Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dog day care offers Erie pooch parents a place to take pups

Job would give Liz Freitag the look. The look that dogs give you out the window when you're walking away from them on your way to work in the morning. The look that says, "I know you're not going to be home to walk me, play with me, pet me" for eight, 10, 12 hours. "It's heartbreaking," Freitag said.

So she quit her job and started a business in Erie to provide other pooch parents with care for their canine children. Peninsula Pups Doggie Daycare opens today at 801 W. 12th St. The facility, which Freitag said runs like one for children, will be open Mondays through Fridays, 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. "I'm in heaven to be able to work with dogs all day, to bring my dog to work with me," Frei tag, 37, said.

She was expecting six dogs this week to join Job, her Basenji-mix whose name is pronounced with a long "o" like the biblical character known for his patience, and two Bernese mountain dogs belonging to her general manager, Dino Sorbara.

Freitag has three other employees and said the number could grow to 20, most part-time, if Peninsula Pups reaches its capacity of 60 dogs.

Temperament testing, a requirement before being enrolled at the day care, has been done on about 20, she said.

Her dog used to attend a similar facility when they lived in Chicago. After Freitag lost a job there, a friend in Erie suggested she move here. She was ready to leave the big city, where she spent three hours a day tied up in traffic and Job "only knew how to potty on cement," she said.

Arriving in Erie in the fall of 2009, they found local parks for walks. But then Freitag got a job, and Job was left at home.

Dog walkers were willing to take him out for a bit each day, and dog sitters were ready to visit him in Freitag's home.

Numerous Erie County businesses provide those or services like overnight boarding.

Joan Wienczkowski, owner of Proud Land: The Pet Place, in Fairview Township, said she occasionally gets an owner, maybe someone going away for just the day, who drops off a dog.

Pawsability Boarding & Grooming, in Harborcreek Township, has had similar experiences, an employee said.

Fred Schade, owner of Best Friend Pet Center in North East Township, does watch dogs for a day and said there's an owner who will drop a pet off one day a week while running errands.

He offers play time and hikes, but doesn't do group play.

Schade said he hasn't had a big demand for daytime service.

"I don't get a lot of calls for day care," he said.

He thinks one reason is that with the poor economy, people are asking friends to do the dog-watching for little or no cost.

Carol Redlawsk has seen the business grow, however. She said one reason is because people are working longer hours and don't want to leave animals alone.

The owner of Safe and Sound Pet Sitting and Doggy Daycare began pet-sitting 15 years ago and added day care more than five years ago.

She provides day care on weekdays for five to eight dogs on her Millcreek Township property.

The dogs are together outside and also have an indoor area and a barn to play in, she said. She also is able to separate them.

While there aren't statistics solely for dog day care, the pet industry overall has been growing for years, said Robin Bennett, dog day-care section chairwoman for the Pet Care Services Association.

The estimated amount of money spent on pets in 2010 in the U.S. was $47.7 billion. The total was just $17 billion in 1994.

That's about the time some of the earliest dog day cares were starting, Bennett said. The facilities aren't tracked so it's hard to know how many are around.

"There is a growing demand as people continue to delay their families by marrying later and delaying children," Bennett said. "The dogs become a big part of the family, and people want to take good care of them.

"Families are spending more time with their pets, bringing them in the home and taking better care of them. At the same time, families tend to work longer hours and that can make it hard to own a dog.

"Day care fills the void by offering a good chance for doggy exercise so the dog is not home alone," she said.

Susan A. Smith, of Erie, had been hoping somebody would start a dog day care here.

She said a pet nanny now visits her "only child," a parti cocker spaniel named Gracie, for an hour in the afternoon. Smith will continue that. But she plans to take Gracie to Peninsula Pups for half a day or every other day with other dogs.

"She definitely will be a regular there," Smith said.

She's comforted by the fact that Gracie and the dogs she'll interact with at Peninsula Pups all have to undergo temperament testing. Bennett said day cares should have screening processes to make sure dogs are safe.

Smith also said taking her dog to day care will help her do her job better because she won't be worrying about Gracie.

"It really causes stress and anxiety if you have a little one waiting for you at home," Smith said.

Another benefit, Redlawsk and Freitag said, is that because dogs get exercise at day care, tired owners don't have to take pets for walks after work.

"It kind of gives the owner a reprieve," Freitag said.

Day cares also allow dogs to socialize with one another.

And a dog that isn't home won't be able to chew up an owner's shoes or get into other trouble.

While Redlawsk has 74 acres for dogs to explore, Peninsula Pups has a 6,200-square-foot day-care room divided by fences into four areas for small, medium and large dogs and for puppies.

"Everything is double-gated because you don't want to open a gate and have a dog scoot out," Freitag said.

Potty breaks will take place in fenced-in outdoor areas.

Inside, a trench drain runs down the center of the room.

"Every night we have to hose down the floor," Freitag said.

She'll use dog-friendly, earth-friendly disinfectant.

The floor also is dog-friendly. Sorbara said it's made of recycled rubber tires.

Freitag said that's better for dogs' joints, feet, backs and muscles. "And for the handlers," she added. "Who wants to stand on cement all day?"

The day care will have one handler, trained in dog CPR, for every seven to 10 dogs, Freitag said, and a dog will never be in an area without a handler. Even in the timeout room, located off the main room for dogs that become aggressive, an animal won't be left alone, she said.

Owners also can pay for one-on-one time with a dog trainer, Freitag said.

She believes people will pay for her day care, which starts at $23 a day and drops to $18 with a 20-day prepaid package, because they love their pets.

"I'm crazy about my dog and I know there are other people crazy about their dogs," she said.

Freitag looked into opening a franchise but said it was $250,000 to start plus monthly royalties.

She was able to open Peninsula Pups with help from family, friends and about $80,000, which includes salaries for the first three months. More than a third of the money went for the floor and fencing, she said.

Before doing any of that, Freitag put out surveys to see if there was local interest in a dog day care. They all came back positive, she said.


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