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Day Camp For Four Legged Friends


Personal Business: LEISURE

DAY CAMP FOR FOUR-LEGGED FRIENDS

Is Fido feeling low? Spot looking spiritless? Or, when you return from a long day at work, does stay-at-home Rover overwhelm you with rambunctiousness? If so, doggy day care may be the answer for you and your pooch.

Around the country, animal shelters and kennels are beginning to offer day care for dogs with busy owners. A few facilities even specialize in the service. "As people work longer hours, as they decide not to have children, their dogs become very important to them," says Judy Basteri of Pet Companions in Somerville, Mass. "Dogs get depressed if they're home alone 10 hours a day. They also have too much energy if they're inactive. Day care solves those problems."

"THE ANSWER." Considering that many centers call their canine clients "students" or "campers," it's no surprise that doggy day care works a lot like day care for children. Owners drop their animals off before work or the center picks them up. As soon as they arrive, the dogs start playing. They are walked regularly and perhaps receive some training or grooming if that's what their owners want. At midday, they eat the lunch their owners have prepared for them and rest for an hour or two. In the afternoon, it's more fetch, tug-of-war, and king-of-the-hill. Then, Fido goes home happy and tuckered out and ready for a quiet evening.

Once they brave chuckles from friends, many pet owners swear by doggy day care. Doug Sebesta of San Francisco spent the first year of his dog's life at home, job hunting after completing a PhD. "We bonded completely," Sebesta says of his Airedale terrier, Alex. But when Sebesta went back to work, Alex changed. He got depressed and upset every time Sebesta or his roommate even got near the front door. Finally, they decided to send Alex to the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Doggy Day Care program. "It has been the answer," Sebesta says. "He has a great time, and it relieves my mind."

Those who work with the dogs emphasize that their charges are descended from wolves and naturally feel comfortable in packs. So the day-care environment lets these dogs fulfill their need to socialize. "Most of our dogs come bounding in the door at a dead run," says Tory Weiser, director of the San Francisco SPCA program.

Facilities that specialize in day care tend to be in large metropolitan areas, such as Boston, Denver, New York, and San Francisco. But most kennels, even in smaller cities, now offer day care if requested. "Owners recognize this as a need before the kennels do," explains Jim Krack, executive director of American Boarding Kennels Assn. You can also call your local animal shelter or veterinarian for a reference.

JUNGLE GYMS. Rates range from about $10 to $30 a day, depending on the local cost of living, the level of care offered, and whether the facility specializes in day care or offers it as a sideline. At kennels, charges are usually negotiated.

Services can get quite elaborate. In Manhattan, a center called No Standing Anytime has dog runs decorated with murals and a "pet limo" that will pick up animals from their homes anywhere in the New York area. The San Francisco SPCA has jungle gyms for hyper pooches and a TV-VCR setup for dogs used to a couch-potato routine at home. In addition to day care, dogs at Cozy Inn Pet Resort & Spa in Stahlstown, Pa., may enjoy hot-oil coat treatments, Swedish massage, and swims in a bone-shaped pool.

Since the idea of canine day care is just beginning to catch on, owners should be sure to check out any place they are considering for their pet and ask plenty of questions about the care given there. Does the center require that dogs are neutered or spayed and have current vaccinations? Is at least one person with the dogs at all times? Is there a provision for quiet time so that the dogs don't get overstimulated? Are animals screened so that aggressive ones aren't admitted?

Just look at your dog. Does it chew things up? Does it bark when you walk toward the door? Does it have too much energy or not enough? Has your schedule changed drastically in recent months? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, your dog may benefit from day care. And if you think that's strange, just remember that people have been sending their pets to psychiatrists and dentists for years.By Heather Millar


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