And they call it puppy love

Postcard From The Edge: I notice that Niki is being aggressively sniffed by a raptorish mastiff called Spago, whose middle-aged owner has a perfect ski-slope nose
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The Independent Culture
3am. I'm standing on a street corner in my boxer shorts, a plastic pooper-scooper in hand, urging a golden retriever called Niki to hurry up and do her stuff. In the far distance I can see a police helicopter circling above downtown LA, its searchlight criss-crossing skyscrapers. My wife and I have just adopted a puppy - a far more rigorous procedure, it seems, than acquiring the very latest in celebrity accessories: a crack baby. After several interviews and long periods of "socialisation", we were granted the pooch of our dreams by the Pasadena Humane Society, which runs a five-star pound for stray cats, dogs and even a Vietnamese pot- bellied piglet.

3.15am. Niki has finally "eliminated". She leads me home in the darkness. A few yards from my front-gate, I suddenly feel a soft oozing beneath my bare feet. That damned chocolate Labrador next door.

8am. I'm watching LA This Morning, mesmerised by the computer graphics used by a weather-man in a shiny suit, his face so tanned it looks like the rawhide Niki has been gnawing on. John calls as the week's forecast - five unclouded suns above steadily rising 80-degree temperatures - appears on the screen. John is a television writer from Kentucky, and the self- styled "most jaded man in Hollywood".

"At least babies wear nappies," I complain.

"Forget the house-training," says John. "It's time Niki learnt how to schmooze. Meet me at nine at the Hollywood dog park."

"Honey, I'm taking Niki to Hollywood," I tell my wife, Robin, as she fills her plastic Pocahontas sports-cup and prepares to leave for "Mauschwitz" - the Walt Disney Company - where she works.

"Can't you take a cab?" she pleads.

"I promise I'll be careful."

After a heated argument, Robin relents and allows me to drive her car, a ruby-red 1965 Ford Mustang, which she had banned me from driving after I crashed my battered Honda a few weeks ago.

8.30am. Niki's tail stops wagging as we climb into my wife's pride and joy. Down winding lanes we go, past the burnt-out house where Christian Slater recently rescued his girlfriend's cat from the flames, and then "Mike Lai's" place: a bunker-style home with a yard filled with Sixties' amphibious vehicles, sand-bags and a sign daubed with the names of every battle he fought in Vietnam.

A symphony of horns greets us when I hesitate at a T-junction. I turn up the radio to drown out Niki's yelps.We pass the Mexican fruit stall which signals the start of the "on-ramp" to the 110 freeway. This stretch of three-lane black-top is the most "historic" in America, built in the Twenties, before Hitler came up with the Autobahn. It's also the most dangerous, littered with wing-mirrors and "eliminated" 40mph warning-signs. By now, Niki is in hiding.

9.15am. We make it safely to the Hollywood hills. John is waiting impatiently with Jimmy, a mutt which looks like a cross between a greyhound and a pony. Jimmy used to have behavioural problems (a tendency to bite other dogs) until a pet psychologist managed to get him to chew on tennis balls instead.

"Couldn't you have taken a cab?" asks John as I try to coax Niki out from underneath the front passenger seat, where she has been quivering for most of the journey.

Clusters of fit and tanned owners stand and talk while several pedigree dogs chase each others' tails. John gives me a quick run-down of the Hollywood dog world. Jim Carrey owns a Great Dane; Pamela Anderson jogs on local beaches with a pure-bred golden retriever. George Clooney has a 300lb pig.

As John tells me about a basset hound which one of his neighbours has trained to "eliminate" by actually squatting on the toilet, I notice that Niki's derriere is being aggressively sniffed by a raptorish mastiff called Spago (after a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant, I later learn), and whose middle-aged owner has a perfect ski-slope nose.

Perhaps I should have taught Niki self-defence before allowing her to make friends in LA land. This "dog-park" feels more like a shark-tank than a place for a quiet stroll. Even man's best friend has to be sleek and mean, it appears, if owned by a Tinseltown player. I suddenly long for Wimbledon Common. At least people don't wield gold-plated pooper-scoopers back in England.

"An architect, a plastic surgeon and a Hollywood producer were arguing about who had the smartest dog," says John. "So they got their dogs together to see which one could do the coolest trick. 'OK, Rover,' the architect said, and Rover knocked up a full-scale model of a Beverly Hills mansion from toothpicks. Real impressive, everyone agreed, and the architect gave Rover a dog biscuit. 'Go for it, Spot,' said the plastic surgeon, and Spot suddenly transformed a flat-chested 50-year-old into a Baywatch babe. 'Not bad at all,' the other owners said... and Spot got a biscuit from the plastic surgeon."

I interrupt John to grab Niki as a hungry-looking Great Dane sprints towards us and then, mercifully, bounds into the arms of its Armani-clad owner. John continues: " 'Do your stuff, Rex,' ordered the Hollywood producer... So Rex screwed the other two dogs, took their biscuits and went to lunch"

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