Following the pack

Animal shelters have been straining with an influx of pets surrendered by families who can’t afford their care or are moving into places where pets aren’t allowed. Five to seven million pets enter shelters each year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Up to four million are euthanized. With luck, the others find new homes.

The story is very different for millions of American pets, who are insured, pampered and primped. Their diets are organic, their play dates scheduled with regularity, and their emotional welfare are as much a concern as the buildup of plaque on their teeth.

According to the American Pet Products Association, more than 46 million American households include a dog. Almost 39 million have one or more cats. Their owners spend an estimated $53 billion to care for those animals, and chances are they do it gladly. Those pets are cherished members of the family.

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A host of varied businesses have sprung up to accommodate local owners’ intent to make sure Fido and Fluffy are happy and well-adjusted. Here are six of them:

 

• Dr. Karen Garelick, retired veterinarian and the owner of Doc’s K9 Obedience in Kingston, has now opened a 9,000-square-foot canine center on Foxhall Avenue which houses Doc’s K9 Stay ‘n’ Play, a doggie daycare center.

“We opened January 23 and we’re already starting to pound down,” she said. “Everyone has to work, and when their dogs are home alone without company for hours at a time, that’s when behavior issues start.”

Garelick said she does temperament testing, and then puts the dogs in groups that suit their personalities. “They’re pack animals,” she said. “They’re so thrilled that they get to play that they go non-stop. When they get home, they’re happy and exhausted.”

Garelick’s center includes areas for play, naps and the outdoors. At first, she said most dogs don’t nap at nap time.

“They’re like little kids, and they’re so funny!” Garelick said. “It’s given me a whole new perspective on dog behavior. I love working with large groups. I can just picture the day when I can put my hand up and a roomful of dogs will all lie down at once.”

 

• Jodi Judson, who has been grooming dogs for 15 years, has owned All Groomed Up on Ulster Avenue in Saugerties for the past two years. She started grooming dogs after losing her own dog. She missed being around dogs, so started pet-sitting, and then put her cosmetology training to work grooming dogs.

“It’s been busy, despite the economy,” she said. “My place is really dog-friendly. It’s mostly cage-free, and it’s so great to see the dogs having fun here.”

 

• This spring there will be another dog groomer in the area: Lenny Persad and Henry Koegel, who recently moved up from Brooklyn, will be opening the Eco-Pet Spa and Market on Route 9W in Saugerties. They had a similar business in Brooklyn for ten years.

“We focus on eco-friendly, organic, green-friendly products, from shampoos to leashes made of recycled materials,” Persad said.

“It’s a trend now both for pets and the planet,” Koegel explained. “People want to feed their dogs like they feed themselves: healthy, wholesome and local. It’s better for their pet’s health. It means they’ll need less medication and live longer, healthier lives by avoiding the byproducts and chemicals you find in the cheaper pet food.”

Persad and Koegel say byproducts can trigger allergies, skin, ear and digestive problems. Because of construction delays, they expect their pet spa to open before the market, but they want to buy local and support local products as they stock their shelves.

 

• One of those local products is already stocked in more than a dozen stores. Kevin Christofora of Woodstock Meats has launched a product he calls Woodstock Meats Butcher’s Blend, a raw-pet-food line that incorporates fresh ingredients specifically formulated for dogs or cats. He noted increased interest in raw-food diets for pets after commercial food contamination was linked to pet deaths.

 

• Thanks to shows like The Dog Whisperer, dog owners don’t just worry about whether their pets’ diet is balanced. They worry that their beloved pets are unbalanced, meaning they’re not confident, secure and happy. As they say goodbye to Fido before heading off to a long day at work, they worry he’ll be lonely.

That’s where PetWatch might come in. Susan Roth started PetWatch in Woodstock 27 years ago with a passion for animals and a desire to find work that let her exercise and walk regularly. Partner Jan Fine joined her six years ago.

“The business has grown every year,” Roth said. “It held its own even during the worst of the recession, though the growth slowed down to a nice, steady level.”

You might expect that most of the calls to PetWatch are from owners who want someone to take their dogs out for a walk when they can’t get home to do it themselves, or perhaps from people who need someone to check on the cat while they’re on vacation. But Roth said most of her work for about 500 area clients now involves play. “Play dates and daily visits are our most popular services,” she said.

What exactly is a dog play date? Roth said she matches dogs by size, temperament and age, then takes them on an outing. “Never off leash,” she added. It’s an opportunity for a long hike with a small pack of congenial canine pals.

 

• What if Fido doesn’t play well with others? Trainer Kyle Warren of Stone Ridge is the area’s own Dog Whisperer, with a documentary, a book and hundreds of dogs, including two police dogs on the Ulster County sheriff’s K9 unit to his credit.

Warren started training dogs for the fun of it when he was ten. By the time he was 16, it was becoming a professional job, and one he loved. Now he trains between 35 and 40 dogs a week, all private lessons, mostly traveling to the dog’s homes.

The biggest changes he’s noticed?

“Ten years ago, I’d show up at someone’s home and we’d go out back to get the dog from his kennel to work with him,” he replied. “Now I arrive and we go call the dog off the couch.”

Warren’s finding that the owners have changed. Where he used to work mainly to help women create a better working relationship with the family dog, now he says the men in the family participate in the training at least a third of the time.

Though humans are “notorious” for anthropomorphizing their animals, Warren said, he doesn’t insist a dog follow every rule and never snuggle on the couch to watch a movie.

“It’s about safety and sanity,” he said. “Safety for the dog and you, as well as your own sanity. If you’ve got balance and order in your relationship with your dog, you can break the so-called rules with no impact on your level of control.”

At least until your dog demands the remote and sends you out for a chew toy.

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