(Fur) Baby-sitting

by Aaron Wilson

When a lady requests that her dog be read to, and the kennel complies, you know it is a new era in dog boarding. Heartstrings Pet Lodging and Spa co-owner Rick Argabright remembers this request because it was an outlier, but he says that things have definitely changed in the 11 years he has operated his facility. Growing up on a farm, he was accustomed to working dogs that lived outside. Now, he says: “People take on their pets as children.”
Heartstrings in Blacksburg offers doggie daycare as well as overnight boarding and in-house grooming. Dogs are boarded in suites or rooms to help them be more comfortable. In this cage-free environment, dogs are taken out about four times per day for up to an hour, depending on weather conditions. They may go out in groups based on age, size and sociability.
“Everything we do is designed to reduce the stress of the animal being boarded,” says Argabright, “as ‘boarding stress’ or anxiety can make normally tame dogs agitated and even ill.”
Meanwhile, Flying Fur! in Newport has used an intensive play yard experience model for its 11 years in business, with dogs being on the playground five to six hours per day. Its core business is daycare, augmented by overnight boarding. Owner Sharon Harrell helps dog owners find the right fit for their canines, requiring an evaluation day before allowing a dog to stay at her kennel. Some dogs age out of intensive play or are not sociable enough for Flying Fur!.
Plenty of dog owners still opt for a “basic, old-fashioned kennel,” says Tom Wills, owner of Hans Meadow Kennel in Christiansburg. His facility dates back to 1982. It consists of indoor/outdoor runs without a lot of extras, as Wills says people did not take advantage of, for example, dog walking when he offered it for a small fee.
Wills emphasizes that the safety of the dogs is paramount. All boarding facilities require rabies vaccinations by law, and most require additional shots. “A state law protects customers by allowing the kennel to act on the owner’s behalf in an emergency,” he adds.
Owners should expect to reserve spots for their dogs well in advance for certain times of the year. Wills recommends at least one month ahead for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and one to two weeks in the summer. According to Argabright, some customers reserve a year ahead for Christmas. Harrell says most weekends she can accommodate latecomers, except in summer and around holidays.
Owners should also expect to pay commensurate with services. Doggie daycare can cost roughly $20 per day. For boarding, Heartstrings charges by the night and by weight of the dog, while Hans Meadow charges based on a 24-hour period. There is a discount at most kennels for dogs from the same family staying in the same room or run. Heartstrings offers a discount for length of boarding stay and for regular daycare.
Kennels typically provide food, bedding and bowls (“drop and go,” as Wills says), but many recommend bringing the dog’s own food to keep things consistent and avoid upset tummies. They allow toys from home and Argabright even suggests bringing an item of clothing with the owner’s scent on it to make the dog feel comfortable. Harrell advises dog owners to acclimate dogs by boarding them before you have to.
People are traveling more and boarding their dogs with the rejuvenated economy. Argabright has repeat customers who come to Hokie football games and bring their animals versus boarding them in Washington, D.C., or Florida where they would have to leave the dogs longer and spend more money. The average stay at Hans Meadow is seven to 10 days, and their business largely revolves around the Montgomery County school calendar. In Blacksburg, stays can be longer with professors on sabbaticals.
Amenities around dog care have increased. Flying Fur! offers is its unique Barking Bus, which provides weekday transportation for $7 each way in the Fairlawn, Radford, Christiansburg and Blacksburg areas. Heartstrings provides heated floors and air that circulates every 10 minutes. Folks also want their dogs to be clean, so with a two-night stay, dogs get free baths at Heartstrings. Dirty bedding gets laundered.
Some more luxurious but uncommon amenities in other areas include televisions in individual rooms (tuned to what is usually broadcasting at home), pools in the yards and webcams for owners to keep tabs on Fido. Man’s best friend, indeed.

Text by Jennifer Poff Cooper

Jennifer Poff Cooper is a Christiansburg-based freelance writer.

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