Pandemic puppies — a term often used for dogs acquired over the last year and a half — are all too common in dog parks and home offices. But for the businesses that serve them, like doggy day care, boarding and grooming, there have been a lot of ups and downs.
“It’s been awful,” said Cathy Sutton, owner of Happy Tails Doggy Daycare in Franklin. “We suffered for lack of business for a long time, and then when things opened back up, everybody during that period decided to get a dog, and so then we were just bombarded with people that wanted to come to day care.”
Sutton, who has been operating for almost 20 years, said at first, with people working at home, they didn’t need the day care’s services, even though she said dogs benefit greatly from interacting with other dogs. But now the business has been having trouble hiring enough staff to keep up with demand, and dog interviews for new dogs at the day care are booked through December.
For dogs that manage to snag a spot, it isn’t always easy.
“We specialize in behavior at Happy Tails, and so we are trying very hard to support the dogs in their social skills so that out of the facility, they can be prepared to meet other dogs and know what to do,” Sutton said. “The pandemic puppies don’t have a clue, because the only way you can learn this stuff is from other dogs.”
Practice makes perfect, and that goes for routine procedures like grooming and nail clipping, too.
“We find we have longer hours, because we spend more time going slowly with the puppies,” said Tricia McCart, owner of Scrub a Dog in Maynard.
Her daughter Julia and son Will recently opened Anytime Dog Wash in Hudson, a small grooming and self-service facility that has helped with the demand.
“We teach people how to do it themselves if they’re willing to spend the time, because that’s when most people realize, ‘Oh wow, this is why it takes so long,'” McCart said.
McCart had to shut down for eight weeks because of the pandemic, although some other states, like New York, allowed dog groomers to remain open.
“As groomers, we’ve always worn masks, and we could have totally been open safely, and I wish that the state would have allowed it,” she said. “It’s been really challenging, but at the same time, it’s made us all step up to the plate.”
For people interested in a new career in dog grooming — McCart has a nursing degree and has worked as a teacher — they are also offering hands-on training and jobs to those who want to pursue it. She describes it as labor-intensive but “beyond satisfying. It’s like having a million friends.”
“People think it’s really easy, but you have to be like a magician with some of these dogs,” McCart said. “You have to love, love, love to work with dogs, because they can be kind of crazy.”
When they were allowed back to work, there was a lot of work to be done. Many dogs’ nails had grown so much the quick — a tender area of flesh under the nail — had started growing out.
“It’s a little challenging to try to get the dogs back into good shape, but we managed to do it,” McCart said, adding that while they haven’t had to turn people away, customers have waited longer between appointments than usual.
For those heading back to work and looking for groomers and doggy day care, asking questions is key.
Sutton stressed the importance of vetting a doggy day care to make sure it’s a good fit, just as you would before taking a child to day care — asking if dogs are separated by size or play style, the ratio of dogs to people, and how the dogs do rest time. She also said that it’s important for dogs to socialize with other dogs, even if owners are at home; dogs benefit greatly from guided interactions with other dogs, making sure they know how to communicate politely and properly.
At least two local doggy day cares closed during the pandemic — Funway Bark in Marlborough and All About the Pup in Westborough — leaving even pre-pandemic dogs wanting for socialization.
Like Gracie, a golden retriever from Marlborough.
Mark Snyder, Gracie’s owner, said she hasn’t been as social in doggy day care since going back after spending so many months at home.
“After a lapse of several months, she is now at a new day care but her report cards are indicating hesitancy to socialize with other dogs,” Snyder wrote in an email. “This is very out of character.”
Gracie is now at The Fidgety Dog Co., a doggy day care in the same location as Funway Bark in Marlborough, and Snyder said Gracie has been having a good time there. Fidgety Dog opened last month.
Despite the ups and downs, whether it be dog grooming, day care or boarding, there’s one thing these business owners all have in common: a love of dogs.
“All of our dogs become part of our family,” McCart said. “I just love animals, and I share that with my customers.”
Lillian Eden can be reached at 617-459-6409 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LillianWEden.