN, brought her to the facility for care.
“She’s so frail,” Velez recalls. “She came here traumatized. Her hair was missing. She was neurotic. Her leg was messed up.” They cleaned her up, meditated with her, and took her to the crystal-filled healing room to sleep.
“I’ve never seen a dog sleep so hard,” says Rae. “She wouldn’t even wake up. It was like she had never felt safe in her entire life.” A nutritionist who works with DEN developed a diet for Sona. Velez took care of the veterinarian visit. Rae, who already has a bulldog named Eleanor, stepped up to foster. Now, Sona’s hair is growing back. She’s visibly friendly and energetic. “She’s only been with me for three months,” Rae says. “She’s a completely different dog.”
DEN Urban Dog Retreat, 3252 Arroyo Seco Ave., Cypress Park.
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