In Alexandria, it’s a ruff life: at the olde towne school, dogs of a different collar


Bus driver Theresa Wright speaks the language of her students, those always underfoot, who represent the future of back yards all over the Washington area.

"Dat's a gooood boyee," she says at a stop as a charge, Jasper, hops aboard. "You're just a little wiggle-butt," she tells Cody, as he excitedly greets her. It is a nonstop patter: "Atta boyee . . . It's an uh-uh-uh . . . How ya doin'."

And, of course: "No bark."

The Olde Towne School for Dogs' "school bus" -- a van with six canines, erect and apparently acquiescent, painted on the side and another four, panting and occasionally clamorous, caged inside -- is en route to obedience classes in Alexandria. Classical music is on the stereo.

Just about everything's going to the dogs these days: mineral water, catered birthday parties, gourmet doggy delights. And, of course, door-to-door bus service.

"There's an awful lot of weird things that go on with dogs. Things are getting more weird, not less weird," says Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of the popular "The Hidden Life of Dogs." "I'd love to see the dogs when they get on the bus. I hope they have a good time."

These are the best and brightest of the litter, the sort of dogs you'd get nervous about speaking with. The Olde Towne School's alumni include pooches from Africa, South America and France. Even a celeb rity dog, the pup of Jennifer Aniston, was rumored to be on the way before Aniston's movie project in the area fell through.

Founded in 1976, the school advertises its services in a booklet illustrated with watercolors in which beaming owners play with dogs that are compliant and loving and evidently share large amounts of genetic material with Lassie. Olde Towne charges $645 for the two-week obedience course -- the bus service within a 10-mile radius is an additional $12.50 each way, about the cost of a taxi -- during which the dogs receive three 40-minute individual lessons daily, a cost comparable with other one-on-one programs.

"There's an awful lot of weird things that go on with dogs. Things are getting more weird, not less weird," says Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of the popular "The Hidden Life of Dogs." "I'd love to see the dogs when they get on the bus. I hope they have a good time."

These are the best and brightest of the litter, the sort of dogs you'd get nervous about speaking with. The Olde Towne School's alumni include pooches from Africa, South America and France. Even a celeb rity dog, the pup of Jennifer Aniston, was rumored to be on the way before Aniston's movie project in the area fell through.

Founded in 1976, the school advertises its services in a booklet illustrated with watercolors in which beaming owners play with dogs that are compliant and loving and evidently share large amounts of genetic material with Lassie. Olde Towne charges $645 for the two-week obedience course -- the bus service within a 10-mile radius is an additional $12.50 each way, about the cost of a taxi -- during which the dogs receive three 40-minute individual lessons daily, a cost comparable with other one-on-one programs.

"There's an awful lot of weird things that go on with dogs. Things are getting more weird, not less weird," says Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of the popular "The Hidden Life of Dogs." "I'd love to see the dogs when they get on the bus. I hope they have a good time."

These are the best and brightest of the litter, the sort of dogs you'd get nervous about speaking with. The Olde Towne School's alumni include pooches from Africa, South America and France. Even a celeb rity dog, the pup of Jennifer Aniston, was rumored to be on the way before Aniston's movie project in the area fell through.

Founded in 1976, the school advertises its services in a booklet illustrated with watercolors in which beaming owners play with dogs that are compliant and loving and evidently share large amounts of genetic material with Lassie. Olde Towne charges $645 for the two-week obedience course -- the bus service within a 10-mile radius is an additional $12.50 each way, about the cost of a taxi -- during which the dogs receive three 40-minute individual lessons daily, a cost comparable with other one-on-one programs.

Fazakerley, who lives with her husband, Greg, off Foxhall Road in Northwest Washington, says the dogs provide emotional comfort and physical protection. "I have a really, really high-pressure job," says Fazakerley, who owns Development Resources Inc., a commercial developer. A dog, she says, is "kind of like the om. I rub it and I feel better."

Mejias says the majority of his clients are looking for canine companionship, not necessarily protection. But they want the companionship without physical attachment. To, say, the ankle.

Fitzgibbon describes golden retriever Chance -- "as in take one' " -- as "my joy." He is, she says, "very demanding, like a baby. The biggest struggle has been for us to spend enough time together."

Chance graduated with "great pomp and circumstance" from the Olde Towne School in March and will begin the elite off-leash training in August. Fitzgibbon practices commands with him daily. He attracts frequent praise. He is nearly perfect. He is the envy of dog owners everywhere. "He has never been on the furniture or been fed from the table."

Is all well in dog-owner land, then? Are we witnessing the conversion of rapacious Rover into a meek mutt who, before his owner can say, "No, not the antique table leg!" has saved neighbors in, uh, a horrific sewer incident?

Not quite, according to Fitzgibbon.

"I'm on my fifth phone cord."

For that problem, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has a solution.

For anyone interested in emotional comfort and companionship, she says, "cats are so much easier. I don't see why these people don't just get cats." CAPTION: Sebastian, a mastiff, reluctantly leaves his owner and boards the bus for his last day of school. CAPTION: Theresa Wright drives the "school bus" to the Olde Towne School for Dogs ($12.50 each way); Jasper, a basset from Capitol Hill, doesn't seem eager for class.

By Nicholas Day

November 13, 1994