ANNAPOLIS – Marylanders feeling the pinch of the economic downturn will be cutting back on spending this holiday season, but you wouldn’t suspect it from looking at the number of reservations at local kennels.
Most kennels offering overnight stays for pets have been booked for the Thanksgiving holiday for weeks, and kennel staff members say Christmas reservations are filling up fast.
“We’re actually packed,” said Amy Nichols, owner of Dogtopia Daycare and Spa in Bethesda where boarding services average $50 a night. “If people are going to make choices about what to give up, they’re not going to sacrifice pet care.”
Nichols said most of her clientele don’t ask about the price of services before booking a reservation. Still, in October she began offering incentives, like a free night’s stay for pets boarding at least four nights, to bring in additional business.
To secure a reservation at Reisterstown Boarding Kennels for Thanksgiving would have required two months advanced notice, said manager, Bobby Gakenheimer. The price of a night’s stay ranges from $20 to $50 depending on the accommodations, with optional fees for swimming passes and gourmet desserts.
Although most kennels are booked for the holidays, some facilities offering fewer amenities and a cheaper stay noted slow business apart from the holiday season.
Sue Ann Slonin, manager of Potomac Kennels in Gaithersburg, said while she’s booked for Thanksgiving, she’s seen a decline in reservations at the indoor-only kennel where a stay averages $23 a night. While some might give up discretionary trips, her customers weren’t ready to give up Thanksgiving travel, she said.
“The biggest change we’ve seen is a drop-off in people boarding smaller animals like birds, rabbits and lizards,” said Slonin. “I’m guessing more people are leaving them by themselves or asking neighbors to check on them.”
Katherine Cooker, public relations manager for the Humane Society of Washington County, said any declines in kennel reservations would likely be seen in lower-cost facilities.
“The economic downturn probably hasn’t hit those people who can afford to kennel their animals in the nicest facilities,” said Cooker. “The more bare bones kennels would see the effects of economic problems first, perhaps because lower income pet owners are less likely to travel.”
Cooker said the humane society has recently seen a surge in the number of stray animals captured and brought to the shelter.
“They don’t look like normal strays. They’re well-behaved, in good health and groomed,” said Cooker. “We don’t really know, but they might be coming from people who release them because they can’t afford to pay for things like kenneling.”
The Humane Society of Washington County is encouraging people who can’t afford kenneling to consider lower-cost alternatives before canceling travel plans or abandoning a pet.
Cooker suggests hiring a pet sitter like a neighborhood teenager, or making a no-cash, trade-off agreement with another pet owner.
“Let your pet have a sleepover at a friend’s house, and then your pet’s friend can stay with you later,” said Cooker. “Pets like playmates, and it’s a money-saver.”