Lucky Dogs

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Our four-legged friends get the royal treatment all over town now that day-care businesses are booming

dogAshley Harris loves dogs. The retiree volunteers at the Louisiana SPCA and is an avid supporter of rescue dogs. But when she and her husband adopted six-month-old Stella, a white-and-tan cocker-spaniel-and-poodle mix, the dog was 28 pounds of rambunctious energy.

“She was a holy terror!” Harris says. “She was going to destroy the house, she had so much energy.”

Harris and her husband couldn’t leave Stella alone without worrying what she would chew up before they got home. They decided to put Stella in day care three times a week so she could run off all that excess energy with other dogs. “It was just amazing the difference it made,” Harris says. “She would play all day, and she would be worn out when she got home.”

Thanks to owners like Harris, doggy day care has become big business. From dual-income couples without children to empty nesters and retirees, dogs are getting the royal treatment, and more companies are stepping in to help spoil them.

Just in the last two years, three national pet day-care chains have opened franchise locations in the New Orleans area—Central Bark Doggy Daycare, Pet Paradise and Camp Bow Wow. Local entrepreneurs have also joined in with facilities like Au Pair des Chiens/New Orleans Dog Nanny, Doggie Dogworld, Puppy Love and Dog Day Afternoon. Add in established day-care centers like Zeus’ Place and Canine Connection, and you’ve got quite an active market.

Stella, who is now more than five years old, still goes twice a week to Canine Connection to play, but she’ll soon have lots more room to roam. The three-year-old company is moving this month to a new location on Tchoupitoulas that is more than double the size of its Magazine Street building. “We were running out of space,” says owner Deedra Wing.

The new facility will offer more specialized services for boarding and day care and will accommodate about 150 dogs. The property will have five outdoor doggy playgrounds, including one as large as 8,000 square feet, which clients can access as a leash-free dog park. Another has an above-ground shallow pool for Fido to take in a swim on hot days. The pool’s fabric lining is much stronger and thicker so it can survive dog nails. “It’s only four feet deep and is specifically for dogs,” Wing says.

The fact that Canine Connection is expanding and new pet-care facilities are opening here at a time when the national economy is shrinking is both a testament to the strength of the pet industry as well as the New Orleans economy, say those in the local pet-care business.

Even though consumers are tightening their belts, they’re still spending on their canine babies. The nation’s largest pet trade group, the American Pet Products Association, predicts spending on pets will increase almost 5 percent this year to $45.4 billion. In fact, pet services like boarding and day care are expected to be the most robust, growing almost 6 percent nationally to $3.4 billion. The group notes that what used to be simple boarding facilities have turned into doggy hotels with private suites, heated beds and flat-screen TVs.

While few of the New Orleans day-care centers offer television, most have webcams that allow owners to check in on their pet’s daily activities online; they also offer private rooms, cushioned beds, treats and toys, as well as outdoor pools and misting areas.

Anne Marie Hesson installed Tuflex rubber flooring in all the indoor areas of her downtown day-care center Au Pair des Chiens/New Orleans Dog Nanny when she opened in September. The soft, padded surface is sealed, stain- and odor-resistant and won’t tear when dogs run and play inside. “It’s the same thing they use in kid’s gyms,” she says.

Hesson left a career in hospital administration to follow her passion for pets. “I’d rather be with dogs than with people,” she says, laughing. “I’ve had dogs my whole life.”

Her boutique facility, which handles between 30 and 40 canines, is strictly cage-free and promises to spoil guests like their owners do. She is strict about having everything clean and says her shop always has a staffer in the building watching over dogs that are boarded. Since they don’t have any crates or cages, that means someone sleeps in the facility near the overnight boarders. And sometimes those guests are used to napping with mom or dad. “I have slept with a Doberman, a bulldog, a standard poodle and a Yorkie—all on a twin bed,” says Hesson.

Dog day-care costs vary by shop and most sell packages. Prices usually start around $15 to $20 per half day and go up depending on the length of stay and extras like grooming. Since the dogs will be playing with others, the centers require boarders to have current vaccinations. Most also require a temperament test to make sure the dog won’t be aggressive with other dogs or staff. Sometimes, centers have to turn down clients because their dogs won’t play nice.

Hesson says it’s very difficult to ask a client not to come back, but she won’t risk the safety of the other dogs. And no one likes to turn away customers, especially in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Most pet day-care centers require a “dog interview” before accepting clients. Spot will have to sniff around the facility and meet other friendly dogs to pass muster. Most centers don’t accept aggressive dogs.
  • Dogs must have current shots and vaccinations and some require the dog to be spayed or neutered.
  • Rates vary from $15 to $25 per day depending on length of stay and facility.
  • Most require hurricane contacts who will pick up boarders in case of evacuation.