Colour TV and stereo ease a dog's life in the States

Doggy day-care centres boom as guilt-stricken yuppies fret over bored pets, reports John Carlin
Click to follow
The Independent Online
MORE than three million single men and women live in New York. By and large, they would prefer not to be alone. In the absence of a partner whose love is unconditional, who won't stray when things get hard, the majority would probably settle for a human mate.

The reason why most New Yorkers, indeed most city dwellers, are reluctant to satisfy their heart's desire and get a dog is, quite simply, guilt. It is okay to leave an adult human cooped up in an apartment all day. A dog, by contrast, will not understand why it has been abandoned. And so the cruelty is infinitely worse.

Help, however, is at hand. Day-care centres for dogs are springing up in New York and all over the US. They are the humane, conscience-saving alternative to the traditional boarding kennel. The dogs are not kept in cages: they roam free and mingle with other dogs. In fact, day-care centres for dogs are, in every respect, like day-care centres for children.

Typically there is a playroom and an outside yard. The playroom tends to be well stocked with fluffy toys, coloured balls, a stereo and, of course, a colour TV. Some of the more up-market venues, such as Hollywood Hounds in Los Angeles, offer pet massages and "pawdicures" and, upon request, will be happy to arrange birthday parties and marriage ceremonies.

The service provided at the Yuppie Puppy Pet Care Centre, pioneer of a movement that has only been catching on nationally in recent months, may be more modest, but it ought to be more than satisfactory for most sane dog-worshippers.

Joseph Sporn, Yuppie Puppy's owner, hit upon the idea 11 years ago. "People thought I was crazy when I started it," said Mr Sporn, a veterinary technician in a previous life. "It began with a German shepherd. A few weeks later another dog came along. Soon it was five. Owners started spreading the word. In no time I was flooded with calls, and the situation became virtually unmanageable."

On any given day now he has between 20 and 30 dogs in day care; an 8am- 8pm stay costs $20 (pounds 12).

The playroom is large, about 25ft square, and dominated by a television set hooked up to cable and a VCR. "We play dog movies and funny movies," Mr Sporn said. "We also play cartoons. What we find is that the TV creates a home environment. We enjoy the movies too. It really works."

Mr Sporn has a staff of four or five people on stand-by at any one time. He keeps an eye on them, and on the dogs, with four monitors in his office. "I have cameras all over the shop. If there's a fight, I can evaluate what's happening and, if need be, intervene."

Fights are rare, though, because Mr Sporn will check each dog's temperament carefully before admitting it to his centre. But dogs will be dogs, so he asks each owner to sign a document prior to admission absolving Yuppie Puppy of legal responsibility in the event "of fights, injuries, death or unwanted pregnancy". Mr Sporn, who receives more requests from dog owners than he can handle, has an ambition. "I want to expand my business in New York, in America, the world - even England, why not? - until I become the McDonald's of dog day care." He will have to hurry, because others are in on his act. By his own reckoning, each major US city has already spawned three or four such businesses.

A McDonald's equivalent, or perhaps rather a Terence Conran, is a national chain of 24 deluxe dog spas known as Best Friends Pet Resorts and Salons. It has been reported that the owner has plans to open 200 resorts by the year 2000. The climate-controlled facilities offer toenail painting and a range of canine accessories, including fur coats.

As for Hollywood Hounds, the setting is a mansion previously owned by film stars. An employee called Carol Helena said they had begun the day- care service, with great success, 14 months ago, "but what really sets us apart is that we do birthday parties, matrimonies and other things like that for dogs". Birthday parties? "Yes, like children's parties for dogs. We play games with them. We set up the backyard with balloons. We make a dog cake and a human cake."

Matrimonies are performed, presumably, in the event that a male and a female plan, at their owners' initiative, to reproduce. "Oh no," said a deadpan, if slightly surprised, Ms Helena. "Just for anybody that wants to do it."