It was the greatest day of Stanley’s life.
For the past year, spunky reporter Coleen Daniell and I have been looking for entertaining things to do in Mansfield. We have risked life and limb, and, on one glorious occasion, discovered the wonders of Devonshire cream at high tea. But so far, we have managed to keep our famy members out of our Let’s Try It! series of stories. Until now.
We were heading into new territory, and we needed an expert. We needed someone with discerning taste. We needed a dog.
Connie Romano opened Bark Out Loud Doggie Boutique & Cafe at 1601 E. Debbie Lane last month. While we could try her human treats, neither of us is qualified to test her canine cuisine. Between the two of us, Coleen and I have four pups: my dachshunds - cranky old man Oliver and testosterone-laden Cooper, Coleen’s attack poodle Sandy, and my weenie dog Stanley Kowalski, who we politely describe as big boned. What Stanley lacks in sleek physique, he makes up for with an amazingly good nature. Stanley has yet to meet anyone - human or canine - that he doesn’t love.
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Stanley was our man. Being the middle dog of three, Stanley was excited just getting to go for a ride without his siblings, so he was already in a good mood. Then he met Connie Romano, the owner of Bark Out Loud, who immediately dropped to her knees and began to pet Stanley’s head and scratch his ears. So that was pretty awesome to start things off.
Greetings over, it was time to check out the store. Stanley had to smell everything -- and there were a lot of good things to smell.
Romano, who retired from General Motors in April after 37 years, loves dogs, especially her West Highland White Terriers. A portrait of her favorite, Stuart, stands guard behind the bakery counter of doggie treats. Sadly, Stuart died of cancer a few years ago, but his spirit is evident throughout Bark Out Loud.
There’s a large water bowl for all of the pups and cement floors for easy clean up in case of accidents. Tables and chairs with doggie high chairs are sectioned off so humans and their pooches can commune and test treats. Romano carries a large variety of animal parts to entice her canine customers -- buffalo lungs, elk antlers, water buffalo tails, salmon skins, lambs ears with liver icing, cow trachea and rabbit jerky. Then there are the doggie cookies in shapes that look appealing even to humans -- bacon and fried-egg shapes, muffins, donuts, pizza slices and creme cookies. All of the treats are made with human-grade products -- most with peanut butter or carob -- and can be consumed by humans, just in case they look so good you want to try them. Romano’s husband and her UPS driver have sampled a couple, she admits.
Starting this week, Romano is even planning happy hour from 6-7 p.m. on her patio so people and their pups can split a beer or glass of wine. Yeah, she sells doggie beer and wine, -- no alcohol content, but tasty brews the pooches will appreciate. She sells canine cigars, too, made out of a puppy-pleasing turkey or beef instead of tobacco.
Stanley was game to try any of it. After checking out a cute stuffed dachshund in a black-leather road warrior outfit and sniffing some dapper halters with bow ties, Stan was ready to eat. Stanley does have one flaw as a dog taste tester: he’s allergic to peanut butter, it makes him sneeze every time, and a lot of doggie treats have peanut butter because most dogs love it. Romano steered us to a shelf of peanut-butter free treats, where we chose pizza and barbecue chicken-flavored cookies.
First, though, Stanley had to try the doggie ice cream. We opted for vanilla, which Romano served in a silver dish with a pink napkin. Stanley, who had just gotten settled in his puppy highchair on the side of our table, wasn’t sure how to eat the frosty treat. But he was willing and soon managed to get the whole mass in his mouth, where he licked and sucked and then licked his lips in what can only be described as pure bliss.
Oh, yeah, this was shaping up to be a good day.
He did leave some crumbs from his barbecue chicken treat on the table, but Romano didn’t seem to mind.
As long as we were there, the humans in our group decided to test the fresh-ground Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee and the peach smoothie, which we give two thumbs up. (We can do that since we have thumbs, unlike Stanley).
Not wanting to upset his stomach, we decided to take the pizza cookie home, plus treats for his siblings.
Stanley had his own ideas for a doggie bag. He sat up on his back legs and stared at the lambs ears and looked at us hopefully.
Yes, Stanley, this amazing day just keeps getting better.
Amanda Rogers: @AmandaRogersNM
Bark Out Loud Doggie Boutique & Cafe
1601 E. Debbie Lane