Volume XI, Issue 20 ~ May 15-21, 2003

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It’s a Dog’s Life

These days, one more stop has been added to the morning routine:dropping Fido off at doggie day care.

story and photos by Nancy Hoffmann

“Are you ready?” Juliet Cegeski coos to Molly, a Scottish terrier. Molly’s tail beats a little faster as Cegeski gives her a scratch under the chin. When Cegeski takes Molly’s leash and leads her away, the dog never looks back at her owner.

Next comes Rocky, a yellow Labrador retriever. Rocky bounds up to Cegeski, but he isn’t going anywhere until he gets one of the cookies kept behind the counter.

Then there’s Snicks, a labradoodle, who enters carrying his leash in his mouth and places his front paws on the counter to announce his arrival. After a quick pat from the receptionist, he searches for Cegeski.

It’s a typical weekday morning for Cegeski, doggie day-care supervisor at Noah’s Ark Boarding Resort.

Dressed in T-shirt, jeans and running shoes, Cegeski greets her charges and chats briefly with each owner, inquiring if there are any concerns about the dog this morning.

Except for the dogs new to day care, all willingly trot off with her. In fact, few need Cegeski to show them the way.

“They know their yards,” says Cegeski as another dog leads her down the hall, out the door and to his exercise yard.

The four dogs in the yard rush to greet their canine buddy. In a well-practiced ritual, Cegeski eases the gate open, blocks the dogs from escaping, leads the new arrival into the yard and latches the gate. Then she unhooks the leash and supervises the morning’s greetings.

When the dogs race off together, Cegeski slips back out the gate.

She takes a moment to survey the canines at play in Noah’s Ark’s eight exercise yards. Labradoodle Snicks is romping with two Bernese mountain dogs while a beagle and an Italian greyhound are playing tug of war with a knotted rope. The golden retrievers are barking without end, and a large yellow mixed breed prances about with a ball. No problems this morning, so Cegeski heads back to the front desk — where another dog is waiting.

Canine Fun, Fun, Fun
For years, the morning’s rush to work has included stops for coffee and dropping the little ones at day care, the older kids at school. These days, one more stop has been added to the morning routine and that’s to drop Fido off at doggie day care.

While their owners are at work, the dogs will go for walks, play fetch, hang out with their canine buddies and maybe even get a massage.

At four pet resorts in Chesapeake Country –— Noah’s Ark Boarding Resort in Millersville, Happy Tails Pet Resort in Crownsville, Countryside Kennels in Owings and The Perfect Pet Resort in Lothian — prices for doggie day-care range from $12.50 to $15 per day. Extra amenities add to the cost.

At each resort, fenced exercise yards cover the grounds. Grass won’t grow with the yards in constant use so the resorts put down pea gravel, sand, asphalt or wood chips. Cement barriers buried under the fences prevent diggers from escaping.

The yards have dog houses and shaded areas to block the sun. Heated and air-conditioned indoor exercise areas keep the fun and games rolling along no matter the weather.

Water is always available, and the dogs are grouped by age, size and temperament. After introductions, altercations are rare. Nonetheless, humans supervise all play.

At some resorts, humans encourage play by throwing Frisbees and balls. At others, humans stand back and allow the dogs to play their own canine games.

The dogs may spend all day in the exercise yard, playing and resting as they see fit. Or they might be brought to the yard for play sessions, then returned to their ‘suites’ for nap time and a snack.

Give the dog plenty of exercise and have him dog tired when he goes home at night: That’s the goal of all the day-care programs.

Busy People, Leisured Pets
“Rocky was supposed to be my son’s dog,” says Nancy Mackenzie of her yellow Lab. But her son, a teenager, didn’t always exercise Rocky.

Mackenzie would walk Rocky in the morning, but the evenings were more difficult. She works long shifts as a pediatric nurse practitioner in Baltimore. “I’m too tired when I come home from work to walk Rocky, and one walk is not enough for a Lab,” says Mackenzie.

Nancy Futch was the one who wanted the dog in her family. After finally convincing her husband, they got Nacho, a beagle. But, says Futch, “we didn’t research beagles. They have a lot of energy.”

“We don’t have a fenced yard so we walked her before and after work,” she says. “But it wasn’t enough.”

Elizabeth Chaney, owner of The Perfect Pet Resort, with her search-and-rescue German shepherd, Harpo, and resort manager John Keenan.
Buzz Napper’s concerns were similar to Futch’s. He and his wife both work eight-hour days, so Napper would come home for lunch to exercise their golden retriever puppy, Bailey.

“But even with two walks a day, that exercise doesn’t come close to what Bailey needs,” says Napper.

Sandra Raymond had worries more serious than just getting labradoodle Snicks enough exercise. Shortly after Snicks came into the Raymond home, Sandra’s husband, Chuck, was diagnosed with liver cancer. As the disease progressed, Sandra wondered how she could care for her husband and their energetic puppy.

From co-workers, neighbors and other dog owners, these owners learned about doggie day care. All were surprised that such a thing existed.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Napper.

Now, most drop their dogs off at Noah’s Ark five days a week.

This year, Americans are expected to spend over $31 billion on their pets. More than $500 million of that will go for day care and pet sitters so that their beloved animals won’t have to be alone during the work day.

Noah’s Ark owner Mark Boback has seen his business grow every year since it opened in 1998. He now averages 40 to 45 dogs a day for day care.

After running Happy Tails Pet Resort for 12 years, owners Frank and Caryl Buckler started doggie ‘play care’ seven months ago. They now have 20 dogs enrolled though they’ve never advertised the program.

At a more rural setting, Countryside Kennels owner Liz Wilmot has several dogs in day care, though she hasn’t started a formal program. “In this area,” she says, “people have larger yards or live on farms with more room for dogs to run. There isn’t a real need for it yet, but I see it coming.”

Not to be caught unprepared, she’s already looking for areas to put in more exercise yards. “Now, every time I see an open space, I’m putting a fence around it,” says Wilmot.

The newest center is The Perfect Pet Resort, which opened in March, positioned on Route 258 near Route 4 to catch Southern Maryland’s Washington, D.C., commuters. Owner Elizabeth Chaney envisions a day-care program where “the dog wants to get out of the car and into the resort.”

At Happy Tails, kennel assistant Joanie Strong throws the ball while Sunny and Campbell, two golden retrievers, race across the yard. Charger, a red heeler, ignores them. He prefers to dig in the sand.

Happy Tails kennel assistant Joanie Strong greets golden retrievers Campbell and Sunny and red heeler Charger.
Strong, a veterinary technician, will throw the ball until the dogs are tired, though she is careful not to let them get overheated. Then, after a rest in their suites, they’ll be out in the yard again.

“We give them as much play time as possible,” says Happy Tails owner Caryl Buckler.

“In the evenings,” she explains, “the owners are tired and don’t want to have to go out and throw the ball. They want to eat dinner and relax. With play care, there are no guilt trips because the dogs are getting the exercise they need.”

To this end, Happy Tails employs four ‘canine social directors’ who do nothing but play with the dogs.

Meanwhile, in The Perfect Pet Resort’s exercise yard, three German shepherds, a Bernese mountain dog and a standard poodle bump shoulders, spill the water bowl and engage in mock battles. They are more interested in each other than in the supervising human.

“The dogs exercise each other,” says resort owner Chaney. “I could never give a dog as much exercise as it will get playing with other dogs.”

All this exercise makes for a tired dog, and a tired dog is a well-behaved dog.

“If the dog is in the crate all day, it hasn’t expended any energy, so then the dog is not going to behave,” says Chaney.

Futch agrees. “Going to day care has smoothed her out,” she says of her frisky beagle, Nacho. “She’s much calmer around the house and more inclined to sit in my lap.”

Day care has also helped Futch feel like a better dog owner. “Before day care,” she says, “I’d get to work at 9 and rush out at 5. Now I have the luxury of working late if I have to. Day care has made me comfortable about having a dog.”

For Raymond, who spends all day on her feet as a teacher’s aide, labradoodle Snicks comes home “tired and low key,” yet fun-loving enough for a game of fetch in the back yard.

Napper says that taking his golden retriever to day care has “mellowed the dog out.” And, on a Friday night, Napper can take his wife out to dinner without worrying that Bailey needs another walk.

Yellow Lab Rocky is now a “better dog” says owner Mackenzie, and her evenings are easier. After picking Rocky up at Noah’s Ark, she feeds him and he goes to sleep.

Kennel No More
Doggie day care, pet spas, pet camps and pet resorts are the new names for kennels.

“Kenneling sounds more like a warehouse,” says Perfect Pet Resort owner Chaney. “It’s an inappropriate term for today’s facilities.”

Whether the dog is visiting for the day or spending a week or two while its owners are on vacation, it will be treated to all the luxuries of a true resort.

The dog might arrive in the resort’s air-conditioned pet limo, which provides pick-up and drop-off service.

At the resorts, all rooms are temperature controlled with fresh air circulating continuously. Each area is cleaned and disinfected daily. There isn’t a hint of a dog odor or stench.

Noah’s Ark Boarding Resort’s Cegeski greets beagles Nacho and Hunter and Italian greyhound Wilson.
In The Perfect Pet Resort, the doggie ‘suites’ come in three sizes: classic, deluxe and grand. The various rooms that house the suites are named for old local homes: Cedar Park, Holly Hills, Rose Hill and Tulip Hill.

The resort’s Garden View suites are what owner Chaney calls “the indulgence package.” In a park-like setting, complete with lampposts and a bench, the dogs have spacious suites, enjoy gourmet treats and can pass their idle hours watching television.

At some resorts, calming music is piped into every room. ‘Kennel calm’ is the music played at Happy Tails.

“It was developed for the dogs,” says owner Frank Buckler. “It’s within their hearing range but doesn’t have any sounds that offend their ears.”

If owners worry that the play sessions won’t be enough to keep their dogs happy, nature walks can be scheduled, as well as bathing, grooming, therapeutic massage and acupuncture treatments.

Owners who send their dogs to Happy Tails can keep up with the canine activities through the ‘doggie cam,’ which sends live video images of the suites and exercise yards to the resort’s website. Frank Buckler says the doggie cam gets 200 hits a week.

“We’re treating the dogs better than I was treated as a kid,” says Buckler, who admits only to being over 50.

Dog owners have embraced these changes. With dual-career couples, longer commutes, smaller yards and evenings packed with soccer practice and piano lessons for the kids, the family dog often spends many hours home alone. Yet owners are unwilling to give up the love and companionship these animals provide. Indeed, since Raymond lost her husband five months ago, “Snicks has been a blessing,” she says.

Doggie day care is merely a way to keep the dog exercised and well cared for during the work week. When the weekend rolls around, these dogs visit the dog parks, go on long walks and do a little boating on Chesapeake Bay.

Still, the owners see the humor in taking their dogs to day care.

“Sometimes I can’t believe this,” says Futch with a laugh. “It’s crazy. I know it’s crazy.”

Napper tries to avoid the issue all together. “I try to think of words other than day care, especially at work because the other guys have kids in day care,” he says.

Raymond says that her friends think “I’ve completely lost my ever-loving mind. But when people get to know Snicks, they understand. He is so loving with people who come into the house.”

Make Room for Kitty
Through one door, up a flight of stairs, through a second door and the barking, tail wagging, licking, drooling world of the canine exercise yard is left behind. Welcome to the more refined society of the cattery at Countryside Kennels.

Cats don’t require day care, but they do need a place to stay while their owners are away. All the pet resorts offer cat boarding, but at Countryside Kennels, cats stay in the pampered luxury befitting the feline psyche.

Classical music plays while the cats lounge in fleece beds. Their spacious suites overlook a treed yard bedecked with bird feeders that are filled several times a day.

Wilmot brings Tabitha, Boone and Charlie Chaplin out for a play session, but don’t expect these felines to show any excitement about spending time with their friends. They’re cats, after all.

They walk about the room twining their bodies around the legs of the chairs and table. In a spurt of energy, Boone climbs a large carpeted ‘cat condo’ and relaxes in the top perch. Charlie Chaplin swats at some of the plants.

Serene, quiet and calm, Tabitha sits by the bay window. Below her is a dog exercise yard. Is it disdain that crosses her face as she looks down on those frolicking canines?

Everybody’s Happy
“There’s your girlfriend,” the owner says to her terrier mix when Noah’s Ark day care supervisor Cegeski walks out from behind the counter. The dog strains against his leash to reach Cegeski.

“Are you ready?” she asks and the dog jumps up, placing his front paws on Cegeski’s legs. He’s panting, almost smiling.

The terrier’s owner watches them walk off together. “I wish dropping my granddaughter at day care was this easy,” she says.


© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 15, 2003 @ 1:43am