By Sharon Gomes Thomas
We drop off our pets, sometimes daily, at kitty or doggie daycare, entrusting someone else to spend time with our furry friends. Who are these people, these animal caregivers, who love our dog or cat as much as we do? And what really goes on behind the scenes that we might not know about? We spoke to Elise Anatro, one of the co-owners of Club Barks (http://www.ClubBarks.com) that my dog loves, a family run daycare and boarding facility, a mere 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan. And she gave us the scoop.
BNNYC: What made you want to open a doggie daycare? More importantly, what was going on in your life that prompted you to think it was preferable to work with a bunch of animals?
ELISE: My dog Chester! Chester was a wedding present given by my brother 12 years ago. When my marriage went sour, I moved back home with Chester and my 2 cats. It was quite difficult being back at home because anytime I wanted to do something I had my dog, an 80 pound chocolate lab. I felt bad relying on my parents to watch him all the time so I needed an alternative.
I had kenneled him once and it was a horrible experience. He was in a cage basically 24/7. When I went to pick him up, he wouldn’t even look at me; he had a cut on his nose from trying to get out of the cage. I swore I wouldn’t kennel him ever again. But that’s an unrealistic; I knew there had to be better options out there. I found a place where he could run around and play with other dogs. It was perfect except it was too far away. That started me thinking. When I spoke to my brother about it, we decided to open up a doggy daycare and boarding facility. It was great because the chance to work with animals is a dream come true. I am so fortunate that I own my own business and get to work with animals, something I always wanted to do.
BNNYC: What happens at a daycare that we would be surprised to find out about?
ELISE: At Club Barks, our motto is, “What happens at the Club, stays at the Club!” One of the most popular questions we are asked is, “How do I know if my dog likes it here?” I tell them to watch their dog as they run into the lobby to be let in. They are so excited to get into the playrooms that they pull their owners to the holding area where they have learned the fun happens. Yes, there are days that the poop never ends, or the throw-up is disgusting, but the dogs don’t know what is going on. They just want to have fun. The other thing that many people don’t realize is how physical dogs can be when they are playing. They growl, bite each other’s necks, paws and throats. It looks scary, but it’s our job to recognize play from fighting and when the play can get out of control.
BNNYC: What is the worst thing that owners do that you wish they didn’t? You could use this as a forum to educate us. How about the nice things some of them do that you wish all owners also do?
ELISE: We are very fortunate that we have great customers. Although, one of our “pet peeves” is when owners let their dogs run off leash around the lobby (and sometimes pee) or jump on the counter and knock everything over. It’s unsafe for both people and the dogs, but they just don’t realize it. It’s totally understandable that both dogs and their owners get excited to see each other during pick-up time, but we want them to be mindful of others.
Some of the nice things owners do is to let us know when we are doing a good job. We have gotten so many Christmas presents over the last few years that we are overwhelmed. It’s truly the gesture that says they appreciate us which means a lot.
The other thing that stands out is the support that I got when Chester was diagnosed with cancer. It was the most difficult time in my life (harder than my divorce) especially the day that I had to put him down. I had customers cry with me, hug me and just let me know that they were there for me. It really meant a lot.
BNNYC: What has been your funniest diva doggie/difficult owner moment that everyone at the daycare laughs about?
ELISE: We had one customer who had mad separation anxiety from her dog. The dog was completely fine, and yet she was a basket case. She would call after dropping off her dog to ask how he was doing and we would tell her that he was fine. She never trusted us and always asked, “How do you know if he’s fine?” We lost count of how many times she would call. He was a 6-month old very playful puppy, so of course he’s having a good time!
BNNYC: What has been your favorite doggie moment?
ELISE: About 2 years ago, we had 2 chocolate lab puppies that looked a lot alike. If they didn’t have their collars on, it would be hard to tell the difference. To play a prank on one of the owners that we had become friendly with, we decided to bring out Jersey instead of his dog Max. We wanted to see if he would know the difference. At first, when Jersey came out all excited, the owner kept saying, “How’s my boy Max?’ Jersey was jumping all over him, much like Max would. We just kept watching the owner’s face to see if he would catch on. After about 1-2 minutes, he realized something was off. We just started laughing and had to break down and tell him. To this day, we still laugh over it. And, Jersey and Max no longer look alike.
BNNYC: You opened cat daycare too. How different is it from dogs?
ELISE: Cat care is very different from dog daycare in that there is no socialization among the cats. That could never work! Cats are much more independent and don’t require as much attention as dogs do. We still play with the cats, but it is only one cat at a time. They also have designated areas to relieve themselves in (a litter box) which makes cleaning up after them a lot easier.
BNNYC: What are the main differences between cat parents and dog parents?
ELISE: We definitely have a more intimate relationship with dog parents! We make sure no detail is left unrecorded: food, allergies, behavior issues, health issues, likes/dislikes. There’s much more info to get because dogs socialize with other dogs. Interacting with cat parents is less intensive, especially because cat care is highly individualized. Cat parents are typically mellower when bringing in their cats to board.
BNNYC: If there is one thing you could change about your pet daycare, what would it be?
ELISE: Not much, really! The only thing is I wish I had more time to play with the dogs during the day. As owner, sometimes I get so caught up in front-of-the-house issues that it rarely leaves any time to go play – which is, obviously one of the perks!
Check out Club Barks, not only does it provide daycare with 7 playpens, boarding and grooming, it also has training classes and taxi services. And they’re socially responsible by fostering dogs at their facility
86 Lackawanna Ave, Building 3
West Paterson, NJ 07424.
Open 7 days a week, 365 days a year
Monday – Friday: 7am-7pm;
Saturday and Sunday: 9am-4pm