Day care that caters to man's best friend

April 03, 2005|By Andrew G. Sherwood | Andrew G. Sherwood,SUN STAFF

Max, an 11-year-old golden retriever, takes his time walking around the beach while younger dogs run and chase each other in the deceptively mild spring day.

These dogs, different sizes and breeds, are guests at the recently opened Best Friends Fur Ever in Joppa, one of 1,500 doggie day care centers in the United States.

The 8,000-square-foot facility, with room for 80 dogs, has an indoor playground with cushioned floors radiating heat (air conditioned during the summer), and just about any toy a dog needs can be found.

There's even a big-screen TV.

"Bacon, you stop biting Max!" said center owner Kelly Cullum, while a Jack Russell terrier named Shorty jumped and awaited her attention. "Max is an older dog, and he doesn't like to play rough."

The place is clean and meticulously organized, and the dogs keep to a strict schedule during their stay.

Owners dropping their dogs off for day care come in between 6:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.

The dogs play until noon, when they have a snack and a two-hour nap. When they wake up about 2 p.m. the dogs play until their owners pick them up.

Most dogs, including a Labradoodle, a Labrador/poodle mix named Scooby-Doo, are just there for the day, but the center regularly boards dogs, or in the words of Cullum, "has sleepovers."

Overnight guests have a similar schedule to that of the day care dogs.

At 5:15 p.m. sleepover dogs are up from their naps and ready to eat. The rest of the day can be spent playing.

"We hang out in the playroom in our beanbag chairs, watch Animal Planet and play with the dogs until 9 p.m.," Cullum said. "Then they go out for the last time before bed."

Crates with comfortable beds in them line two of the walls in the playroom. When the lights go out, the dogs make their way to their "snoozy with a cover" and sleep.

The entire play area is monitored by cameras, which Cullum can watch from her office.

"I'm usually the one to stay with the dogs overnight," she says, "so I can go to my office and rest while the dogs are asleep and still be able to keep an eye on them."

Web cams allow owners to watch their dogs online while they are away.

"Most of the time the dogs are worn out by bedtime," Cullum said as Rudy, a Doberman in "time-out," bellowed a deep bark from his crate.

"Why don't you tell them why you're in there, Rudy?" she said.

No reply.

While dogs are in day care, the staff teaches them five commands: sit, stay, come, no noise, and leave it.

Rudy was curious about some of the tiny dogs and continually stood over top of them. He was tripped up by the last command.

Cullum, for 12 years the chief operating officer of an international veterinary diagnostic company, runs Best Friends Fur Ever with her husband, Pat, and a staff of trainers, behaviorists and others integral to running the center.

"We could see the vision of what we wanted before the building was here," Kelly Cullum said. The first step was research and visits to other dog day cares across the country.

The 2-acre lot to the back of the building includes a beach area and another 1 1/2 acres set to open in warmer weather that includes a pond and space to run.

Grooming is available, as well as do-it-yourself doggie wash stations, and Cullum, also a certified trainer, offers various training programs for dogs.

Woof Watchers, a program for overweight dogs, is one of the more popular.

After a consultation with the vet, the dog begins a one-month training program aimed at shedding extra pounds.

And with spring break around the corner, most dogs need some toning.

Some people intend to exercise their dogs, Cullum said, but it doesn't always turn out that way.

"When a dog comes here," Cullum said, "he's guaranteed to get exercise, so it takes some of the strain off of the busy owners.

"Here's a good example," Cullum said, as Basil, a slightly overweight black Labrador mix waddled by. "When he leaves today I'm going to advise his owners to check with the vet about Woof Watchers."

Dogs at the day care must be spayed or neutered, be current on all vaccinations and pass a screening test.

The facility is catching on with area residents, and more dogs are beginning to stay there.

"Doggie day care is a new concept in Harford County," she said, "but once people realize the benefits of it, they'll love it."

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