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Competing Doggie Daycares pamper pooches.

RIC AND HERMINE WILKINS believe "the 9 p.m. potty" gives their business the edge.

That's the last potty of the day for dogs that are boarded at the couple's Dogwatch Doggie Day Care & Boarding in Fayetteville. An employee who lives on the premises sees to it that the dogs get that last chance to do their daily business; Ric Wilkins said it's a pooch-preferred potty services that other area kennels don't provide.

But Rae Duane isn't impressed by the 9 p.m. potty. Dogs at Duane's Canine College, Fayetteville's oldest doggie daycare, have an indoor potty pen so they can go whenever they please.

"They have an indoor potty, so they're 100 percent safe," said Duane, who opened the Canine College 12 years ago, when doggie daycares were almost unheard of.

In February, a third doggie daycare opened in northwest Arkansas. Dog Days of Bentonville is owned by Laurel Matula. Her clients include everyone from Wal-Mart executives to truck drivers.

Pandering to the family pooch has become a national trend. Doggie daycares have sprouted up across America in the past few years to help "socialize" yuppie puppies that might otherwise develop bad habits.

"It's a relatively new service," said Jim Krack, executive director of the American Boarding Kennels Association, which is based in Colorado. "It's something pet owners are now demanding for their pets. They want the pets to be socialized while they're not at home."

A dog that has had a little socializing is less likely to bark all night or dig holes in the backyard because it was left at home alone. And socialization is supposed to make pets happier in general.

"There's a phenomenon that's identified as pets as members of the family," Krack said.

Nationwide, kennels fetched about $1.5 billion in revenue the last year a study was done, and that was about four years ago. The study didn't break dog daycares out from boarding services because the daycares are a new business concept, Krack said. The $1.5 billion is in addition to the estimated $7 billion per year pet-supply industry.

Boarding kennels differ from dog daycares in that dogs are kept overnight at kennels. Pet owners drop dogs off at daycare in the morning and pick them up in the evening after work. Dog daycares generally offer more socialization for dogs than boarding kennels do, although some boarding kennels also do daycare and some daycares, like Dogwatch, also offer overnight boarding.

According to the Professional Association of Dog Daycare, a dog daycare is "an organized, controlled and monitored environment for a group of friendly dogs to interact and play throughout the day in an enclosed building or yard."

In other words, lots of recess.

Dogwatch

After working as a technician for Southwestern Bell, Ric Wilkins started his own dump-truck business. Six years later, he decided to dump the truck business and begin leading a dog's life.

The Wilkinses founded Dogwatch two years ago, and they said business has been a howling success ever since. Revenue this year is up 25 percent to about $160,000.

The Wilkinses added 2,200 SF to their 3,100-SF building on Crossover Road in Fayetteville. The new space includes a cat room and a large playroom that looks like a doggie gymnasium.

People drop their dogs off at Dogwatch, and the rest of the dog day goes like clockwork. (See daily schedule.)

There's nothing like six and a half hours of play every day to wear a dog out.

"The atmosphere, the cleanliness, the outside potty, the number of hours of play time is greater at Dogwatch," Ric Wilkins said.

The company's motto is: "Where your pet vacations." And the animals at Dogwatch certainly seem to be having fun.

Hermine (pronounced Her-me-na) Wilkins said some dogs are so excited about spending the day at. Dogwatch that they jump from their owners vehicles and run to the door of the business. Once inside, the dogs greet their buddies and begin playing.

"Boarding dogs get to play with daycare dogs," Hermine Wilkins said. "It's all about socialization."

Dogwatch charges $12 per day for daycare. But the rate is cheaper if purchased as part of a five, 10 or 20-day deal. The rate drops to $10.80 per day, $10.60 per day and $10 per day, respectively.

For boarding, which includes overnight stay, Dogwatch charges $12-$17 per day, depending on the size of the dog. The charge for boarding cats at Dogwatch is $7 per day.

Dogwatch also has a retail store offering food and toys for dogs as well as things for pet lovers such as greeting cards featuring dogs and cats.

Ric spends most of his time at Dogwatch. Hermine has a day job as a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch in Fayetteville, but she spends as much time as she can at the family business. In the beginning, Ric and Hermine Wilkins did all the work at Dogwatch. Now, they have 12 part-time employees to help out.

If your dog needs a little obedience training while it's at Dogwatch, the Wilkinses can provide that, too. Hermine teaches obedience and agility classes at Dogwatch three nights a week.

On the day we visited, Dogwatch had 21 dogs on site for day care and 17 for boarding. Ric Wilkins' father, Mel, was in the pen with the small dogs.

"He's the pack leader," Ric Wilkins explained. If the dogs start to fight or play too rough, Mel is there to break it up. Someone has to step in when poodles go bad.

Ric and Hermine Wilkins own six dogs, three cats, 13 ducks and two geese.

Their Weimaraners roam the building and keep the Wilkinses company during the workday. Weimaraners are the sleek German hunting hounds made famous by photographer William Wegman. The Wilkinses participate in a Weimaraner rescue that allows people to adopt the dogs (for about $200 each).

Ric Wilkins said the couple is looking for a location in Bentonville, and they may have plans to franchise after that.

Canine College

Rae Duane agrees that doggie daycare is about socialization. After playing all day, the pooches are pooped.

"A tired dog is a good dog," Duane said. "And that's what doggie daycare does. It tires them out. When you get home from work, they're as tired as you are."

If puppies don't have early socialization with other dogs, they won't respond normally to dogs after they're grown.

Duane said she taught dog training to the Wilkinses, and she's a little miffed that the couple opened their business "five minutes away" from Canine College.

But she's not hounding them. Duane said Dogwatch is providing Fayetteville with a good boarding kennel that the city was lacking.

"The area really needed a good boarding kennel," Duane said. "There was nothing in Fayetteville other than the vets' offices. They have provided that."

Duane said her rates are less than those at Dogwatch: $10 per day, $8 per day for three days or more, and even less for a monthly rate.

Duane said her 2,600-SF play area for big dogs is the largest in the area. She also has a 500-SF area for small dogs and believes it is important to keep them segregated.

"I have never had a fight, which is more than some of my competitors can say," Duane said.

Some doggie daycares and kennels hire college students to work part time, and they don't always know when two dogs are about to start fighting, Duane said.

At the Canine College, Duane is top dog, and she makes sure the real dogs know it, even if she has to scold a Great Dane or a 60-pound mastiff.

Before opening the Canine College, Duane ran The Thrifty Nickel, a weekly publication of classified ads, in Fayetteville. When she started the Canine College, she had three customers waiting at the door. One of those first dogs, a 13-year-old cocker spaniel named Jon Luke, is still attending daycare at the Canine College.

Dog Days

A graduate of the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Laurel Matula thought she might be flying fighter jets for a living. Instead, she opened Dog Days doggie daycare in Bentonville.

Dog Days offers separate play rooms for large and small dogs and two yards for romping as well.

Matula said doggie daycare isn't just for the elite. Her customers range from bus drivers to executives. Manila concentrates on the details, and even has a solution for busy dog owners who are caught in snarled traffic.

"We have a drive-through drop-off," Matula said. "We're on Walton Boulevard so traffic can be kind of heavy. If we know they're coming, we go out to the curb to meet them. We don't have a drive-through window. We can't get a Great Dane through the window."

Matula said Dog Days has a groomer on staff and also does pet sitting.

Dog Days charges $11 per day for small dogs and $13 per day for large dogs. If they're boarded for more than a day at a time, the rate drops to $10 per day. The monthly rate for seven-day-a-week service is $175.

Matula said she had a photo-op day on Nov. 15 and invited customers to have their pet's picture made with Santa Claus.

"We had a line all the way out the door," she said.

Matula said she believes doggie daycare is as much for dog owners as for their pets.

"They need doggie daycare because people work longer hours and they can't always make it home to let their dog out by 5," she said. "Because of more work and more stress, the relief from that is nurturing their pets."

Matula said customers have arranged flights home from vacation "so they can get their dog and cuddle with it that night."

Matula said Dog Days teaches dogs social skills and basic commands like sit, stay and high five.

Matula said she plans to install a video camera on Dec. 1 so customers can monitor their dogs throughout the day via a Web site and streaming video.

"People say, 'I want to show my friends at work what my dog does all day,'" Manila said.

"I couldn't be more happy with the business or the dogs in general," she said while scratching the belly of a Great Dane named Gracie. "I think people need [doggie daycare] as much as the dogs do."
Dogwatch Schedule

7 a.m. potty
7:10 a.m. breakfast
8 a.m. potty
8-11 a.m. play time
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. nap time
12:30-4 p.m. play time
4 p.m. dinner time (for boarding dogs)
5 p.m. potty
5-9 p.m. quiet time
9 p.m. last potty of the day for boarding
 dogs

* Water breaks and additional potty time is allowed if needed.
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Title Annotation:profile of Dogwatch Doggie Day Care & Boarding
Author:Bowden, Bill
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Nov 25, 2002
Words:1807
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