A few months ago, veterinarian Betsy Coville of Lutz decided she was in the market for a home for her "baby." This is no ordinary baby, mind you, but a big-hearted golden retriever named Davis, a former service dog with bad hips and a love for kids.
Coville wanted something comfortable, with good architectural lines that would look snazzy on the lanai and offer solace to Davis.
After all, every dog needs a house.
And Coville needed to buy her dog one: "I'm single," she explains. "And my dog is my life."
Earlier this month, she found her cozy canine cottage at an auction at the Wyndham Harbor Island.
She forked out $4,100 for it.
Designed by Tampa artist Eileen Goldenberg, this resplendent little Florida dog house is painted tropical hot-weather blues and greens. It features a mosaic-tile patio, a weather vane with a flying dog, a Milk Bone coat of arms, a matching water bowl and a plethora of canine-inspired maxims including this one:
"A dog's home is his castle."
Coville, a graduate of the University of Florida Veterinary School who now practices holistic alternative animal care - from acupuncture to homeopathy - is hardly the frivolous type.
In fact, she's incredibly serious.
A former Busch Gardens vet whose father is a part-owner of the Detroit Pistons, Coville says that out of her entire veterinary school class, fellow students most likely would have predicted she was the least likely to go into alternative medicine.
She moved in that direction a few years ago after her border collie "mutt," Abbie, fell ill and failed to respond to traditional treatment.
"Like most of my clients, I tried alternative medicine and she got better," Coville recalls. "From that point on, I knew it was something I had to learn. It's powerful stuff."
Then she heard about BowWow Haus, the program sponsored by the non-profit Outdoor Arts Foundation and benefitting the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. Architects, builders and artists from both sides of the bay designed dog houses so super-cool that it made some humans look around at their own digs and re-assess.
The doggie abodes were displayed at WestShore Plaza, Tampa International Airport and Ruth Eckerd Hall.
Coville saw them all.
There were houses of every sort, some artistic follies that, if built for people, would make the world a much more fun place. Imagine: A house shaped like a Hummer, a Boticelli-style oyster, the Parthenon (really, the Barkethenon), a "surf's-up" tiki hut, a Lilly Pulitzer-style cottage, even a Barbie-pink hair salon.
But in the end, Coville was the most taken with Goldenberg's.
"I consider it a piece of art, not just a dog house," she says. "I love the colors, the fantastic dog sayings."
The night of the auction, bidding took on the genteel fervor of an art house auction.
It might have been Christie's or Sotheby's.
Prospective buyers were allowed to place bids anonymously and by telephone.
An exquisite dog house, designed and built by stained-glass artist Lisa Vogt at her shop on Kennedy Boulevard, fetched the highest bid of the evening: $9,200.
The bidder, a collector of Vogt's work, wished to remain anonymous.
Coville says the cost of her own dog house was well worth it. Visitors to her home can see it the moment they walk in because of its strategic location just beyond the sliding glass door on her screened porch.
Her dog is happy because, as Coville puts it, "it's a comfort thing."
You see, even dogs have the need to retreat, to slink under a table or find a corner where they feel protected.
"Their basic instinct is to watch their back," she says.
And kick back in a little place they can call home.