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Old June 2nd, 2002, 10:20 AM
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Pet Wash: A Sadistic Sudser?

Pet Wash: A Sadistic Sudser?
By Mark Baard

Cruddy canine? Funky feline? Hold your nose no longer. Two Spanish entrepreneurs have invented a side-loading automatic pet washing machine, which they claim is safer and less stressful for the animals than washing them by hand.

The co-inventors of the Lavakan, Eduardo Segura and Andrés Diaz, decided three years ago that their dogs deserved the same treatment that humans get from a shower massage.


So the pair came up with an industrial strength washing machine that soaps, rinses and dries dogs and cats in less than half an hour.

"Have you ever had a water massage?" Diaz asked. "That's just what is feels like."

The Lavakan, which roughly translates to "dog washer," resembles a big industrial washing machine standing about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide.

It has a series of conical nozzles that wash and massage beasts from every direction, while dirty and soapy waste is filtered through a hose at the bottom.

Operators use the Lavakan's touch panel to choose the best wash cycle for the animal's size and dermatological needs. Pesticide soaps, for example, require an extended wait period to kill fleas and ticks.

Groomers and anxious owners can look through a large glass door as their pets get squirted by sudsy water in the machine's metallic, lighted chamber.

The inventors insist the Lavakan actually reduces stress on pets. Diaz and Segura took a unit to a Barcelona dog show two months ago and washed dozens of hunting dogs.

"The machine benefits the pet, because it uses hydro-massage to lower stress and increase circulation, without removing its natural coating," Diaz said. "One of the dogs actually fell asleep during the wash."

But cats can be a little less predictable. "The first four to five seconds, they freak out," Diaz said. "But once they're wet, they instinctively sit and lay down. It's much better than having a cat attach itself to your face, which is what can happen when you try to wash one by hand."

The Lavakan is not intended for homes but is designed for use at professional grooming shops. It costs about $20,000 or can be leased for about $500 a month.

In the Americas, nearly 90 Lavakan units have been sold to groomers and pet stores in the United States, Chile, Venezuela, Costa Rica and Guatemala. About half of them are headed for the United States. Diaz said that Petco, Petsmart and Ralston Purina are currently evaluating the Lavakan.

"The Lavakan is really unbelievable," said Carlos Suhr, president of PetClean USA, who plans to launch a chain of pet launderettes featuring the Lavakan. "You just have to see how clean it gets dogs, even those with long hair."

Suhr, who is based in Miami, is planning to set up 28 pet-grooming shops in the Southeast. The first will be in Miami-Dade County's well-to-do Pinecrest Village.

"You can put your pet in it more often, because it doesn't remove the oils from their skin," Suhr said.

For some, the Lavakan may conjure up the urban legend about the old lady drying her poodle in the microwave.

But the Lavakan is well-ventilated and uses no heat to dry the animal. And since dogs and cats are highly sensitive to heat stroke, two internal electronic sensors monitor the temperature of the machine's water and air, causing the Lavakan to shut down if it gets too hot or cold.


Diaz noted that the machine eliminates the need to sedate or harness an animal, making it safer than more traditional methods.

Before bringing the machine to market, the inventors consulted engineers, industrial designers, veterinarians and even a pet psychologist. They even tried it for themselves.

Yet many pet lovers wonder just how thorough -- and humane -- an automatic pet washing machine can possibly be.

"I wouldn't want my dog in one of those machines," said Delaine Hackney, owner of Dolittle's Pet Grooming in Boston.

Delaine's shop is located in Boston's well-to-do Jamaica Plain neighborhood. She washes her customers' dogs by hand in a classic porcelain claw foot tub.

"There are a lot of things you can do to help a dog relax in the tub," Hackney says. "We use a lot of soft, high-pitched words and music, and touch the dog in a soothing way."

That contact would be lost in the Lavakan, she says.

Hackney also doubts the Lavakan can get dogs thoroughly clean.

"How does it clean under their arms and ears, and under their tails?" she asked. "And doesn't it get water in their eyes, nose and ears? You can't slap soapy water on a dog as if you were in a car wash."
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