It's a wonderful dog's life

It's a familiar ritual.

Dropping off the little one at the daycare centre before heading to work, checking in on him/her during lunch hour and heading back for a pick-up after work.

But it's not children we're talking about. It's doggy daycare.

While boarding pets may be common when owners go away for holidays, now proud pet papas and mamas like Madam Phua Siew Yuen are paying hundreds of dollars a month for their dogs to socialise with other fur kids while the parents are at work.

And yes, some "kids" are picked up and dropped off by a "schoolbus", too.

Owners also check in on their pets online via live feeds of their dogs from cameras installed at the daycare centre.

Madam Phua says she enrols her two-year-old miniature schnauzer in the daycare centre because it gives her peace of mind that the dog is in good hands while she and her husband are at work.

"My husband and I work all day, and there's no one at home with Smartie," she says.

"When we return from work tired after a long day, Smartie's very hyper - he doesn't sleep at night because of his pent-up energy, and ends up licking his paws, which isn't good for him."

Before the 34-year-old accountant heads to work in the morning, she drops Smartie off at Happy Dog at 7.30am. She picks him up after work at about 7pm.

Smartie does not attend daycare on weekends, which Madam Phua has earmarked as "bonding time" for her, her husband and the dog.

It costs $560 a month for Smartie to spend weekdays at the centre. Owners of larger breeds pay up to $770.

In comparison, the median for full-day childcare in Singapore as of January this year is $843, according to a report produced by the Early Childhood Development Agency.

Demand for doggy daycare is growing, say companies that provide the service.

According to an online search, there are at least 18 doggy daycare companies based here.

Miss Melissa Lim, who runs Paw Planet out of her home in the Serangoon Gardens area, says there has been an increase in interest and awareness. "When I first started, I had only one client, who came only once a month," she says.

"Now I have 12 clients who sign up for the daycare package and come between one and five times a week."

Ms Rosalind Koh, who runs Ginny And Friends Dog Day Care, says business has grown between 12 and 15 per cent since she started about six years ago.

Her clients are usually in their 30s and live alone. They are also willing to spend on their pampered pooches.

Happy Dog, which opened its first dog daycare outlet last June, received such a positive response that it opened its second branch within three months.

It touts itself as the first themed dog daycare centre here, and typically has eight to 12 dogs visiting every day.

Their first outlet at Balestier was designed to look like a rainforest, while the second one at Bukit Timah was designed like a castle.

At the Bukit Timah branch, a small drawbridge is suspended over a water feature built to resemble a running stream.

"It's not for the dogs to drink from, but the running water as well as the background music can be calming for them," says Mr Lim Seng Niah, a partner at Happy Dog.

There are handlers at all times to walk, feed, play and cuddle with the pooches, a well as clean up their mess.

Mr Edmund Tai, another partner at Happy Dog, says the daycare limits each handler to five dogs each time.

And like children, dogs take naps at the daycare centre.

"The only thing we can't do is to teach them their ABCs," says Mr Tai.

Live video feeds are also a big draw of dog daycare, as they offer assurance that the pooches are being treated well.

Owners can log in via their mobile devices or computers for real-time images of their pooches frolicking with their friends.

Miss Lim of Paw Planet says owners want to check on their dogs, especially after a dog drowned at a daycare centre in February last year. "They want that transparency and to be assured that their dogs are in a cage-free environment."

Converting her home into a dog daycare did not come cheap.

Miss Lim spent $20,000 creating a 1,130 sq ft space for up to eight dogs.

"I transformed the car porch into a dog-friendly run, put up glass walls to enclose an indoor area and fit the outdoor area with synthetic grass," she says.

"The cost also includes equipment like beds, toys and a hydraulic wash basin."

It costs $20 a day for dogs to spend their days here. And for $10 more, they get enrichment lessons - IQ-boosting sessions where dogs are taught tricks and skills that enhance their focus and mental capacity.

They also get to interact with puzzle toys that challenge their mind.

Hot Dog and Ginny And Friends also provide transport to and from the centres - a "doggy schoolbus", if you will - at an additional charge.

Mr Tai says there has been a gradual shift in how people perceive pets. "These days, pet owners might get offended when you refer to their pet as animals - they are 'girl' or 'boy' and are members of the family."

He makes an effort to refer to the dogs by their names instead of just referring to the animals as "the pet" to avoid misunderstandings.

Madam Phua says there has been a change in her dog's behaviour and temperament since he started attending daycare last July.

"He's a lot calmer when he gets back since he has released a lot of energy. He also socialises better with other dogs," she says.

A 35-year-old pet owner, who has been paying for his golden retriever to attend daycare for the past 10 years, says: "Some of my friends ask me why I need to care for my dog that much.

"But I bought the dog and it's my responsibility. I want him to have a happy life, and if I can afford it, why not?"

Madam Phua admits that she gets teased by colleagues, who comment that she treats her dog as well as they treat their kids.

"I just tell them that I've got no choice. He's my baby. If he's happy, I'm happy," she says.

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