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A Tale of One Big Dog

Nostalgia has a home inside Peninsula Humane Society's New Lantos Center

It was the opposite of a college frat prank. 

Instead of having a mascot stolen, the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA had one dropped off at its new Lantos Center on Rollins Rd. in Burlingame.  He’s reddish-colored, most likely a Daschund (or some mix) and will never need a home. He stands about 8 feet tall and weighs approximately 300 pounds.

Oh, he’s wearing a chef’s hat and has no body, too. A day before we opened our doors to the public, a Doggie Diner head was hoisted atop an office and now looks down on visitors and homeless dogs as a permanent part of our new center’s décor.

How the dog got there is still unclear. One thing is certain. The men behind it were PHS/SPCA President, Ken White, and his friend Jamis MacNiven, author and owner of Buck’s restaurant in Woodside. 

Anyone who’s eaten at Buck’s shouldn’t be surprised. Besides being known as the Peninsula hot spot which has seen its share of new ventures launched on napkins and insane amounts of start-up money promised over stacks of pancakes, the eatery boasts a dazzling and eclectic mix of things dangling from the ceiling and walls.

The two men were probably giggling as the giant head touched down on its new spot. It was all done before other staff arrived. Now, our visitors are the ones smiling every time they enter the new center. For many, the red hound holds nostalgic meaning. 

Anyone around my age or older who lived on the Peninsula fondly remembers the giant wiener dog at several San Francisco locations. For me, it was a highlight and marker of sorts on trips from our home in San Bruno to Glen Ellen, where my grandparents retired. The big head near 19th Ave. told me we were out of the suburbs and in The City; we’d completed the first leg of what seemed like a long trip for a little kid.  

Doggie Diner, a 30-outlet Bay Area fast food chain, went out of business years ago, but some of the giant red dog heads bedecked with chef’s hats remained in their original locations due to their kitschy popularity. In 2000, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors nearly voted in favor of making the Sloat Blvd. Doggie Diner head a historic landmark.

Visitors aren’t quite sure if ours is the real deal or an imposter and our prime suspects aren’t divulging much. MacNiven is definitely tied to the dog. White has said more than once that MacNiven is an interesting, incredibly talented guy with a big heart who can tell equally big stories. “He could have hand-carved this giant head or won it in a poker game,” White says.

Viewing hours for the Doggie Diner head or any of the 150+ shelter animals still looking for their permanent homes at PHS/SPCA's Lantos Center are 11 am to 7 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 6 pm on weekends.

And, just so the cat people don’t get upset with me, we found a fun spot for cat art, too.  Near the end of the construction phase, we noticed a rather ugly garage support at the part of the Rollins Rd. campus we remodeled (our center is composed of a brand new building and a remodeled building joined by a glass lobby and outdoor bridge).

Our architect noted that the bumpy, sprayed insulation on this support made it look like a huge scratching post. So, when life throws you a huge, unsightly scratching post that can’t be knocked down, you do just one thing: add two giant cats.  Our cement cats -- twice the size of your average cat -- created by Northern California artist Solomon Bassoff (check out www.Faducci.com  to see Solomon’s work) have yet to be named and they aren’t wearing collars. That was our bad. On the positive end, they immediately tell visitors this is a special place.  The fun begins in the parking lot and only gets better inside.

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