Doggie day care in Cape Town

Hounded by feelings of guilt for leaving their furry friends home alone on work days, many dog owners have turned to canine crèches for help

Separation anxiety, hyperactivity, conflicting personalities, bullying, roughhousing – it’s all in a day’s work for Kristin van der Hoven. From morning drop-off to play period, lunch, forest walks, nap time and, finally, pick-up, this young entrepreneur is not only responsible for reconciling the above, but also for keeping the littlest, and, arguably, most innocent members of the family unit safe, socialized and, most importantly, stimulated.

“It’s not always easy for them to be here,” Kristin says of her charges.” It’s like having to hang around the same people every day.”

And when she speaks like that – which she does often – it’s tempting to imagine her reigning over a room full of toddlers. But Kristin is not, in fact, the least bit worried about potty training little Johnny or coaxing baby Yumna to sleep; rather, while loving moms and dads are trudging through the 9-to-5 of their daily grind, she’s making sure Fido, Rover and Rex get the care and attention they need.

Doggie day care is the latest addition to a trend that has owners treating man’s best friend like woman’s newly born. More and more, humans are holding fast to a tendency to treat their dogs like children (or kings and queens in some cases), whether it means spoiling them with a day at the spa, taking out health insurance to cover unexpected illnesses (oh, yes), consulting a psychic in the way of spiritual cleansing (believe it), or, in this case, simply making sure they’re in good company during working hours.

“Dogs aren’t supposed to be alone - they’re pack animals. Just like humans, they need interaction and socialization to learn their social skills and manners,” says Kristin.

And in a South Africa where people are moving into smaller townhouses and flats, but pet ownership is on the rise  –  a study done by the South African Companion Animal Council (SACAC) in 2010 showed an 8.2% increase in the number of pet dogs – doggie day care seems to be a logical next step.

A trained chef, Kristin got the idea for Proud Hounds - her Cape Town city centre day care - from an American animal behaviourist with whom she was doing an apprenticeship back in 2009. By this stage, doggie day care was already a well-established concept in the US, with the first pet crèche having popped up in 1987.

She looked for premises for two years before she opened her canine crèche in Gardens in August 2011, and not even a year later she looks after between 25 and 35 furry friends a day.

“The dogs get mentally and physically stimulated here so they go home happy and exhausted, which is great for both guilt-ridden owners and their designer furniture [often the first victim of bored, housebound pets],” she explains.

That said, doggie day care is not for doggie delinquents.

While attending canines are certainly less apt to have a bone to pick with an absent owner come the end of what would otherwise be a lonesome day, Kristin and the handful of other Cape Town service providers (there are day cares in Bellville, Durbanville, Sea Point and Table View) don’t pretend to be dog whisperers, nor do they claim to hold the solution for problem pets.

“I had a golden retriever here and his level of social anxiety was so hectic that he just barked and barked, chewed my fence apart and refused to go on a walk,” she recounts. “I had to ask his owner not to bring him back.”

Though, on the rare occasion that an under-socialised or troubled adult dog doesn’t pass Kristin’s assessment – a trial period when she evaluates energy levels, aggression, dominance and social aptitude – she recommends a few classes with a highly-trained animal behaviourist that can give the dog some much-needed personal attention.

“All puppies (up to four months old) are going to be fine because they’re so young and adaptable. Rather, it’s the older dogs that often have trouble, especially if they learned poor behaviour or weren’t socialised when they were young – a crucial developmental period,” she explains.   

Otherwise, Kristin doesn’t discriminate. From boxer twins Gigi and Giselle to Georgie the Boston terrier pup to Kendra the naughty mix who’s learned to open the gate and shepherd her playmates out, there are all shapes and sizes in the Proud Hounds pack.

It’s merely required that pets older than six months get the snip (neutered or spayed), and that the animals have received all three of their vaccinations. From that point, it’s up to the owner how often they want their little one (or big one) to attend day care.

That said, at R110 a day, five days a week, doggie day care isn’t for the wallet weary; though, it could be argued that it’s also much cheaper than buying a new sofa or replacing the carpet.

Also, considering that 40% of people identify their dogs as legitimate family members – a statistic perhaps most notably justified purely by the amount of dog-wear in pet stores (think “Desperate Housedogs” T-shirts and Louis Vuitton ponchos) – and noting that a basic dog-walker tends to charge R100 an hour, it’s an investment that more and more hard-working owners may be willing to consider.

After all, humans and domesticated dogs have shared a relationship for over 14,000 years, and though hounds are no longer our trackers, alarm systems, hunting aids and garbage disposals, these days it’s becoming more commonplace to keep broodiness at bay with a four-legged friend or to find camaraderie and companionship in something that hasn’t mastered the art of passive-aggressive behaviour or forgotten to do the dishes.

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Looking for a pet-friendly place to play? Check out our parks in Cape Town listing.

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