LAKE IN THE HILLS – The blueberry facials don’t make a difference to the dogs visiting Free Spirit Doggy Daycare and Hotel, but their owners love it.
The Lake in the Hills business offers spa-like treatments, including hydrotherapy massages, home visits and dog taxis to get them to and from day care, owner Kristi Adkinson said.
Like kennels and other pet-centric businesses across McHenry County, local kennels are expanding their lines to include more luxury services, looking to capture some of the $55.53 billion that pet owners are expected to spend this year.
Pet owner spending has more than doubled over the past two decades, jumping from $17 billion in 1994 to $53.33 in 2012, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Pet services such as grooming and boarding make up about $4.16 billion of that total, with the average dog owner spending $327 a year on boarding, according to the association’s annual report.
“Pets aren’t just pets in your home; they’re a member of your family,” Camp Bow Wow manager Terri Laubinger said. “They’re four-legged, furry children, and you want to make sure they’re having fun, too.”
Pet owners can check in during business hours at Camp Bow Wow in McHenry using cameras in the play areas, she said. Cameras in the “luxury suites” can be accessed 24/7.
“I think you can probably throw just about anything out there and somebody will want it because we are just that fanatical about our dogs,” Laubinger said. “We want the best for them.”
Alden Kennels in Ringwood offers an “ultimate vacation” with personalized meals, gourmet snacks, playtime, nature walks and field trips – “a lot of different services to keep up with what the younger generation wants, to make the dog really be on vacation like the owner is,” said co-owner Janet Domrase.
And if an owner wants something that her kennel doesn’t offer, they have agreements with other kennels to provide those services, Domrase said. They’ll take the dog to Gypsy Glen for a swimming lesson or to Camp Bow Wow for group playtime.
“I think [the added services] are wonderful,” Domrase said. “You’ve got to adapt to all of it. Some people want that playtime. Some people want the nature walk. Some people with rescue dogs want the training. We video the dog during the lesson, so they know the dog is progressing through the week.”
The increased attention to pet happiness and health is the result of better informed owners, Domrase said.
Owners are paying attention to what they’re feeding their pet and looking at toys that help with dental health, she said.
These services also have made it possible for people who otherwise couldn’t own dogs – people who travel a lot, small business owners, older people that can’t walk the dog themselves or couples with new babies – to have a dog, Adkinson said.
The increased rate of adoption of rescue dogs is also a factor, she said. Rescue dogs, dogs with health conditions or dogs that are very nervous need extra attention.
Woodbine Hill Kennel in Huntley offers swimming sessions for dogs who had knee surgery or are arthritic, said Judy Jorgensen, who co-owns Woodbine Hill Kennel with her husband, Tom.
She doesn’t really get the luxury services and puts her focus on providing healthy food and plenty of quality times with the animals.
“These are pets; they’re not children,” Jorgensen said. “Pets can have an equal part of your heart, but they have different needs. We don’t need to dress them in cutesy clothes, and we don’t need to put them in children’s beds. But they do need to feel comfortable at loved.”