Universal Press Syndicate
Anyone who has ever lived in a big city has seen dog walkers -- people who take pets out for a midday potty break while owners are at work.
But a dog runner? While many a runner has a dog as a training partner, ultra-marathoner Bob Halpenny of Sacramento, Calif., may be forging new trails as an entrepreneur in the booming pet-services industry.
"It just seemed a perfect match for me," said Halpenny, who started his business at the beginning of the year and now has five dogs in training with him up to three times a week. "I love running, and I love dogs."
Halpenny's On The Trail Dog Fitness may be a rarity for now in the pet-service industry, but he's in good company otherwise. Service businesses aimed at pet lovers are booming, according to industry experts.
"This trend is being fed by people with no kids -- either those who are empty-nesters, or young people who are delaying having children for career or other reasons," said Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, which is based in Greenwich, Conn. "When my kids were at home, they let the dog out, walked the dog, whatever. Now you have people who need these things done, and they're willing to spend on everything from pet-sitting to poop-scooping."
It's a trend that has picked up more than just poop -- revenues from these businesses are up 15 percent in the last two years, according to an APPMA survey. And the demographics are ripe for even more innovative pet-related businesses to start up.
"We've seen a lot of growth, especially in the last couple of years," said Mike Dillon of Dillon Media LLC, an independent pet-industry consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif. "Every segment of the pet industry is moving up market, driven by the affluent, by people who make upward of $70,000 a year."
Good thing, too, because while pet-care services aren't as expensive as comparable ones for humans, they can add up for regular users of such services. For example, Halpenny charges $20 per dog per run, with packages available for multiple dogs and regular customers. Compared to the cost of a personal trainer who works with people, the service is a bargain. But it likely seems pricey to anyone whose idea of getting a dog some exercise consists of throwing a tennis ball a few times.
For those whose high-energy dogs are bouncing off the walls and are indulging in destructive behavior because of boredom, however, a dog runner or a doggie day-care center can seem a bargain at any price. Vetere notes that such services can be a way for people with busy lives to be able to keep pets.
"I guess nothing surprised me after I saw the poop-scooping businesses start up," said Vetere, who noted that this particular industry is so strong, there's even a national organization and franchise possibilities. Even industry consultant Dillon is drafting on the success of pet-service businesses: He started his company in 2001 after the dot-com implosion and never looked back.
"I was laid off and turned off by technology," he said. "My last three jobs were very disappointing. This is a lot more fun."
"Fun" surely isn't the word anyone would apply to scooping poop for a living, but Vetere says the relative ease at which pet-related service businesses can be started is part of their appeal. And many offer flexible hours, which means people who can't do or can't stand the 9-to-5 grind find them attractive.
"There's good money to be made, and the start-up costs aren't necessarily high," Vetere said. "I know a lot of college students who can use their flexible hours to their advantage and start a pet-service business."
Halpenny's no college kid, but he saw the advantage of combining his love of dogs with his love of running. And he says you'll never see a happier group of runners than the dogs who train with him.
That's a change from working with people, says Halpenny, who also helps to prepare human runners for marathons.
"The dogs are always ready to run," he says. "It's never too cold, too early, too wet for a dog. I show up, and they can't wait to get going."
New pet businesses push phone book changes
The addition of new kinds of pet-care services has had telephone directories adjusting their categories. Business listings in many area phone books have had to expand pet-care listings in ways previous generations could never have imagined, according to Veterinary Economics magazine.
In recent years, animal chiropractors and doggie day care have been added as categories in some phone books, joining such longtime pet-service industry stalwarts as dog training and pet boarding -- not to mention veterinarians. Want someone to clean up your yard on a regular basis? Look under Pet Waste Removal. -- Gina Spadafori
New pet door? Keep the flap up
Q: I recently installed a panel pet door in a sliding-glass door. My dog will not use it. Only once was I successful in tenderly pushing him through it so he could see how it works. Last night, I tried to coach him through it with his leash on, but his mind was made up that he wasn't going anywhere near the door. I even placed some treats on the other side of the flap, and he still wouldn't budge.
I read that I should first try taping the flap up so he can see that it's an outlet to the patio and then, over time, let the flap down. Do you have any ideas? Gus is 12 years old and has never used a doggie door before. -- L.H., via e-mail
A: The easiest way for an animal to learn to use a pet door is to have another pet who's already using it. But since that's not an option for you, you'll now have to start over with the training.
Start by taping the flap securely out of the way, or by removing it completely for the time being. If you are going to tape it up, be sure you use enough material to keep the flap from falling down. If your dog gets hit in the nose, the training will take even longer.
Yes, you'll have to deal with bugs for a while. But it's the only way to show your dog that this is the way in and out.
Next, every time your dog needs to go out, let yourself out the sliding-glass door and close it behind you. Then call your dog, while kneeling on the other side of the flapless dog door and coaxing him with praise and treats. Chances are your dog will look through the wide-open door and come right on through. Never open the sliding-glass door to let your dog out. From now on, go out without him and make the dog door the only way out.
After he's going in and out with confidence, set the flap halfway up so he can still see through opening. Once that's working, you can put the flap all the way down.
Assuming your dog is in good health at age 12, with no mental impairments, he's perfectly capable of learning to use the dog door. And assuming that the dog door is level with the floor and that he has no arthritis issues, he should be able to use it just fine as long as he can get around on his own four feet. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Give your cat choices in boxes
Just as some people like rap music and others prefer classical music, cats have personal preferences when it comes to the litter box. If a cat doesn't like something about the box, forget about him using it. If your home has turned into a giant litter box, consider these strategies to get the cat mess back in the box.
Think "litter box buffet." Provide a wide variety of boxes and litter types -- some covered boxes, others open. Some cats like to beach it in the sand, while others prefer clay that doesn't stick to their paws. Big and deep is always better except for arthritic cats, where lower sides are better.
Avoid high-traffic areas in your home when placing the box. How relaxed would you feel in a public toilet that didn't have stall doors? Remember that all cats value their privacy.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Got kids? Adopt a grown-up pet
A dog or cat can be a kid's best friend. And for many families, an older pet is the best option. The nation's animal shelters and rescue organizations are full of older animals eager for homes and eager to please. And thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, healthy senior pets (7 years of age or older) still have a lot of life and loyal companionship to give.
These wonderful seniors offer advantages for today's busy households. Compared to the average kitten or puppy, they're generally calmer, often already house-trained, and aren't as likely to chew furniture, shoes or fingers.
Before bringing a new pet home, learn as much as possible about the animal. Many pets up for adoption come with histories that tell whether they've lived with children or how they get along with them. And make sure you and your child spend time with the pet in a place where everyone can interact. -- Dr. Marty Becker
The fix is in when it comes to a healthy pet
Neutering can prevent the deaths of millions of unwanted pets every year, while preventing health and behavior problems in those animals who are safely in loving homes already.
Neutered pets can't produce unwanted offspring, and they experience far fewer behavioral and medical problems. From a behavioral standpoint, early neutering will prevent the aggressiveness, territory-marking, fighting and roaming of both dogs and cats. Many of the pets hit by cars are unneutered males who will roam in search of mates or territory. Female pets who aren't spayed face a common infection of the uterus called pyometra, which is a life-threatening condition requiring surgery.
As for cats, all that catting around almost guarantees their exposure to contagious and mostly fatal diseases.
Medically, the news is better yet. Neutered pets have a greatly reduced incidence of some forms of cancer, along with a reduced incidence of urinary tract disease. Early neutering helps prevent prostate disease in male dogs and decreases the chances of your female pet getting mammary cancer to almost zero.
Forget that old idea that pets should be spayed after the first heat. Better to do it before the hormones kick in, from both a medical and behavioral standpoint.
Veterinarians used to recommend neutering and spaying pets after the age of 6 months old. Now we've found that it is simple, safe and effective to sterilize pets as young as 12 weeks old. At an early age, the procedure has less bleeding and is easier to perform because of less body fat. Best of all, it can be accomplished at the time of your pets' last set of puppy or kitten vaccinations.
If you love pets as much as I do, let's work together to halt the birth of unwanted pets. And encourage your friends and family members to spay/neuter their pets. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Spending on Reptiles
Although some reptilian or amphibian pets can be expensive to acquire and set up, they're generally not that expensive to maintain. Popular purchases reported in 2004 survey include (multiple answers allowed):
Glass habitat: 64 percent
Cage furniture: 58 percent
Books on care: 54 percent
Fluorescent UVB bulb: 38 percent
Incandescent bulb: 39 percent
Bedding: 30 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON THE WEB
Humane handling of feral cat problems
For years, the accepted way of handling a surplus of feral cats -- domestic cats gone wild -- was to trap them and kill them.
Humane advocates thought there had to be a better way. So in recent years the practice of trap, neuter and release (TNR) has gained ground. Ferals are trapped, vaccinated and neutered, and then released to the area from which they originally came. Kittens and cats young enough to be tamed are removed and placed as pets. Maintained in place by people who feed them, the remaining feral cats will keep others from colonizing an area as their own numbers slowly dwindle.
Alley Cats Allies (www.alleycat.org) is one of the groups most active in advocating TNR programs to deal with feral cats. The group's Web site is a must-see resource for anyone trying to cope with spring's kitten boom. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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