Pets on the Net
Animals: At Valley 'day care' center for dogs, camera allows owners to
visit their pups at a Web site.
Studio City - Professional dog walker Barbra Waldare had more work than she could manage. Her pet-sitting business in the Hollywood Hills was booming. Having worked television production herself, she understood the long hours many of her entertainment-industry clients worked. Those half-hour walks at $12 to $15 a pop filled (or relieved) a desperate need.
She was bringing home $1,000 a week, which meant about 40 hours afoot with Fidos, plus driving time to clients' homes.
But she was exhausted. Then she had an idea. A dog owner herself, she thought she knew what others wanted and weren't getting. Pets were surrogate children, she believed. Taking a cue from the latest trend in child day care, she figured she could bring digital camera surveillance to the dogs. And why not post the pictures on the Internet where a worried owner could check in all day, getting immediate assurance that Bowser was merry, not moping.
That's what led her to open the Doggie View Day Care Center, where for $25 per day - or slightly more than the cost of child day care in some centers - pets can romp with other dogs, breathe purified air, drink Sparkletts water and be virtually a mouse click away from an anxious owner's view at www.doggieview.com.
"What is good about the unique Internet feature is that it helps alleviate separation anxiety for both the dog and the owner," said Waldare, who lives in Studio City. "A lot of people are more upset about leaving their dog than their dog is."
Waldare said she could not find any other Internet-monitor dog care centers.
Neither could Michael Walters, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Assn. "This is the first one I've heard of," he said.
Joseph Sporn, who founded Yuppie Pu ppy Pet Care Inc. in Manhattan in 1987, the first "day care" center for dogs, said his Internet service is still in the works.
Opened two months ago, Waldare's center occupies a former carpet store in a Studio City strip mall. Waldare has six regular clients and hopes for more. She'll need to expand to cover the $25,000 she figures it cost her to get started, and her monthly overhead, which is $2,000 now but could double when she starts adding staff.
"I could have done it for less," see said, "But I went the extra mile with all the computer stuff."
The pampering of pets, once considered eccentric, has gone mainstream, thanks to empty-nest, baby boomers and younger couples with dual incomes and no children. The U.S. pet industry is now estimated by industry sources to be worth $21 billion, with consumers spending 33% more on roughly the same number of pets in 1996 than they did in 1994, the most recent figures available.
And day care for dogs is definitely a growth industry. "They're just popping up all over the place," Funda Alp, a spokeswoman for the American Pet Products Manufacturer's Assn., told The Times in an interview last March. "It's a great opportunity and it's great for the pets."
Although Waldare's operation incorporates cutting-edge technology, she eschews some of the frills associated with the doggie day care niche, such as television, "Lassie" videos and New Age music.
After 18 years' experience with dogs, she's practical in her approach. She still takes them out for an old-fashioned stroll three or four times a day. She carries a pooper-scooper on her jaunts.
Jackie Rowe, owner and operator of the comfortable, traditional La Mesa Pet Hotel in San Diego for the past 39 years, says that what dogs need is love and the certainty that they'll be fed and cared for.
As for movies, swimming pools and organic biscotti, "that's not for the dogs," she said, "That's for their owners."
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