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Pet Project

Author: Juliet Porton
September, 2015 Issue

Wag more, bark less. Purr more, scratch less.

According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent more than $58 billion on their pets in 2014, and that figure is expected to rise in 2015. As pets have moved from being guard dogs and mousers to members of the family, it’s no wonder our perception of what they need from us has changed. Whether you’re planning ahead for your next vacation or wondering if your pooch would benefit from more time with a “pack,” here’s what you need to know to find a caregiver who’ll treat your pet like their own.

A home away from home

Pet boarding and daycare facilities offer a home away from home for our pets, where they can go for a few hours, days or weeks to be cared for when we aren’t there to do it ourselves. Overnight boarding has been available for a long time, but the popularity of animal daycare is more recent, as more of us work long hours far from home, with no one to offer pets exercise or attention. As reliance on these services has grown, so has the list of offerings they provide.
When Grant and Marci Garl opened Fit ‘N’ Furry Pet Resort in Petaluma, it was with the vision of being a high-quality pet resort that would give pet parents peace of mind. They wanted to offer the highest quality pet boarding for dogs and cats, daycare, grooming and training under one roof. It was also critical for it to be environmentally friendly. Grant, with a background in heating and air conditioning, helped design the facility to be Petaluma’s first certified all-green commercial building. He commits to daily efforts to use water, electricity and other resources effectively throughout the business. (See “Dogs Gone Green,” Green Scene, April 2008.)
The schedule at Fit ‘N’ Furry’s daycare sounds a lot like the one at a typical children’s daycare, with outside play groups with other dogs every hour, structured play activity times and scheduled rest times. Pet grooming is offered separately or can be done during a stay. Group or private dog and puppy training lessons are available, or clients can add a “Lodge & Learn” package to boarding, where dogs get a training “tune-up” every day while they’re there, usually with a five-night minimum. Fit ‘N’ Furry also has five-, 10- or 14-night dog camps that offer more extensive training.
“At the end of that camp, you reconnect with your dog and we teach you what we taught the dog, offer ongoing support, and peace is restored to your household,” says Garl. “Once at home, your dog is safe and not running out into the street or knocking people over.”
Paradise Pet Resorts, with two locations in Sonoma County, is another local business offering pet care services such as dog daycare, overnight boarding for many types of animals, grooming and dog or puppy training. The Santa Rosa location opened in 2007 as part of the Camp Bow Wow franchise. But in 2011, it left the franchise to become Paradise Pet Resorts and the Rohnert Park location was added.
“We’ve had pot-bellied pigs and bearded dragons here,” recalls owner Mike Campbell. “Right now, we have a couple of rabbits, guinea pigs and several parrots. It’s mostly dogs and cats, but we can accommodate any small animal.”
The Rohnert Park location has a large swimming pool for dogs, which is used frequently for both open swimming and “dock diving,” not just as good exercise for the dogs that enjoy it, but also as low-impact physical therapy for older dogs. And there are webcams installed throughout both facilities, so clients can go online to see what their pet is up to at any time.
Campbell believes that a quality daycare program for dogs can make a positive difference in the owner-pet relationship. “Sometimes the behaviors people don’t like in their dogs are based on the dog’s energy levels,” he says. “We allow them to burn off some of that energy, and it makes for a situation at home that’s much more livable for the people.”
Campbell also feels that most dogs enjoy being part of a regular pack, something they often don’t have an opportunity to do in their home lives.
“You can tell that, with most of the dogs walking in the front door with their tails wagging, they want to be with the pack and have a good time for the day,” he says.

Pet sitters and dog walkers

Rather than bringing your pet to a daycare or boarding facility, you may consider hiring a professional pet sitter or dog walker to come to your home. They offer everything from a quick visit to feed your birds to an extended, late-night dog walk or cuddle time with your cats.
Fetch! Pet Care is one trusted name in the field of pet sitting and dog walking. Founded in Berkeley in 2002 by Paul Mann, there are now more than 130 franchises, making it the largest franchise provider of such services in the United States.
Maral Papakhian of Napa is the owner of the Fetch! franchise in Napa County, also covering Santa Rosa, which opened in January 2013. While living in Mill Valley and commuting daily into San Francisco for work, she adopted a puppy and needed someone to care for it during the day. She knew she didn’t want to use just one person, who might need to miss work occasionally and leave her in the lurch. That’s when she became a client of the Fetch! franchise in Marin County, which is owned by Robyn Greene and also covers southern Sonoma County.
Papakhian, who holds a degree in animal behavior, was a happy client for six years before approaching Mann about franchising options. Today, she and her staff of 10 caregivers offer dog walking; home visits for dogs, cats or other small pets; and “Almost Overnight” care, which includes evening and morning routines.
Dog walks and pet visits are typically 30 or 60 minutes long, either in your neighborhood or at a local dog park; group play and puppy visits are also provided. During an “Almost Overnight,” the staff replicates a pet’s usual routine, but without sleeping in your home. For a dog, this may mean coming over for a 7 p.m. walk and feeding, playing and visiting with the animal until it’s time for a last potty break at 10 p.m., then coming back first thing in the morning to feed and walk it again.
“We want to figure out exactly what our clients are looking for, because everyone has different routines and different ideas about what their pets might need,” she says. “We work with them to customize a service based on that.”
The Napa business also works closely with pet-friendly resorts and hotels, which often have rules about leaving animals unsupervised in the rooms. Caregivers can stay with the pet in the room, take it for walks and play with it, leaving its owners free to go out and enjoy Wine Country.

What to look for

When it’s time to find a pet care provider, the first thing to do is schedule a tour of the facility or a consultation with the caregiver, so you can check them out for yourself. And what should you look for? First, m ake sure that a boarding or daycare facility has hours and days of operation that suit your needs. A facility that closes at 6 p.m. won’t work if you don’t get back to town until 7 p.m. Garl says finding a trustworthy provider is most important: Be cautious if staff doesn’t make eye contact, the place doesn’t smell clean or lots of dogs seem to be barking for no apparent reason and no one is paying any attention to them. He also suggests asking about the company’s safety record with staff and pets.
“Also, if no one is asking you about your pet’s vaccinations, something’s wrong,” he says. “They should want to know that your pet is vaccinated and that the other pets are, as well.”
Campbell notes that any reputable pet service provider should let you see the whole facility, so you can be sure it’s clean and animals are getting the care being advertised.
“I’ll give tours any time of day and we go through the whole place,” he says. “We also have the webcam so people can see we’re doing exactly what we say we’ll do and their pets are getting the play time they’ve been promised.”
Papakhian offers every client a free, 30-minute consultation with a caregiver before the start of service, so they can get acquainted and decide if it’s a good fit. If either party decides it’s not, for any reason, clients can interview someone else. She says all of her caregivers are bonded and insured, have experience working with animals and have received further education in animal behavior and training techniques.

What it costs

With any pet care service, the best way to find out the exact price is to call for a customized quote. Many offer discounts for length of stay or multi-day packages for daycare, as well as discounts for multiple pets. Boarding for cats and other small animals is generally less expensive than dog boarding, with half-day care less expensive than full-day. Costs rise with add-ons like larger accommodations, additional play sessions, grooming, teeth cleaning and training. Prices for dog walking and pet sitting services also vary according to what your pets need and the number of pets you have.
“We prefer customers call so we can understand their pet’s needs,” says Garl.

Benefits for your pet

You can find plenty of pet service providers in the North Bay offering spa treatments, home-baked doggie treats and other specialty services, but what matters most is finding someone who makes your pet feel comfortable and understands your pet’s particular needs.
“We’re moving away from just thinking the dog needs to go outside to pee to understanding that the dog really needs interaction,” says Papakhian. “It needs someone to take care of it while you’re away at work, or else it’s going to be bored and exhibit stress behaviors like chewing on things, pacing or all those things we see when dogs aren’t emotionally stimulated.”
Garl agrees that most animals are highly social and that high levels of activity and human interaction are vital to their well-being.
“It’s not normal, natural or, often, safe for a dog to be home all day by itself,” he explains. “Dogs like fellowship just like we do. That’s one of the reasons we adopt pets and bring them into our homes.”

Cats Need Care, Too!

The idea persists that a cat needs little more than food, water and an accessible litter box to be happy while its family is away for the day or a long weekend, but this isn’t always the case. While the words “cat” and “independent” often go hand in hand, most would be happier and safer with some additional care and attention. Maral Papakhian of Fetch! Pet Care thinks that one-on-one attention is key for cats.
It’s not just about having a neighborhood kid come over to scoop the cat litter and put food in the bowl,” she says. “Having someone who’s dedicated to playing with your cat, giving it some belly rubs, talking to it, hanging out and giving it lots of love makes a huge difference in terms of the cat not being stressed while you’re away.”
Allison Ward of Rohnert Park faced the dilemma of what to do with her nine-month-old kitten, Angus, during her family’s recent week-long vacation. Through recommendations found on Facebook and from friends she knew were good pet owners, she decided to tour Paradise Pet Resort’s Rohnert Park facility. During the tour, she saw that the facility was clean and the staff was friendly, both in dealing with her and with other clients coming and going.
“They were willing to open up the doors and let me see whatever I wanted,” she remembers. “I got to see other cats being boarded and what they did with the dogs, as well.”
With a kitten that craved lots of attention, Ward’s primary concern was making sure he’d get plenty of time with people. The folks at Paradise assured her that, as long as animals are social and want the attention, they’ll get it. She also wanted to be sure that the space wasn’t too restrictive, but found that Angus had plenty of room to move freely even in the standard-sized cat enclosure. Ward says she was pleased with how easy Paradise Pet Resort made the experience, as well.
“I was worried I’d have to bring everything, but they took care of food, water, a blanket and a litter box,” she says. “They did it all.”
When it comes to your beloved pet, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek reliable care while you’re gone for an extended period of time. Curious kittens can ingest dangerous household items or become trapped in unsafe spots when left unsupervised. Some cats will even exhibit stress behaviors like urinating in inappropriate places when left alone too long—something no one wants to come home to find.

Is Pet Insurance Right for You?

Pet insurance has been around since 1980, when Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) was founded with the financial backing of a group of 750 veterinarians. Since then, companies like 24PetWatch, Trupanion and the ASPCA have joined the game, with mainstream insurance companies like State Farm and GEICO now also offering coverage. It’s even become a popular workplace benefit, with one in three Fortune 500 companies offering it to employees.
With its growth, questions remain about whether pet insurance is really a good investment for the average pet owner. The answer, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association: It depends.
Unlike typical health insurance for humans, most pet insurance policies require you to pay all medical costs upfront and submit receipts for reimbursement. Costs vary depending on the level of coverage, the insurer and your specific pet, with pre-existing conditions often not covered. If you’re adopting a puppy from a breed predisposed to expensive orthopedic problems, the coverage may well save you money down the road. If your pet develops cancer or a chronic condition like arthritis, it can also help keep costs from skyrocketing.
Costs for coverage vary wildly, though, so it’s best to compare rates online. Cats are usually less expensive to cover, with basic plans starting at $12 to $30 per month. Coverage for dogs can start at $18 per month or be as high as $100 per month. Riders to cover routine wellness care are generally extra. Co-pays can range from zero to 20 percent of costs, with many deductibles starting at $100 annually.
Here are some questions to ask before purchasing pet insurance:
• What are the monthly charges, co-pays, deductibles and exclusions to coverage?
• Is my pet considered “high risk” because of breed or past illness?
• Does the insurer offer a multiple pet discount?
• Will monthly costs increase as my pet ages?
• Is there a guaranteed turnaround time on reimbursements?
• Can I choose my own veterinarian?
• Can I afford to pay for an expensive emergency procedure for my pet without insurance?
During your next appointment, ask your veterinarian whether pet insurance is a good idea for your animal. Whether you choose to insure or not, those routine trips to the vet are the best investment you can make in your pet’s health and well-being.


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