Pets give us more than we give them. Sure, they require attention and need a lot of maintenance—food, walks, shots, those donut-shaped beds, and the occasional administration of the plastic cone of shame. But what they offer is immeasurable: companionship, comfort, and unconditional love.
The East Bay has no shortage of amenities that enhance our lives with animals. From the fresh air and hiking trails of the East Bay Regional Park District, to a range of businesses that spark the economy with pet-friendly foods and products, to hospitals and rescue centers that let animals help kids learn to read and patients recover from illness, Diablo rounds up the many ways pets support people throughout our region.
Pets on the Go
Both you and Fido will feel rejuvenated after connecting with nature and spending quality time together. Here are some top local spots for bonding.
Five Fun Hikes
The East Bay’s abundance of rolling hills and open spaces makes for idyllic dog walking. In fact, Oakland was recently named the seventh-best city for dog parks in a ranking of the 100 largest United States cities, with Fremont also finishing in the top 40. From coastal roams to hillside romps to urban strolls, here are five notable places to walk your dogs. More information on each is available at ebparks.org.
Briones Regional Park
This is a massive, 6,255-acre park near Concord, Lafayette, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, and Walnut Creek. There are five major access points, but the two most developed are the Bear Creek Staging Area in Lafayette and the Alhambra Staging Area in Martinez. On-leash areas are marked, but it won’t take long to reach off-leash spots where dogs can roam.
Del Valle Regional Park
Situated 10 miles south of Livermore, this expansive oasis has a nice water element and tons of open space. If you go to the last parking lot on the east side, there’s a trail called Dog Run that connects to numerous other pathways.
Iron Horse Regional Trail
Running between Concord and Pleasanton, this 32-mile trail offers plenty of places to stop, get lunch, and do some shopping. Dogs need to be on-leash in certain designated areas, but the walkway is well paved and easy to navigate.
Point Isabel Regional Shoreline
This 23-acre expanse next to the San Francisco Bay is heavenly for dog owners, as most of the park allows pups to remain off-leash as long as they are under voice control of their owners. There is even a dog-washing business (Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub) and an eatery (Sit and Stay Café). More than one million people visit each year, so you’re likely to see every imaginable dog breed on a weekend visit.
Point Pinole Regional Shoreline
One of the lesser-known gems in the region, this waterfront parkland has beaches, bluffs, and eucalyptus forests for miles, with plenty of off-leash areas to let your dogs run free.
The roomy front patio of Coffee Shop Lafayette is an ideal place for dog owners to start the day. In Concord and Dublin, the outdoor sections at Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar are well-known hangouts for pups and their owners. The open-air beer garden at Drake’s Dealership in Oakland is always dog-friendly (and an absolute must for beer lovers). Same goes for the porch at Danville Brewing Company on Danville’s Railroad Avenue. And Steve Burman, Steve Melander, and Steve Ziganti—the eponymous guys behind 3 Steves Winery in Livermore—invite you to bring your furry friends along for tastings or picnics at their winery on Greenville Road. coffeeshop411.com, lazydogrestaurants.com, drinkdrakes.com/dealership, danvillebrewing.com, 3steveswinery.com.
The Great Outdoors
With 23 parks spanning more than 120,000 acres, the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) offers myriad ways for animal lovers to get out and about. The parks boast a wealth of hiking trails for dog owners and give visitors numerous opportunities to see wildlife in their natural habitats.
"My observation is that people use parks that are close to where they live, and there [are many] nearby that offer scenery, exercise, and fresh air," says Terry Noonan, the unit manager of interpretive parklands for EBRPD. "We try and offer a variety of experiences, regardless of what someone is looking for. In addition to dog owners, we have lots of options for equestrians. There are great places for bird-watchers to visit; along the shoreline you will see migratory birds in different environments."
One more thing: These parks are still wild spaces, so make sure you and your dog treat them that way. "Be responsible by cleaning up after your dogs, keep them on-leash in developed areas, and bring water for them to drink," Noonan advises. "Before putting them in your car, check them for ticks."
Pets with a Purpose
Getting involved and volunteering in the community with your four-legged pal will strengthen your relationship while making a difference in the lives of others.
There are countless ways to help our furry friends; just check out the East Bay SPCA, Tri-Valley Animal Rescue, and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation. But you don’t have to volunteer alone. Not only can you experience the rush of helping local animals, but you can also enjoy it with your four-legged companion at your side. eastbayspca.org, tvar.org, arflife.org.
The benefits of pet therapy—or the use of animals to promote healing and wellness—have been well documented, and animal-assisted therapy has been incorporated into programs at Alta Bates, John Muir Health, and Kaiser Permanente. Your canine can become a part of the healing process through Oakland’s Therapy Pets and Dublin’s S.M.A.R.T. Dogs. Both support visits at various types of facilities and require testing to ensure dogs are suited to the work. therapypets.org, smartdogs.org.
If you have a cat, rabbit, parrot, or even a miniature horse and you’re willing to travel, Furry Friends—which arranges visits to facilities in San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz counties—accepts fuzzy (or feathered) helpers of all kinds. furryfriends.org.
Like humans, in certain medical situations, pets might need a blood transfusion. And because blood types differ across species (for instance, dogs have 13 and cats have 3), animal blood donors are necessary. The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has a Canine Community Blood Donor Program that allows your dogs (assuming they are between ages 1 and 8, weigh more than 55 pounds, and are in excellent health) to contribute to its blood bank. vetmed.ucdavis.edu.
The California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) is the largest volunteer search-dog organization in the United States. With training two to three times a week and the potential to get called out on searches at any hour, volunteering for a search-and-rescue team is a pretty big commitment—and an incredibly rewarding one. search-dogs.carda.org.
Learning how to read can be intimidating, but it’s easier to practice when the listener is nonjudgmental and cuddly. Valley Humane Society and East Contra Costa County Homeless Animals Lifeline Organization both support dog/human volunteer duos at libraries and schools to work with kids on their reading skills. valleyhumane.org, eccchalo.org.
Charity runs and walks that allow dogs to participate are also wonderful ways to give back with the aid of your pup. Look for events such as Animals on Broadway in Walnut Creek and Dogs Stroll for Strive in Piedmont. arflife.org, striveforchangefoundation.org/dog-stroll.
Even if you don’t have a pet at home, visiting animals can be a great way to de-stress and get your endorphins flowing.
The incredibly popular Japanese cat cafés are making a splash in the United States, with Oakland’s Cat Town being the first one in the country. Guests with reservations can pick up some goodies at the Rawr Coffee Bar and then enter the Cat Zone to cuddle and play with more than a dozen cats (all available for adoption). cattownoakland.org.
Lovers of more exotic animals can get their fix at a few of the unconventional pet shops in the East Bay. Just off Fifth Street in Berkeley, the East Bay Vivarium is a maze of reptiles, from giant pythons to tiny geckos. The recently opened Bay Bridge Aquarium and Pet in Oakland features an extensive variety of freshwater and saltwater fish. And Concord’s Feathered Follies is a mecca for everything avian. eastbayvivarium.com, baybridgeaquarium.com, feathered-follies.com.
The Medical Experts
It’s common knowledge that owning pets is good for you. The companionship and comfort they provide can ease the soul and warm the heart. But medical upsides abound too.
"There are proven physiological and psychological benefits [to owning pets]," says Mari Segimoto, a physical therapist at John Muir Health. Segimoto—along with senior physical therapist Tinah Loya—is one of the handlers who works with John Muir Health’s facility dog, Fisher, a yellow Labrador.
"Pets increase oxytocin production, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate and decreases cortisol, which leads to improved cardiovascular health," Segimoto explains. "They improve people’s mood and social behaviors and decrease anxiety and fear."
Segimoto and Loya see Fisher’s impact every day. The professionally trained working dog assists his handlers with patients in the acute rehabilitation and acute care units—both emotionally and physically.
Segimoto recalls one patient in his 50s who was struggling to deal with the limitations caused by his illness and refusing all intervention. "We brought Fisher into the picture, and he brought down all those walls," she says.
For patients with pets at home, returning to them is a major motivating factor for recovery, and the power of this human-animal bond is why furry companions are being brought into an increasing number of healthcare settings.
"People feel very strongly about their animals," Loya says.
Treat your animal companion to a soothing massage, nourishing mud bath, chic accessories, and healthy pet food made in the East Bay.
In the Lap of Luxury
When it comes to pampering, most people think of one thing: a massage. Luckily for your pet, massages aren’t just for humans anymore. Walnut Creek’s Victoria Tugwell is a veterinary nurse with years of training in canine and equine bodywork, including massage and acupuncture. Tugwell will come to your home (a travel charge is applied for anywhere outside of Walnut Creek) and spend some time relieving any stress or anxiety your animal may be experiencing. thebodyworkadvantage.com.
You don’t have to be a trained pet masseuse like Tugwell to help your furry friend feel better, body and soul. Green Soap offers a Soothing Skin Pet Balm, which moisturizes and calms any irritated areas. You can pick up matching soaps and shampoos at the Green Soap Bath Shoppe in Livermore. greensoapinc.com.
Once your pet is feeling good, it’s time to get him or her looking good too. If taking your cat or dog to get groomed doesn’t seem like a luxurious experience, then you’ve probably never taken your pet to Leading the Pack. The Oakland boutique specializes in personalized, one-on-one care for each and every customer, and offers such deluxe services as mud baths, deep-conditioning treatments, and hair coloring. To avoid any distractions while staff members are working, Leading the Pack does not accept walk-ins, so remember to make an appointment. ltpgrooming.com.
With your pet’s new fur-cut, an old collar just isn’t going to do the trick. Buy something more fashionable for your cat or dog at Berkeley’s Paco Collars. These handcrafted, Latigo-leather chokers range from simple (such as the Dude collar, which is plain leather with hatch marks) to elaborate (check out the fire-inspired Ember, rendered in studs and stones). With hundreds of options, it’s not hard to find something that fits your animal’s signature style. pacocollars.com.
Of course, most pets are more focused on what goes in their belly than what goes on their body. Oakland- and Pittsburg-based NomNomNow ensures your dog or cat’s food tastes good and is good for them, with meals made out of wholesome ingredients portioned for your pet’s needs. The food is even delivered to your house. nomnomnow.com.
The Holistic Hound in Berkeley has created treats that will both heal and delight your animal. The phytocannabinoid-rich mushroom and lamb or chicken bites can help with your pet’s immune system, intestinal tract, inflammation, and emotional balance—all while pleasing his or her taste buds. holistichoundhemp.com.
Some cats are happy to stay inside all day, but others tend to head out into those mean streets and dangerous intersections. Thankfully, there’s a way to get your cat outside without sending them into the wide and scary world: a "catio."
The freestanding enclosure provides felines a safe way to enjoy the outdoors. The Seattle-based Catio Spaces offers DIY designs in a variety of sizes, from a small box that can be mounted on a window to the 8-by-10-foot Oasis, complete with a connecting tunnel from catio to house. catiospaces.com.
Closer to home, C and D Pet Products in Petaluma sells various hardwood and wire enclosures, along with accessories and furniture to enliven your cat’s experience in nature. You can get as creative as you want, with cat houses, ramps, and scratching posts. cdpets.com.
For the past six years, a very special feline has been keeping an eye on the denizens of Montclair, Oakland, and making sure they treat their pets right. Nine-year-old Stomper—otherwise known as the official pet mayor of Montclair—takes her duties very seriously.
"She participates in the Halloween parade every year, as is tradition. She comes out and hangs out at Montclair Park a little bit. The kids love that there’s a cat outside," says Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Association and, more importantly, Stomper’s human. "She wanders the neighborhood and does her ambassador duties. She connects with people."
Gray-furred, green-eyed Stomper is Montclair’s first cat mayor, her predecessors all being of the canine persuasion. Although the role does seem more suited to the dogs of the world, Stomper has taken to it with aplomb, requiring no adjustment period as she began work.
"She’s always been very good at getting out and doing things and going different places," Swafford says.
Residents can hear from Stomper through her column, "Stomper Says," in the Montclair Village Association newsletter, in which she raises awareness about pet-related news and issues.