Every day from noon to 2 p.m. is naptime at this Longmont daycare center.
After lunch, the little ones lie down with their own water to drink (some don’t like to share or feel uncomfortable drinking around others). The staff turns on the air conditioning and fans and Satellite Radio on the spa channel for soothing music.
Some $2,000 worth of air purifiers is constantly running. So are the flatscreen TVs in the luxury suites, typically on Animal Planet or National Geographic — so the little ones won’t miss their favorite shows, the website boasts.
These rooms cost $12 more a day, but they’re designed to look like a mini house, with windows, raised beds and warm lighting.
This setup sounds more extravagant than even the priciest of childcare centers.
The catch: This is Happy Hounds doggie daycare.
And in Boulder County, going to these lengths for furry friends is not unheard of. In fact, the doggie daycare and dog-walking scene is rapidly growing, local businesses report. And with that, it is becoming a more legitimized, professional field.
Dog-walkers are no longer just the nice retired lady down the street. They are sophisticated national franchises based in brick-and-mortar buildings with extensive insurance coverage and mega databases, serving thousands of local dogs per month.
Out-U-Go dog walking and in-home pet sitting (Outugo.com) has eight buildings in Denver and Boulder with about 30 employees. Dan Lipschultz, owner, says people are “absolutely blown away that we’re a legitimate business with employees.”
“If you go back 10 years ago, working with dogs, the only real, sophisticated business was a doggie daycare facility. What we’re doing is redefining all of that,” he says.
And even the doggie daycares are striving to be more professional and comprehensive.
In addition to features that rival the offerings for human daycare facilities — such as swimming pools, “joint-friendly” flooring, live webcams, daily report cards, nightlights and on-site kitchens for meal requests — doggie daycares come with a slew of surprising rules, etiquette and behavior expectations.
Some places say no barking or — there’s really no way to put this politely — humping. Others require specific collars or that outside food be transported in airtight containers. All require trial days or behavior testing before admission; some applications span 15 pages long, with questions like “Does your dog eat rocks/gravel?,” “Where does your dog sleep?” and “Where are your dog’s favorite areas to be petted?”
And the services can be more expensive than childcare, too, reaching upwards of $35 per dog per day. One center’s contract claims that if you don’t pay your daycare bills, they get the right to keep your dog and sell it to make up the costs.
Dogs are big business in Boulder County.
‘These are their kids’
Olivia Neill, who runs Happy Hounds (Happyhoundscolorado.com) with her husband, says her facility is intentionally set up like a children’s daycare, with lunchtime, naps, a flexible pick-up and drop-off time and high standards for cleanliness.
“We take this seriously,” Neill says. “For a lot of people, these are their kids”
She understands firsthand. She and her husband don’t have children and don’t plan on having any. Their three dogs are their family.
Her desire to open a doggie daycare, training, grooming and boarding center was sparked after her honeymoon. The newlyweds left their dogs at a boarding facility on the East Coast.
When they returned, one dog had been so anxious that he chewed up his tail. The animals had shredded their bedding and it was not cleaned up. One had a small cut, and the other had been gnawing on his front legs.
“I couldn’t go on vacation after our honeymoon and not worry,” Neill says.
So after a year of research and planning, they opened Happy Hounds in 2007.
She says the features that seem extravagant are actually well thought-out efforts to make the experience as pleasant as possible. The TVs and spa music block out foreign sounds, thunder and barking that can distress dogs. The air purifiers keep the place smelling clean, in addition to killing germs. The special fencing prevents dogs from cutting themselves while playing or trying to squeeze under. The nightlights are calming, she says.
“A lot of thought went into it because we want to keep the dogs safe. It’s our pride tied into this,” Neill says. “There are people who might think it’s excessive, but … better to err on the side of too much care for the dogs than the other extreme.”
Other facilities have their own special features.
Divine Canine (Divinecanine.net) offers “Kuranda raised orthopedic beds and soft fleece mats.” Here — for one of the least expensive rates of $23 per day — dogs play and rest on 1.5-hour rotating schedules.
Uptown Dog (Uptown-dog.com), “the next generation in dog care facilities,” offers climate control, four individual ventilation systems, a 24-hour monitored security system and boasts that its location one mile from a Longmont police and fire station.
Uptown Dog has specific drop-off and pick-up times; requires nylon collars with snapping buckles; and promises at least one staff member per 10 to 12 dogs. This facility says it specializes in dog behavior and dog psychology, providing physical and psychological challenges and progress updates. Staff “interviews” the dog for a full day before enrollment and takes dogs on “pack walks” before they are allowed to participate in play time.
“That’s why we go well beyond the typical ‘dog daycare,'” the website explains.
A booming business
When Happy Hounds first opened, Neill says, in the heat of the recession, there were few daycares in east Boulder County.
“It was a struggle to sell the concept, because people were losing their jobs or not taking vacations,” she says.
Maybe it’s a sign of the end of the recession, she says. Or maybe people have to work more hours to make ends meet. Whatever the reason, now Boulder County has several dozen doggie daycares. Happy Hounds alone gets five to 10 new customers each week, Neill says. The facility averages 35 to 40 dogs per day.
That number is more than doubled at Boulder’s Camp Bow Wow, which regularly sees 100 dogs per day, according to owner Sue Ryan. The local franchise is one of the busiest in the nation.
Camp Bow Wow boarding and daycare (campbowwowusa.com) started seven years ago in Boulder and now boasts more than 200 locations across the nation and Canada — including 55 new franchises in the last three years, according to the website.
Last year, the “camps” served more than 7 million dogs, generating more than $48 million.
A single franchise alone hits sales of $464,000 to $982,000 per year, the website says.
Earlier this year, Entrepreneur magazine named Camp Bow Wow one of the top 500 successful franchise businesses. It ranked 72 on the list of the fastest growing franchises and 88th for low cost.
The model is simple: Camp Bow Wow offers “all day play,” so no naps (which often translates into kenneling) unless requested. Kennels, aka “cabins,” are bigger than most: 5-by-10 feet for bigger dogs. And Camp Bow Wow offers live webcams, as well as an app to watch on your smartphone.
Staff separates dogs into different play areas based on their size and temperament, so the big, timid, old lab or the 6-pound poodle don’t get fenced in with a hyperactive puppy. Instead, they can kick it in the “small dog/old dog lounge.”
At night, boarded dogs get “Bedtime Campfire Tasty Treats” (Kongs with a treat and peanut butter) to eat in their “cozy sleeping cots with fleece blankets.”
“It’s a lot like kid care, and the same kind of emotion wrapped around it as kid day care,” says Ryan. (In fact, some doggie daycare websites offer tips on how to minimize separation anxiety when dropping off in the morning, and some say separation anxiety is a bigger problem than aggression.) “We come at it from that point of view that it’s an incredible responsibility that we’re taking on. We’re taking on people’s babies.”
Contact Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at 303-473-1359 or firstname.lastname@example.org.