My mother owns a Tibetan spaniel called Louis – a wee dog with bug eyes, an under bite and caramel fluff. A few weeks back, my mother asked me to dog-sit Louis while she was away. “No bother,” I said. He’s an elderly dog and a Buddhist by breed. How hard could it be?
The first commandment of modern dog ownership is: thou shalt put the dog first. For Louis, that meant moving home so as not to disturb his routine. It also meant rousing him at 5.30am for his ablutions, feeding him and packing him off to doggy day care.
While doggy day care might seem like a new-fangled invention, it has been around for a while. The New York Times reported on a day-care centre for dogs in 1973. According to the article, Harvey Rubin’s School for Dogs catered for dog owners “fearful or guilty about leaving their dogs at home alone. But peace of mind comes at a cost.
A reconnaissance found four doggy day care centres in Wellington with prices from $25 to $40 for a one-off stay. Owners can add “off-leash walks”, “tailored training” and “salon grooming” – more day spa than day care.
Louis’s centre is a sleek open-planned warehouse. From the outside, it looks like a craft brewery or coffee roasting outfit. But at the entrance, there’s a swing gate and the unmistakeable smell of dog. The interior is divided into pens and, within the pens, dogs of different breeds leap from couches to coloured crates.
Louis adores the place. He spends his days barking at other dogs or snoozing. I know this because each evening he’s issued with a report card, which details his activities and play-mates. Louis’s best friend is a bull mastiff the size of a small horse.
But doggy day care isn’t all squishy toys and cuddles. These centres must meet the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 as well as the Animal Welfare (Dogs) Code of Welfare 2010.
The Code sets out requirements for dog care such as access to good quality water and sheltered, dry sleeping quarters. But it’s bare bones stuff.
A new code of welfare for animals in temporary housing is being developed by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee. It will contain minimum standards for day care centres. Let’s hope it has teeth.