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A Day In The Life: Dogs As Business
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A Day In the Life: Dogs As Business

It's a sweet spring morning and you wake up in a spoon with the family dog. She sleeps on, profoundly content in her doggy dreams. It seems unfair to wake her so you can get up, but wake her you do. She stretches and yawns and smiles. "What a good girl," you murmur.

You sigh, stand up and start your day, thinking that the best of it may be behind you. Your job pays the bills, and that's about it. You've been at it for years and you're bored. The boss knows less than you do and earns twice your salary. Your co-workers sport friendly smiles and stab you in the back for very little gain. You routinely carry out orders that make no sense, and half the time your work is undone by fickle management. At best, you're ignored. "If only I could make a living surrounded by dogs," you grumble.

Five years later on a cold January morning, you're awakened before dawn by the telephone. You can't see outside but a frigid wind rattles the windows. Your two labs surround you, occupying most of the bed, and you have to shove them aside to get to the phone. Though barely awake, you're aware that phonecalls at this hour are never good news. Last night you stayed at your dog daycare and grooming business long after closing to untangle the mess someone had made of the cash register tape. You're exhausted and frustrated because in the end, the tape still showed $100 more than you found in the drawer. Your employees are honest, so it's probably an overring, but you'll still have to straighten it out.

"Sorry to wake you," croaks Jake, your daycare manager. He sounds as though someone has taken a sander to his vocal cords.

"You're sick," you grumble with a guilty lack of concern.

"Yeah." Jake's reply is all but lost in a fit of coughing.

"Ok, I'll go in. Feel better." It's not much, but it's all you can muster. You make a mental note to call Jake later to see how he's doing.

The night table clock says you have 20 minutes to shower and get to work in time to open at 6:30. You grab clean jeans and a sweatshirt and head for the bathroom. Glancing out the window, you see that your car is covered in ice, shining brightly in the glow of the street light. So you rush out in your pj's to start the engine and defroster. Afterward, you're chilled to the bone, so the hot shower's a godsend. No time to linger though; you have to rush back outside to chip the partially melted ice off the car windshield.

You pull into the shop's parking lot at 6:40 and, of course, two customers wait in their cars while their dogs slobber up the windows in gleeful anticipation of another play day. You open the shop doors, apologizing profusely. The customers hand you their leashed dogs and hurry back to their cars. They're late for work too. You set about the opening routine, filling mop buckets with water and animal quarters disinfectant. No matter how often the dogs go out, indoor mistakes are inevitable.

The shop is too hot because someone jacked up the thermostat. A month ago employees prevailed upon you to trust them to consume heat responsibly, saying it's too cold in the morning. So you removed the thermostat's locked cover. While you reprogram, your already dark mood worsens at the thought of the careless waste of money. Thankfully the shop has gas heat rather than oil.

Customers arrive, mostly in bunches, so some wait impatiently while others chat. It's important to connect with them, especially as you're the owner, so you try to register what people tell you while noticing that a grooming dog and his owner wait at the other end of the building. You long for coffee.

Between bunches of arrivals, you check the fenced in outdoor potty area and find it's a skating rink. Safety is a top priority for the dogs; if a pup pulls a cruciate ligament word will get around. At 8:00am your daycare attendant arrives, explaining that she's late because her car wouldn't start and she's nervous that history will repeat itself when she tries to head home later. You interrupt her lament to ask that she leave her coat on and start chopping up the ice in the outdoor potty area. When she sees that you're making coffee she decides to wait so she can fill her travel mug. You wonder if it would be unreasonable to bark at her to get moving. Best to hold your tongue. But one customer or another is bound to ask you to take their dog outside right away as they haven't had time and pup has just eaten her breakfast.

The new arrivals are crated or leashed in place until 9am in order to prevent gang-ups at the door as more play pals check in. If owners haven't given their pups ample potty time, the latter will pee and poop while confined, thus soiling themselves. That means a complementary bath, which doesn't please the groomer. She has a busy schedule (thanks be!) and chafes at being interrupted for a non-paying client.

Sure enough, a golden retriever's owner asks that her dog be taken outside right away, so you send her out to keep the ice chopper company. The latter is on her cell phone trying to get her boyfriend to check her car at lunch time, so very little chopping has been accomplished; and the golden's too nervous about the slippery footing to do her business. Customers wait, so you rush inside. "You need more help," one advises. "Yeah, you wanna pay for it?" you think. Already rent and payroll suck up 60% of your revenue. The groomer has arrived and you ask her to help you with check-ins. She doesn't like it, you know, but she pitches in good-naturedly. You want to kiss her.

Miraculously, the potty area is almost clear by 9am, so you and the daycare attendant let the dogs out one group at a time. There are three separate play areas in the building for small, medium and large dogs, respectively. They're separated by half-height walls, unlike other dog daycares which keep the various play groups in separate rooms. Either set-up works, depending on operating procedure and staffing, but you prefer the open arrangement. The walls are high enough so the dogs can't leap over them, while allowing broad visibility. For safety's sake, the groups never mingle and each dog enjoys romping with compatible play pals.

The first "out" routinely proves noisy and chaotic; morning energy fuels the commotion, which you try to short circuit by getting the dogs outside as quickly and efficiently as possible. Over the years you've researched the problem and tried numerous approaches but nothing has brought it under control. At one point you tried releasing the dogs two at a time, but that provoked a torrent of protest from those waiting their turn, while prolonging the process. You have three groups of 8-10 dogs and your goal is to get through the first "out" as quickly as possible, while staying outside with each group long enough for business to get done.

Once all the dogs have relieved themselves outdoors, you set about the business of the day: supervising and playing with the pups. You've emptied bins of toys onto the floor and set out buckets of clean water in each play area. Reams of paperwork await, but when you're short staffed clerical work can't be a priority. The dogs romp, play tug of war, and compete for human attention. By this time each day, you remember why you went into this business. True, cleaning up indoor poop is no fun, and some dogs have to be watched closely lest they escalate fun and excitment into aggression. Spray bottles of water are scattered around on the top of the walls to discourage nasty confrontations. You and your staff are trained to recognize early signs of aggression, so there's usually no problem. If there is, it's often due to morning energy, and you know how to use your body to herd the dogs away from each other, then grab collars and put the offenders in a brief time-out. Whatever, much of the time spent with the dogs proves an effective stress reliever.

You're on your feet most of day, circulating through the play areas behind your daycare attendant. Fifteen minutes of every hour are spent outside; the rest of the time you're busy answering phones, rinsing and refreshing water buckets, cuddling dogs, mopping up after accidents, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. The "outs" and the play keep the floors and half-height walls covered with muddly pawprints, and the air is filled with dust, regardless of your expensive air filtering system. Respiratory ailments are common among dog daycare workers and groomers.

Around noon, you feed the dogs whose owners have requested it, then sit down to your own lunch, a microwaved something from your stash in the freezer. The dogs recognize the staff as their alphas so they follow suit, repairing to open crates or the couches for a brief rest. It's a sweet moment. The barking subsides and you can hear the music that accompanies play throughout the day. You chat with the groomer and daycare attendant and wait for the afternoon attendant to arrive. Since Jake is out, you'll work twelve hours today, whereas you usually come in about now. After years of long days, you feel you've earned your 6-hour day; you resent extended shifts.

While the shop is calm you leave your newly arrived afternoon daycare attendant to watch the dogs while you tackle the most urgent clerical items. You need to check the bank balance and pay some bills. The schedule has to be amended to incorporate the updates that customers brought this morning. Discounted, pre-paid passes need to be updated daily, and email from customers must be checked a couple of times a day. Soon the dogs begin to stir so you leave the work partly done and start circulating through the play areas again.

The afternoon passes pretty much like the morning, except that the dogs are less boisterous. Forget the puppies, though; their energy seems boundless. Owners tell you their dogs pass out before leaving the parking lot at night, which tells you you've done your job. You've promised each newcomer that they'll pick up a tired dog in the evening. The afternoon attendant does a thorough cleaning starting about 4pm so that by closing the place is ready for the next morning. You try not to nag about laundry that doesn't make it into the dryer before closing, or windows that remain smeared with doggie saliva. "Think long haul," you tell yourself. By and large, your staff is good at their job.

By 6:30 pm you're too tired to think but you still need to tally the receipts and justify the bank deposits and register tape. Somehow you get through it, soothed by your dogs' soft snoring; they've settled into their beds next to your desk after a busy play day. Tonight everything tallies easily, so you're on your way home by 7pm. As you lock up you think to yourself, "Long day, but it sure beats the other jobs I've had."

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