There's No Business Like the Dog Business in Bad Economy
Free Spirit Doggy Daycare gets approval to move forward with expansion project; other local dog day cares cater to clients needs by sending e-mail status updates on pets.
Despite the weary economy, owners of area businsses that cater to dogs and other pets say they continue to leash in new business.
"The dog industry itself has continued to grow year after year despite the economy," said Kristi Adkinson, owner of Free Spirit Doggy Daycare. "And so has dog ownership...once people get that adorable puppy, they realize that that puppy needs exercise and training."
Adkinson's business at 8601-A Pyott Road is doing so well she is in the process of expanding. She has plans to move her business from its existing 2,500-square-foot space to the 9,000-square-foot building next door. The village of Lake in the Hills recently approved her request for the move.
Adkinson says that Free Spirit continues to offer affordable daycare and boarding services to clients, seven days a week. At $3 per hour for daycare and boarding for $20 per night, the business has managed to stay competitive and profitable.
"The dogs get excited to come here," Adkinson said. "You can see it when they come in. They're very excited. They play all day, and when you get them home, they're tired and happy. Dogs are pack animals so it's in their nature to socialize."
Adkinson said the cramped space in her current facility has made it necessary to move on to a larger space. She says her client base continues to grow and cites a variety of reasons for why people might want to ditch their doggies for the day or weekend.
"Some of our clients bring their dogs here when they're going to the store, and they'll be gone for a long time," Adkinson said. "Some of our regular clients work all day, and want their dogs to be socialized and get exercise. Some are new moms, who don't have time to walk the dog three times a day. We even have some people who bring their dogs here if it's going to storm. Our building is very sheltered, and dogs who are afraid of storms can't hear them in here."
Barb Urquhart, owner of Critter Sitter in Lake in the Hills, echoes Adkinson's sentiments as her pet business continues to thrive during tough economic times. She has been pet sitting for 16 years with clients as far away as Palatine. Urquhart walks an average of eight dogs per day.
"There are definitely enough pets to go around," Urquhart said. "I can't handle them all!"
Urquhart said some of her clients have experienced job losses, which has impacted her business to a degree. But she also pet sits in her home because some owners want their dogs to be with people while they're vacationing. Urquhart serves as a foster home for Young At Heart, a rescue service that cares for the older dogs most people don't want to adopt.
"Everyone wants a puppy," Urquhart said. "I keep the older dogs here until we can find a home for them."
According to a 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, 62 percent of U.S. households own a pet, up from 56 percent in 1988 when the survey was first administered. There are 77 million dogs and 93 million cats in the U.S.
Pet owners are expected to spend $47.7 billion on their pets this year, according to American Pet Products Association, compared to the $28.5 million spent on pets nine years ago. This year, APPA estimates owners will dish out $3.45 billion on pet services alone such as boarding, grooming and daycare facilities.
"It's crazy," said Lorrie Drzewiecki, owner of Out and About Pet Sitting in Crystal Lake. "Every week, I get two to three new customers. Nowadays, both 'parents' have to work so someone has to take care of the dog. And I think people are more aware of pet sitters, dog walkers and pet facilities so they're taking advantage of their services."
A large part of Drzewiecki's business is dog walking, typically for owners who work long hours. Every client has individual needs. Some want the lights and television turned on for their pets, and others want e-mails sent to keep owners abreast of their pets' status.
Drzewiecki transports one Lake in the Hills apartment client, a Boston terrier, to the Bark Park, at 9027 Haligus Road, Lake in the Hills, to give the dog room to play.
"I do whatever my clients need me to do," Drzewiecki said. "A lot of my people work long hours, so I give pets loving care in their own home where they are most comfortable."
Other pet businesses are growing from demand. With more people owning pets, particularly in the case of dogs, they quickly realize they need to train their new companions. Lindy Sander, owner of A+ Dog Training, 9344 Virginia Rd., Lake in the Hills, directs puppy, agility and conformation classes nearly every night of the week, and Saturday mornings.
"My personal opinion is that dog training is a necessity," said Sander, who has worked as a professional dog trainer for 21 years. "You get that puppy and it's going to be a member of your family so you need it to be a good canine citizen. A lot of people can't train the dogs themselves, or they get a dog that doesn't handle like their previous dog, and they turn to us."
Brian Knust drives from Elgin to take advantage of Sander's training services. He and his older dog, Sirius, a 196-pound mastiff, have taken Sander's conformation (show preparation) classes for years. Now he's turning to Sanders for help in training his new puppy, Kasey, another mastiff.
"From day one, we've liked the way Lindy trains," Knust said. "If you're in a class with a lot of other dogs (and people), she can still teach to each individual. She helps the dogs and the owners. Lindy has made it very easy for us. I love it when she is at one of our dog shows. I'm so proud for her to watch us."