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LOS ANGELES – Tammy Kassis' trio of 4-pound dogs have an 11-foot tall Victorian mansion with its own turret, vaulted ceiling and television. They have heating and air conditioning to stay comfortable year-round.
Kassis, 47, figures she and her husband have spent much more than $20,000 for the doghouse to match their Victorian mansion in Temecula, counting decoration and moving it a few miles away with the family.
"I would do it again in a heartbeat," she said. "I live in it. I hang out in there with them. We have had camp-outs with my niece and nephew."
Dog mansions can be extreme and expensive with amenities like plumbing, chandeliers, crown molding, closets, designer paint and wallpaper, patios, yards and fences. For hers, Kassis turned to Alan Mowrer, architect to some of the world's most pampered dogs.
Mowrer owns La Petite Maison in Denver, Colo., and works with partner and interior designer Michelle Pollak, who owns The Lollipop Tree in Charleston, S.C. The two have probably made around 20 dog mansions in the last 10 years. They start around $5,000, with more expensive doghouses in the mid-$30,000 range.
Business was great until last year, Pollak said.
"Our clients were not directly affected but out of respect for their friends and colleagues who were, they postponed some purchases until 2010," she said. "Everyone felt the effects of the economy. When your friends are affected by something that large, you don't want to go throwing your money around."
Still, some do. Last year, Paris Hilton posted several photos of the two-story pink mansion she designed and had built for her dogs. It is a mini version of her own mansion. Model Rachel Hunter got a house from Mowrer for her three dogs, a Doberman, a German shepherd and a Labrador retriever.
"It has a lot of wrought iron. It is Spanish style with turrets and a light in each tower. It looks great at night," Mowrer said. "It has hardwood floors, wallpaper, wrought iron on the front doors. We replicated part of her house."
For a client on the East Coast who owned a vineyard, Pollak and Mowrer hired an artisan to hand-paint each brick on her Lab's doghouse to match corresponding bricks on her mansion. A Chihuahua in Long Beach got a miniature Spanish cathedral with white marble granite floors and stained glass windows.
But such amenities aren't exactly recession-proof. Donald Gorbach founded a company called Doggie Mansions in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2006, offering doghouses from $10,500 to $100,000. Gorbach is still selling real estate but as for the doghouses, "we just put everything on hold due to the economy," he said by e-mail.
"We thought it was a bad time to promote $10,000 doghouses when people are losing their homes."
After Hilton posted her photos, she was rebuked by some for the extravagance. Blogger Perez Hilton introduced the doghouse by saying: "We hope all unemployed, poverty stricken Americans turn a deaf ear, because this could be painful!!"
Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of the charity Architecture for Humanity, wrote on the Huffington Post Web site: "Having just returned from Haiti this story kept playing on my mind. It is not that she did it, it was that she was willing to do a photo spread for Life and Style magazine about it. Almost as if to say, 'Sorry your home is getting foreclosed, but check this out!' "
Kassis knows that kind of criticism exists. Her answer:
"Life is about choices and everyone has their standards," she said. "There is no right or wrong. I will do whatever it takes to make my animals safe and happy."
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