Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
July 5 2013
Sometimes our dogs communicate with us on levels that are surprising and revelatory. A case in point, having three dogs means that when I work from home, I’m kept busy doing door duty for them—they constantly ask to go out into the backyard, and a few minutes later, after they erupt into a chorus of “chase the squirrel,” I need get them back inside. There they’ll settle down for a few minutes, but then their asking to go out begins anew. Lola, our seven-year-old Pointer, takes her duties on squirrel-patrol very seriously. The two smaller dogs support her cause and cheer her on with a cacophony of barking, whining and high-pitched baying.
One day last week, I finally had it (as I’m sure the neighbors had as well) and decided that the dogs had to stay inside if I were to do any work. Charlie, our newest family member, is a gem of a Terrier boy and if he isn’t already glued to my side, he has spot-on recall, so he came in first. Kit, our Kentucky coy-girl, takes more coaxing but rattling a bag of treats did the trick. Lola is another story, she gets totally transfixed staring up at the taunting-bushy tails, who inspire her to run circles around the trees up on her back legs, like a crazed circus dog. This resulted in a sweaty and not-so merry chase as I tried to grab hold of her. But I finally got her, so in she went too.
I sat down to my computer, and within a few minutes, Lola walked up and looked at me motioning to the back door. I told her, no way am I going to let you out again, but she did this a few more times, even using her chin to gently tap on my hand. But I held firm, and ignored her pleas. A few minutes passed and I decided to go into the office after all, and take the dogs with me, so I called to them to get leashed-up.
But loyal Charlie was missing, and once again, Lola looked at me, and ran to the back door. I then heard a little whimper, and opened the door to find that Charlie had been locked out and was softly crying to come in. His cries were so muted, that I hadn’t heard him, although big sister Lola had. Now that the door was opened, I thought that Lola would bolt out, but instead she and Charlie did a merry little dance, greeting each other as if they had been parted for hours (and not the few minutes it was). I thought that was so touching, and so telling too. All along Lola was signaling not that she wanted out but that Charlie was stranded—but I didn’t have the good sense to figure this out.
It was an eye-opener to me, marking a “Lassie” moment for Lola. It was the first time—or the first time that I “got” it—that she was trying to cue me not for herself but for someone else. Could this be an altruistic act? What do you think, have your dogs done something similar?
Dogdom's Grande Dame
July 5 2013
The 80-plus-year-old writer Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has a new book, A Million Years with You: A Memoir of Life Observed. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her amazing life and her observations of the natural world.
Bark: What first drew you to dogs?
Bark: In this book, you write that the Bushmen regarded and respected lions, and were rarely attacked by them, unlike their pastoralist neighbors, who attacked lions and, in turn, were attacked by them. Do you think the same dynamic may have existed between early humans and wolves (and protodogs)?
Bark: The Hidden Life of Dogs was perhaps the first best-selling dog book; have you been surprised by how many have followed? And do you still believe that dogs “want” other dogs?
Bark: What do you think inspires our ongoing fascination with dogs?
Arizona group steps up to help
June 28 2013
I got to “meet” this adorable, adoptable dog, Pippy, a Pit mix, this morning when I opened my “smiling dog” email messages. I also got to learn about a remarkable rescue group in Phoenix, AZ called M.A.I.N., Medical Animals in Need. More about them later, but as for the two-year-old, Pippy, he came into their foster program when they found him at the county shelter (where he came in as a stray) suffering from a very sad condition known as “happy tail,” something that I had never heard of. As they note in his description:
"The concrete walls of his kennel have caused his tail to split open and his tail cannot be treated properly as long as he remains at the shelter. Contrary to the term, Happy Tail is actually very dangerous. Dogs end up with this ailment by wagging their tails so much that the concrete walls of the kennels split open the tips of their tails—causing infection in some cases and a bloody mess in most. Some dogs come into MCACC with Happy Tail, and others develop it after a short while. The danger, of course, is that it can make the dog go from being very adoptable to very unadoptable—through no fault of its own. They wag their tails and try to be as friendly as possible, and this is what they get for all of their hard work."
As with most of the dogs who M.A.I.N. rescues, his condition was treated by the kind vets at the Bethany Animal Hospital in Phoenix. Dr. Katie Andre and Dr. Melissa Miller work with M.A.I.N. to ensure that all the animals are treated and well-cared for. Then fosters step up to complete the final step of a dog’s rehabilitation, and help to find forever homes for the dogs. What really impressed me when I looked around their site is how much information is provided for each dog, including notes from foster homes and trainers so you get to really know each dog. And then they have wonderful videos (of before and after) like the one below, which makes a adoption all that more possible.
M.A.I.N.'s mission is statement: M.A.I.N. Team is an Arizona based 501(c)3 all volunteer group focused on identifying, transporting, aiding and promoting animals from Arizona shelters who need immediate and sometimes costly medical attention the shelters are unable to provide.
Good news about their dogs, they seem to be open to out-of-area adoptions, if you are interested in any of them, do let them know! Or if you are in the Phoenix area you might want to step up and volunteer to help or become a foster for this program.
Dog Joy at its finest
June 26 2013
The other day I was looking through a round of recent submissions to our Smiling Dog contest, when I came upon this one which truly made my day! It is our first video entry, and it could not have been more perfect. Annette K. seems to be inspiring her Boxer pups, Sable and Woody to give her a big smile and in doing so, has spread their joy to thousands. We posted this on our FB page and already almost 50,0000 people have viewed it.
Her pup-perfect pitch even woke up my dozing dogs who seemed to want to join in on the fun.
One comment on FB, said that they "remind me of the old SNL skit..."we're just two wild and crazy guys." What do you think? And tell us, how do your dogs greet you? Do they have their own happy dance?
June 22 2013
Just what does it take to get people to pick up their dog’s poop? In Brunete, a town in Spain, they has come up with a fairly ingenious way of cracking down on non-poop-picking-up dog owners. Not only did their strategy work but a media campaign was developed for free by advertising agency McCann, and it went on to win the “Sol de Plata” award at a recent Ibero-American Advertising Festival.
So just what did they do?
Community volunteers strolled the town’s streets looking for offending dog owners, those who totally ignored the poop and did not scoop. They came up to the owner and struck up a casual conversation to discover the name of the dog.
“With the name of the dog and the breed it was possible to identify the owner from the registered pet database held in the town hall,” explained a spokesman from the council.
Here’s the really clever part.
The volunteers then scooped up the excrement and packaged it in a box branded with town hall insignia and marked ‘Lost Property’ and delivered by courier to the pet owners home.
In all, 147 “express poop” deliveries were made during the course of the week in February and the town with 10,000 residents has since reported a 70 per cent drop in the amount of dog mess found in its streets.
The year before a similar attempt to tackle the issue saw offending dog owners chased by a remote controlled dog mess on wheels with the label “Don’t leave me—pick me up.”
Does your community have a creative solution to poop offenders?
June 18 2013
It has happened again, Natura Pet Food, owned by P&G, has issued yet another recall.
From a press release issued by Natura Pet Food, the company is recalling all lot codes, all sizes, all UPC’s of Innova, Evo, California Natural, Healthwise, Karma, and Mother Nature pet foods and treats.
Natura Press Release:
Natura Pet Issues Voluntary Recall of Specialized Dry Pet Foods Due to Possible Health Risk
FREMONT, NEBRASKA, June 18, 2013
Natura Pet Products is voluntarily recalling specific lots of dry pet food because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.
Healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms. Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.
Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.
These products were packaged in a single production facility. During routine FDA testing, a single lot tested positive for the presence of Salmonella. There have been no reports of pet or human illness associated with this product. In an abundance of caution, Natura is voluntarily recalling all products with expiration dates prior to June 10, 2014.
The affected products are sold in bags through veterinary clinics, select pet specialty retailers, and online in the United States and Canada. No canned wet food is affected by this announcement.
The affected products are:
Innova Dry dog and cat food and biscuits/bars/treats
EVO dry dog, cat and ferret food and biscuits/bars/treats
California Natural dry dog and cat foods and biscuits/bars/treats
Healthwise dry dog and cat foods
Karma dry dog foods
Mother Nature biscuits/bars/treats
Consumers who have purchased the specific dry pet foods listed should discard them.
For further information or a product replacement or refund call Natura toll-free at 800-224-6123. (Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM CST).
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
What’s gotten into food safety?
June 14 2013
We’re barely halfway into the year and already, there have been a flurry of pet food recalls. The sheer number of brands has been surprising, as have the names of the brands involved; we’ve seen recalls from some of the industry’s most respected companies. How and what we feed our dogs (and ourselves, for that matter) is such a fundamental issue that we’ve decided to do a series of articles on pet food safety, starting with a report on a few of the most recent recalls. We examine the reasons behind them, lessons learned and what we might expect in the future.
Until very recently, all recalls have been voluntary (a confusing term that can lead consumers to believe that a recall is optional), triggered for a variety of reasons: mislabeling, misbranding, the inclusion of potential allergens or adulterants, or contamination with a pathogen such as one of the varieties of salmonella. And some products are recalled simply because they were produced at the same factory during the same timeframe as the affected food.
So far, no pet food recall has been as widespread as the one in 2007, which involved the Menu melamine scandal. If Hurricane Katrina taught policymakers the importance of the human/ pet bond, the ’07 Menu Foods recall did the same for the focus on the safety of the food that we feed our pets. As William Hubbard, a former FDA official, notes, “I do think that this pet food thing has shown people … that something needs to be fixed. If this is not a wake-up call, then people are so asleep, they are catatonic.”
It took a while for Congress to fully awaken, but in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given more power with the passage and then signing into law by President Obama of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The act marks the most sweeping food-safety reform since the Great Depression.
This new act will soon be putting broader issues into the spotlight. For the first time, the FDA will be empowered to more aggressively regulate and enforce preventive measures. Recalls will no longer just be voluntary, but rather, can be mandatory. In our opinion, given this new regulatory power and the plethora of places from which pet food manufacturers source their ingredients, the number of recalls will surely rise. Closer attention and accountability are good for consumers and the animals we feed, and definitely something we need to be informed about.
RECALL CLASS OF 2013
We have the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to thank for finding what might be the contributing factor: the department identified antibiotic residues not approved for poultry in the U.S. in the treats. This spurred Del Monte, the makers of Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats, and Nestle Purina, manufacturers of Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, as well as others, to finally initiate a nationwide removal of these products from store shelves.
Though the FDA continued to claim that “there is no evidence that raises health concerns, and that these results are highly unlikely to be related to the reports of illnesses,” the findings were enough to convince the slow-moving food industry that they needed to get the products out of circulation. The FDA, which still considers this to be an open investigation, notes that they “welcome additional information about New York’s testing methodology …” To date, the treats are thought to have contributed to the deaths of roughly 500 dogs and nine cats. If New York’s state inspectors had not found the illegal antibiotic residue, those treats would still be available. Chalk one up for the state team!
DOMESTIC PRODUCTS TAKE A HIT
In February of this year, Kasel had the dubious distinction of being the first pet food manufacturer to possibly face a first-ever FDA/FSMA mandatory recall notice, a threat based on inspections by an FDA team that found a number of infractions: “All of the finished pet treat product samples and 48 out of 87 environmental samples collected during the inspection tested positive for salmonella. More than 10 different species of salmonella were found in the firm’s products and manufacturing facility, indicating multiple sources of contamination.” The jerky treats were sold through a number of big-box retailers, including Target, Petco, Sam’s Club and Costco.
Other jerky products made in Kasel’s Denver plant were drawn into the recall as well. Bixbi, an up-and-coming independent brand from Boulder, had batches of their products swept up, and Nutri-Vet, a more established brand, was also named, although it was noted that none of these products had tested positive for bacteria. (I contacted the owners of Bixbi and Kasel, who responded to my questions; I also placed numerous calls to Nutri-Vet, who didn’t reply.)
Treats aren’t the only products in which salmonella has been found, however. Natura, a premium holistic brand now owned by Procter & Gamble, had its first recall experience this year after one of their dry-food products tested positive for salmonella by Michigan inspectors. When I spoke in late March to Jason Taylor, a P&G spokesperson, he said the company was still in the process of trying to recreate the production situation at the time the contamination happened; they were, however, sure that it had occurred during a post-extrusion step. “We have an extrusion [cooking] process that is scientifically proven to kill pathogens … So it probably happened either at the dryer or packaging line.” According to Taylor, the company has a complex manufacturing process in place to ensure that their products are contamination- free. Their microbial-mitigation process, which has more than 100 steps, addresses each step the food goes through, from raw material through packaging.
Taylor said that the company was fairly confident that the problem was limited to products manufactured during the two-week period beginning December 17, 2012, and ending January 2, 2013. Since then, we learned that they extended the recall for products manufactured up through March 24, 2013— making this a larger-scale recall.
RAW FOOD PRODUCTS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
While most of Honest Kitchen’s rawfood sources are in North America, they also get some produce from Europe and exotic fruits from Asia. Surprisingly, they get their parsley from Egypt. Yearround availability of organic and/or human-grade ingredients at a reasonable price is one of the challenges faced by smaller food manufacturers like Honest Kitchen, and is the reason for this wide-ranging sourcing.
Since this incident, Honest Kitchen has switched to another parsley supplier (also in Egypt) and added a new step to their processing of dried herbs and leafy greens, treating them with a gentle steam sterilization to protect against microbial pathogens.
More raw food companies were hit with recalls in March, when the Minnesota State Department of Agriculture found salmonella, first in Steve’s Real Food Turducken patties, and a week later in a two-pound tube of Bravo! Chicken Blend raw frozen food diet the agency had purchased from a local pet store.* I talked with veterinarian Heidi Kassenborg, director of Dairy and Food Inspections for Minnesota, to get a better idea about her state’s pathogen inspection process.
Many have observed that while salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen, few dogs actually become ill from it, and I asked her why the FDA and her agency have such a strong concern about its presence in pet food. She explained that they are charged with finding adulterants in food, and “in food items, salmonella is considered to be an adulterant.” As for the USDA’s salmonella-tolerance level for raw poultry (now at 7.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 1996), she confirmed that “in raw food, like poultry and beef, it is not considered to be an adulterant.” Basically, there is no tolerance for adulterants in finished food items, and even raw diet is considered a “food item.”
Kassenborg explained the high concern about pet food, saying that since pet food is handled by humans, they are exposed to any pathogens that may be in it; these pathogens can also be excreted in the pet’s stool. Given that salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the frail or elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, this is indeed a compelling reason for concern.
She went on to say that there would be increased surveillance now that raw diet has tested positive for pathogens. “Once things are found in one food type, they start looking at it and testing more. We have an obligation to find out if it is a widespread problem. And if so, is there a way to produce it better without it becoming contaminated?”
Doug Lueders, supervisor of Minnesota’s Commercial Feed Regulatory Program and the person responsible for its product-sampling plan, concurs. “If we have a category that has had few [contaminants] or none, we may switch our emphasis to one where we have had a problem. I think we will raise the percentage [of resources] that we have devoted to raw in the past; that, however, will be at the expense of something else.”
Resource allocation is a real issue. Other states have registered positive hits on items like jerky and kibble, so even though there might not be direct interstate coordination of efforts, Lueders says, since “Michigan found salmonella in one brand of pet food, it probably doesn’t serve much practical purpose for us to look at the same brand ourselves. There is an old adage that says an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we wouldn’t continue to test the same pet food for salmonella in hopes of finding more salmonella, or hoping to find that it is clean …”
THE PRICE OF SAFETY
Prior to processing a food in their facilities, suppliers must certify that the food is pathogen-free. Throughout the manufacturing process, pathogens are tested for and eradicated. A few NARPA members use what is known as highpressure processing or high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), which disrupts a pathogen’s cell walls. Miller says that this very expensive system is considered by the general food industry to be stateof- the-art in controlling pathogens.
Companies like Bravo! also batchtest and follow a test-and-hold system, meaning that finished products are not shipped from their plants until negative pathogen reports are in hand. A Bravo! spokesperson described the company’s process: “Most established companies in raw diet own their own facilities. We [at Bravo] come out of the meat business and our facility is a USDA facility for human food, so we have standards we have to keep up. We have a USDA inspector who checks the plant daily to make sure that [things are] being done by the books [and] we have a HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points] plan in place. What consumers should be looking for are companies who use ‘test and release’ and batch testing, and have HACCP plans.” He also noted that the company’s website will soon have a function that will allow consumers to enter an item number and “best used by” date and receive test results for E. coli, Listeria and salmonella.
This type of high-level testing increases the cost of the final product; as Miller observes, “you can’t add a whole level of pathogen controls and not have a resulting increase in cost to consumers.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
But while smaller brands can be devastated by such events, companies who have worked hard and long to develop a loyal customer base can, most likely, recover from them, as can internationally distributed brands such as Natura.
I don’t believe that most of these pet food companies and manufacturers acted recklessly. But after a recall, it shouldn’t be business as usual. Measures need to be taken to identify where the contamination came into the system, and pathogen controls need to be improved. Changes need to be made—for some businesses, that may mean switching manufacturers, raw-material suppliers, warehouses or distributors, or even instructing pet stores on proper handling and storage techniques for their products.
It’s also critically important that they pay attention to how customers are notified (and receive compensation or refunds). For example, I commend Honest Kitchen for quickly alerting its customers via email, social media and website notices. Retaining the trust of customers requires companies to be transparent, forthcoming and ready to make production and sourcing modifications, as they and a few other companies have done.
Realistically speaking, it’s unlikely that the food system can be made 100 percent safe. Nonetheless, we need to know we can trust that those who make the food we feed our companion animals are held to the same standards as those who supply the food we eat ourselves.
Over the years, we’ve become well aware of the concept of food sourcing. In addition to knowing exactly what goes into the food we feed our dogs and cats, we also need to know where it comes from. How the finished products are processed, packaged and distributed is also vitally important. As P&G’s Taylor observed, pathogen elimination is challenging when working with large quantities of raw meat and poultry.
Do some food processors take shortcuts to save money? For some, that might be the case, as evidenced by the huge 2012 recall involving a Diamond co-processing plant in Gaston, S.C. , which ultimately affected 17 brands representing more than 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food. Because a rare strain of Salmonella infantis was found in some product samples, all brands, ranging from high-end Wellness to Costco’s brand, Kirkland, were recalled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 49 people in 20 states and two in Canada who came in contact with pet food made at this facility are confirmed to have been affected. When the FDA inspected the plant, they found numerous problems with the contamination-containment processes, including the use of cardboard and duct tape on some of the equipment. How they got away with this—how they managed to fly under the radar of the companies for which they were making food—is anyone’s guess.
Yet another problem that cries out for better monitoring involves actually getting recalled products off store shelves. A reporter for a Colorado television station found bags of the tainted Chinese jerky in stores such as Safeway, K-Mart and Albertsons almost a month after it had been recalled. I learned about this from attorney Jennifer Reba Edwards of the Animal Law Center in Wheat Ridge, Colo. As Edwards points out, “The bigger problem is [that] once recalled, the products are still getting to the end user. Retailers are not pulling the products from the shelf and you can buy them online; that is almost a bigger problem than the recall itself—preventing it [from] being available to the end user.” Who is responsible for this step? Who should be held accountable? This is definitely a problem to track and one that consumers need to be aware of.
Within the dog community, the issue of salmonella is controversial; some question its potential to harm dogs. However, I don’t believe this is debatable. There are too many instances in which people have been damaged by cross-contamination or mishandling in the home of food intended for pets. The FDA considers it to be an adulterant in both human and animal foods, as well they should. More to the point, as Jennifer Edwards says, “I’m pregnant; I would really be upset if I were to be exposed to salmonella. It goes beyond protecting our animals—we have to protect our people as well.”
If ever there was a reason to look at the big picture, this is it. We have only one food supply, and it should be safe for both humans and animals. This is, and ought to be, the standard that foodsafety regulators, the food industry and we—the consumers—need to meet.
*A Bravo! company spokesperson told me that the product that tested positive had been tested by a third-party inspector before leaving the plant and had a negative-contamination finding. In an unusual step, the FDA allowed that point to be included in their recall statement.
Is he up for it?
June 11 2013
For the next three months John Oliver will be temp hosting “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” while Stewart is off making a movie. Last year when I had the good fortune to be invited to do a behind-the-scenes feature about The Daily Show’s dogs, I talked with Oliver about his Golden Retriever pup Hoagie, his first-ever dog. I asked him about imagining having her on the show with him, perhaps playing the “straight woman” to his more biting, take-down persona that he assumes as a “news correspondent” on the show. He replied that just wouldn’t work because “fundamentally” she would “humanize” him. And that Hoagie wouldn’t let him “do my job, it would bring up too much compassion whenever she is around.”
We were reminded of that seeing a recent interview with the New York Times when Oliver noted that “all of my interview training is built around trying to take someone down.” But he recognizes that has to change now that he is sitting in Stewart’s chair, and he goes on to say that “When you have, say, Seth Rogen in front of you, the point is not to destroy him and the construct of beliefs he’s built up over his lifetime. It’s going to be talking to him about his new movie. It will be nice just to have a broader conversation where jokes can occur, but the primary focus is to have an interesting interview. It’ll be nice to be nicer to people.”
So can we suggest to Oliver that if he finds it challenging making the leap into jocular “nice host” affability that he look dogward to his Hoagie who can “assist” him to play the part. Or as Jon Stewart told us “there is nothing better than dogs, and they bring on the best in us too, nothing better.” Being a Golden, she definitely would be a natural and have the guests eating out of her hand, or vice versa.
Either way, we’ll be rooting for Oliver. He really is a hilarious guy who kept us in stitches and howling throughout our chat.
New Order, William Wegman and Fay, the adroit dog
June 8 2013
The “gotta-dance-to-it” song “Blue Monday” by New Order was originally released on March 7, 1983 and went on to be the best-selling 12-inch single of all time. We are late in mentioning the 30th anniversary of its release, but it still stands out as one of the favorite tunes of Bark’s editors and staff. We have another great excuse to write about it because in 1988 the Manchester group asked William Wegman (one of our favorite dog photographers and artist) to produce this four- minute-long video starring—besides the band members—Wegman’s young Weimaraner-muse, Fay.
New Order-Blue Monday from Resistol 5000 on Vimeo.
Back in 2011, William Wegman posted his remembrance about how this collaboration came about:
“About twenty years ago, Michael Shamberg (not the one that was involved with TVTV and later produced ‘Pulp Fiction,’ but the art world one, who was also involved with filming and producing) invited me and the fabled Robert Breer to collaborate on a video for New Order's song “Blue Monday.” The rough idea was that I would shoot video of the group performing and give it to Robert to work with his animation process.
I had just begun to work with my dog Fay who was about a year old at the time. Fay was obsessive about the tennis ball. Her eyes bulged in its presence. Some of the band members were Fay-like, I thought. (I’m not sure what I mean by that.) Nevertheless they got along well as I shot video of the group and Fay's hypnotic ball/pendulum involvement.
I liked the song but I have no idea what our video means to it.”
Hope you like this song and the video. For another memorable and very unique version performed in 2012 by the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir from Wales. And to see a more current version by New Order and more of their music, see a great concert video of their 2012 Berlin appearance.
We think Blue Monday is a perfect song to get up and dance with your pup on Monday—or any day for that matter. Do you have a favorite song to dance to with your dog?
Web alternatives to kennels
June 1 2013
If cage-free, off-leash accommodations were the last big trend to sweep the boarding business, than sleepovers with regular folk are the new sweet spot between home and kennel. Today, several websites connect dog owners seeking a more hands-on, affordable boarding experience for their pups with dog-loving hosts eager to open their homes to canine visitors but with varying degrees of pet care experience.
Launched in Phoenix in 2004, the same year as Facebook, SleepoverRover.com helped pioneer the current web-based wave of hosting dogs as guests in private homes. With experience in pet retail and grooming and a desire to find a low stress alternative to kennels, co-founder Maggie Brown set about recruiting retirees and stay-at-home parents to take care of dogs in their homes.
Unlike newer sites, Sleepover Rover representatives evaluate each host and inspect each home, in some cases, providing dog-proofing and behavior advice. Sleepover Rover actively facilitates each match, handles payment (splitting the fee with hosts), and follows up on each home stay. Sleepover hosts are located in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver, and in Southern California from San Diego to Santa Barbara.
In 2011, two sites—DogVacay.com and Rover.com—launched more open-market versions of the same concept. Like AirBnB, these sites allow dog owners and dog sitters to post profiles for free. Owners are responsible for selecting a sitter and making arrangements, although they pay through the site, as well as checking references, which include onsite and other social media reviews. The sites take a percentage, from 3 to 15 percent, of fees collected by the dog sitters.
Started by a husband-and-wife team, DogVacay was originally limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now has more than 10,000 qualified hosts (DogVacay interviews hosts and checks references) around the country, concentrated in urban areas also including New York, Miami, Dallas, DC, Chicago and Atlanta. The hosts make an average of $1,000/month.
A well-funded, Seattle-based startup, Rover.com started by putting down roots in the Pacific Northwest but is now actively expanding in 52 cities.
In a recent New York Times blog specifically about DogVacacy the important issue of insurance was examined. While traditional homeowner's policies provide coverage that protects you in the event that your own dog bites someone, typically if a “guest” dog does likewise, this wouldn't be covered. You would need to acquire specialty insurance coverage for pet businesses, similar to groomers, boarding kennels, etc.
The Times article, explains:
"DogVacay's Web site says it includes “complimentary” insurance for hosts and guests with every booking. The free version covers veterinary care for guest dogs and dogs owned by the host, up to $2,000; it doesn't, however, include liability coverage for the host.
Hosts can pay to upgrade to “premium” insurance that does include liability coverage of up to $4 million, said Aaron Hirschhorn. The coverage is offered through Kennel Pro, an affiliate of the insurer Mourer-Foster.
DogVacay's site links to Kennel Pro's site, which says its policies start at $350 a year, which sounds a bit steep for someone hosting a dog only occasionally. But Hirschhorn said DogVacay was able to offer expanded coverage for $48 a year to its hosts through a special arrangement with the carrier. (The more affordable premium isn't cited on the Web site.) The fee is deducted from the first booking, so hosts don't have to pay the premium upfront, he said. He estimated that half of DogVacay's hosts bought the upgraded coverage."
Some local jurisdictions might also have laws about the need to have a business license. In Houston, for example, you might need a kennel license and an inspection.
Even though a few of these services do initial “vetting” of the hosts for you, and urge you to meet the “host” before you finalize your arrangements, some comments on the Times piece express concerns about leaving a dog with someone you only met on the internet. Have you used any of these services? Would you be interested in using them, or even being a host?
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