By Kate Benz
Even after the Friday morning rush hour had subsided, eager campers continued to show up for a day of socializing, playing and some serious TLC.
Without much prompting, the little darlings happily headed into the care of camp counselors and a room filled with familiar friends.
The youngsters at this day care center are of the four-legged variety.
Camp Bow Wow in Highland Park is one of four franchises in the Pittsburgh area — the most in any one location across the country.
Business for the doggie day care and boarding center has been booming. Camp counselors know each of the dogs by name, greeting them cheerfully as they arrive. Webcams provide owners 24/7 access to check in on their pet. Each of the indoor playgrounds comes with corresponding outside access to encourage socialization. Those being boarded are only put into their “cabins” at night, which come with a cot, fleece blanket and a peanut butter cookie as a bedtime snack.
As more and more owners start tending to the psychological care of their pets, the option of leaving them alone during working hours or even for a day spent running errands, is becoming less of a norm.
According to the nonprofit American Pet Products Association, early estimates pegged expenditures for pet products to top $55.53 billion for 2013. Of that, $4.54 billion is coming from pet services such as boarding, a significant increase that has been steadily growing over the past two decades. The numbers reflect a trend that can be seen in day-to-day activities that used to be reserved for humans only.
“I think people are more educated on what a dog needs and what makes their family dog happy,” Barbara Murray says. She and her husband, Jordan, are the owners of Camp Bow Wow Southwest, which includes the North Hills, Green Tree and Highland Park facilities. “It’s safe to say, now, that people understand that dogs are more social and they do get lonely. Just like you’d feel guilty about leaving your child at home all day, you feel guilty leaving your dog at home all day.”
At Double Wide Grill, South Side, a special area was constructed solely for the purpose of accommodating dogs, while adhering to strict health codes. The area is separate from the normal seating section, and a dividing wall allows servers to hand over the food without stepping inside. A special doggie menu offers organic biscuits, beef patties, chicken patties and even tofu. More often than not, especially on the weekends, the section is at full capacity.
“Dogs now are part of their families. I personally don’t have kids. but I have two dogs,” waitress Mindy Kellar says. “I consider them my children. It’s great to bring them here because we’re a family restaurant. These people, they believe their pets are their kids, as well.”
The inclination to humanize pets might explain why it’s not unusual these days to see dogs riding shotgun in cars or hanging out on the pet friendly porch and yard of Coffee Buddha in the North Hills while their owner sips a latte. More and more, they are becoming integrated in our daily activities — so much so that certified yoga instructor and health counselor Aimee Woods of Embody Natural Health has periodically offered “Yoga With Your Dog” classes.
“A lot of people thought we were going to teach the dog to do yoga, but we really weren’t doing that. It was more about integrating the dog into the poses,” she says.
“Dogs are more acceptable; years ago you couldn’t take your dogs out in public. They were dirty, they carried disease,” says Jeff Woods, Aimee’s father and owner of the Misty Pines Dog Park in Franklin Park, which offers training and boarding.
“Over time, that has all dissipated away, and people see the benefits of dogs, because they do make you feel good,” he says. “It’s that old funny wives’ tale that if you’re a young bachelor and take the puppy out with you all the young girls will talk to you. It brings smiles to people’s faces. Walk down the street without a dog, walk down the street with a dog — notice the difference in people’s expressions when you’re with a dog.”
As popular as it has become, not everyone in the pet-care industry is approaching the trend without a bit of skepticism. Humanizing pets can sometimes blur the lines between who and what should take priority.
“I’ve been training dogs for 20 years, and there’s definitely been a significant shift in our perspective of animals,” Tom Beitz, owner of the Academy for Puppies and Dogs, says. “I’m not sure if there’s any one particular reason for it … but probably to some degree, the extreme animal-rights people have kind of projected an image that dogs and people are on the same level — using more of an anthropomorphic view of animals — and in doing so, they’ve blurred some of the distinctions that there really are between humans and dogs.”
Back at the Highland Park Camp Bow Wow, director Michele Adams reflects on whether or not the psychology has more to do with satisfying the worries of the owner, than tending to the natural instincts of the animal.
Adams says she thinks the camp is “bringing the dog out of the dog.”
“I think that’s why they’re so happy coming here. It’s a camp where they can just be a dog. It’s not like a pampering thing. The exercise part and being with (other) dogs is key.”