FRAZER, Pa. — Karen Bannister had no idea what she unleashed when she opened the doors to Karen's K-9 Care.
In April 1999, Bannister thought she was taking a risk when she opened a day care for dogs. She quickly found out she was wrong--18 months after opening, Bannister's business has more than quadrupled.
"I started with no more than 10 dogs. Now, I have about 44 dogs in day care," she said. "This is definitely a growing trend. There are a lot of people out there who want to open their own day care."
Bannister is part of a growing number of individuals and companies who are providing day-care services for dogs across the country.
"The phone rings off the hook here," she said. "It seems like there's more of a doggy boom than a baby boom."
The trend to place dogs in day care began in the mid-1990s when the San Francisco SPCA began one of the first dog day cares.
Judith Kaufman, now a Connecticut-based pet day care and animal behavior consultant, was among those who helped run the SPCA program during its early years.
"This was a program that had to be started," Kaufman said. "When everyone in the family gets home at night, they are still too busy to play with the dog, and dogs can get bored and destructive. Dogs are able to get their mental and physical needs met in day care."
Kaufman said the SPCA's day care became popular shortly after opening. By the time she left a few years ago, there was a waiting list of more than 100 people.
Since San Francisco, Kaufman has helped set up similar day cares all over the country. Among those she worked with was Best Friends Pet Resorts and Salons, based in Norwalk, Conn. She helped the pet-care company start its day-care program, which is now offered at 10 of Best Friends' 40 centers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Georgia.
Driving by Karen's K-9 Care, located along busy Route 30 about 40 miles west of Philadelphia, dogs can be seen in the yard chasing tennis balls, lounging in the sun, hanging out in groups and running around in circles.
To ensure the dogs are compatible, Bannister requires each dog be trained and socialized before entering the group.
Even though all the dogs must be spayed and neutered, the males and females are separated. Bannister offers group and private training lessons and screens the dogs before they are accepted into day care.
"A happy dog is a well-trained dog," she said. "All the dogs here get along. There are occasional dog squabbles, but they know they will get scolded if they do something wrong."
Dogs that refuse to listen are placed in time-out crates inside the facility.
Bannister said most people are willing to pay the $17 a day to send their dog to day care because they don't want to leave their pets alone.
"Dogs are people's children and they want them to be happy," she said. "People drop their dog off and say 'OK, son, have a good day,' and when they pick up their dog, they ask how he or she did. I almost feel like I should do report cards for my clients. There is a real relationship between owners and their dogs."
Bannister and 10 counselors keep the dogs busy throughout the day, playing and running. But for those dogs who tire of playing, they are free to nap inside.
Cynthia and Steven Boyd of Malvern, Pa., started bringing Kaiser, their 40-pound German shepherd, to Karen's K-9 Care in June after taking lessons from Bannister. Since then, Kaiser has been going to day care every Tuesday and Thursday.
"Kaiser gets so excited when he realizes where he is going and he's so tired at the end of the day when we pick him up," Cynthia Boyd said. "He's very happy playing with other dogs. It's nice to see him so joyful."
Nancy Peterson, an issues specialist for the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, said dog day cares, if run well, are a good idea.
"So many people work long hours today and dogs are by nature, pack animals and like to be in packs," Peterson said. "Day cares are a good alternative."