Archive for April, 2013

My Father, Napkins and Life Insurance.

April 25, 2013

My father believes in insurance.  He doesn’t trust his own math skills, and granted,when you have  small children, life insurance is important.  You don’t want your kids destitute if  you die.  So we all believe that is what life insurance is for:  the family you leave behind.  It’s a gamble,  but  responsible.  But I swear my father has Asperger’s syndrome, too.

What kind of  parent buys life insurance on his kids?  His explanation:  if we lived, we’d have money for college. Fair enough.

When I had just left home, without a thought to going to college, my father bought a $5000 life insurance policy on me.  He had been led to believe the policy  paid 4% interest, and after 5 years, the dividends would maintain the policy. If I added to the policy, I would get  4% interest.  I was skeptical, and asked what  State Farm invested in.  My father got angry with me.  He trusted State Farm agent, Bill Apostolakis, and had no idea.  At the time, due to inflation, banks were paying over 6% on savings accounts, and  you could get 17% interest on a CD.  My father was exasperated  by me. How dare I question.

He apparently took out a $100,000 on my brother, and on my brother -in-law,  Bill Meyer, he took out a $150,000 policy. My sister and brother-in-law had 2 little kids. This was, again, the early 1970s.  We lived and lived.    My youngest sister,  upset that she had no policy, became a co-beneficiary of my sister’s policy on her husband.  My father continued to hound me about adding to the policy.   In fact, I had about $5000 which I trusted him to invest with a friend, and…not having any idea what  this guy was investing in, but that he was paying 9%, I let that ride for a good long time.  Again  perplexed by the lack of transparency, I moved the account to a Calvert mutual fund. That was the start of my learning to invest, and  to know what to look for. I am by no means an expert, but I  am confident about the odds.

My father means well, but he  just can’t relate to us kids as adult people.  Part of the problem is my brother has severe Asperger’s, and part if it is my Dad himself.  He is always trying to give us stuff.  He has a small chemical company, and usually he gives us  soap.  Hand soap, detergent that will destroy your clothes (—no joke), or dishwashing liquid.  As he has gotten older…it’s grocery bags full of napkins.   We have no idea where he gets them from, as there is no packaging. I don’t get it, I have a lifetime supply of paper napkins.  We all do, and give them out to friends.

We lived some more….40 or so years more.  I recently went on a trip, and upon my return, my youngest sister  has emailed, “Bill Meyer died.”  It took me a few seconds to process this.   He died in a freak accident:  he fell, hit his head, and went into a coma.   The sister married to Bill, the guy  with the life insurance, is now on her third husband.   In any case, my 2 sisters are splitting that $150,000 policy.

Meanwhile…I have my taxes done, and , for some reason, I have to pay tax on the dividends of $150 or so my  life insurance policy. Nobody can tell me why this is NOT an unrealized gain.  At one point, the policy was worth over $21,000, but due to some murkiness on  State Farm’s end, it dropped to $13,000, & now was ‘worth’ $8300.  Yes, it lost value, and I am paying taxes on it.  My father reminds me that it was paying 4%.  I did  the math. Even if it paid 0%, and my father had put  just $25 a month in a non-interest bearing account, I would have had over $21,000.  I called Bill Apostolakis. He calls you honey, babe, and doll. He does not respect women.  I tell him I want to cash in the policy, as it  is costing money, not making money.   HE starts with the spiel that if I  had only added to it.  I ask him, “did you tell my father that if he had just put $25 a month into a savings account, I would have had more money?”   He hesitates, “Yes…I did.”  “No, you didn’t,” I responded.  The fact of  the matter is:  my father paid State Farm  to, essentially, keep $5000 in a non-interest bearing account.  Like paying a bank to keep your money in a savings account.

I had to wait a few weeks to get the actual policy, as my father was wintering in another state,and the policy was in his  safe deposit box.  He is SURE it pays at least 4%, maybe 9%, he tells me.

My father returns.   He gives me the policy. Wait—there are 2!  One has a face value of $10,000.  I call Equitable Life on that one.  It turns out my father cashed it  in 1994.  It is worth $0.00  After taxes, (yes, there are still more!) the State Farm policy  will be worth about $6,000.   There is no indication  in the wording of the policy that it ever paid any amount of interest.

As my  roommate said, “It looks like the napkins are worth more than your insurance policies.”  No kidding.

You Can’t Help Some People (Pet Care Industry, in particular.)

April 18, 2013

puli side (Small)Wow.  I am amazed at how many hits  my post on quitting my job got, but my post the week before on choosing a dog boarding  or day care facility got none (except for subscribers).  So, in  looking for a new ‘job’ this week…

I came a cross an animal hospital that needed a groomer, but  had gotten atrocious reviews  for their boarding facility.  How sad when an animal hospital employs veterinarians and  kennel staff who don’t really love animals.  You can tell by the detail of the reviews that these are not competitors, but  very sad dog owners.

A full service kennel that employs my  former boss ( who everyone has acknowledge has an anger management problem)— felt he  should have some say in whether I get hired at a different location, even though he has not been able to keep a groomer for more than a year.  They wonder why they can’t get an honest , reliable dog groomer to work for them. As a dog trainer  who had run-ins with my former boss said to me, “You do not want to work for a business like that.”

I have also spoken with my  old employer’s major competitor/frenemy, who is now totally mobile and does not have anyone grooming at her kennel. My  most recent employer  sort of modeled her build out on her frenemy’s.  However, when I went to visit the  business, I was amazed at how nice the  build-out was. It was really done by someone who  planned to work in her own business, and no expense was spared—-whereas the place I was working, … it looks nice, but is not functional.  The strangest thing happened. I went to pick up my check, and  my old ‘boss’, told me I was late  for my interview at her frenemy’s business. I denied an appointment, partly to spare her feelings, and  told her I was exploring different options—and she actually followed me over to her frenemy’s under the guise of  doing something else. & had a key to the building!  I thought she had a key to her frenemy’s business, as she was buzzed in immediately, twice!   I really can’t have my old boss coming over and harassing me whenever she is bored!

I have been working  part time at another day care business.  I like the woman who owns the daycare, but she is not dog knowledgeable, and doesn’t think treating dogs with respect is important.  I went up to the daycare room to get a dog  for grooming, & the 3  guys she had with them were  NOT playing with the dogs or interacting with them, and one had a spray bottle in his hands.  The only time you should have a spray bottle is if dogs are fighting.  Intimidating dogs  by spraying them  in the face is unethical and scary.  I saw dogs plastered against the walls, they were  so scared.   This does not make for a pleasant experience for the dogs.They go home tired, but not because they are playing all day.

I answered an ad from  the ever popular idealistic woman with no experience in the pet industry(she has never trained or groomed a dog, worked in this type of business, worked for an animal hospital or shelter) who thinks she has to hire 4 groomers  and a dog bather  before she has even done her build-out because…based on air…she is sure she will be busier than any grooming shop around.  She also does not ‘believe’ in cages.   A free for all.   I had another friend. Romaine Michelle,  respond to this woman several weeks ago, and, apparently  Romaine,  also with over 40 years experience, was as honest about  business prospects as I was, because idealist told me she got a very bad vibe from her, and she was getting a bad vibe from me,  Why?  Because we asked:

1.Where she got her equipment;

2.Who advised her on the build out;

3.Did she have a client base?

4. How a groomer was going to get paid if there was no business;

5. Why she thought she needed more than 1 groomer and a bather if  she had no client base.

Friends who have no business experience constantly ask me why I don’t open another  dog grooming business.  Here’s why:

1.  You need to find a location not only where there  aren’t many similar businesses around, but  is zoned  appropriately;

2.You need at least $5000 for equipment, and at least $5000 more for build out, and at least $5000 more  to sustain you until you build a client base.  the utility companies and the landlord don’t give credit;

3.Any blip in the economy, or more than 3 days of straight  rain will destroy your business.

How much capital do you want to risk?   Mutual funds are enough of a gamble for me.  This  woman who wanted to open a dog grooming business…even though she was not a groomer, was offended that I would not tell her everything she needed to do and that I was trying to discourage her (from spending all the money she had).  She had a decent location…and that was IT. Nothing else. I’ve ‘helped’ too many people who then went on to hire another groomer. No, thanks.

The  nice thing is, not many groomers are entering the profession.  They are good enough to work for a non-dog groomer, who really doesn’t know the difference, but  people who really care about their dogs know the difference.

Several people have asked Romaine Michelle,  who was on the original GroomTeam USA, and is a noted grooming contest winner and grooming contest judge,  and I why we don’t teach. We try, but people won’t make the commitment to learning…and you can’t teach talent.

Why I quit my most recent dog grooming job

April 11, 2013

Next month it would have been 2 years that I worked for a business in the West Loop of Chicago.  It seems  her groomer either  ‘disappeared’ or quit, and  the owner, a non-groomer, needed a groomer, She asked me if  I’d also be willing to  groom in  a mobile van.   I told her I ‘d consider it, but didn’t want to do it, because I could do more dogs in a shorter period of time with less hassle in a  stationary place.

She brought me to the grooming room.   It was, essentially, a storage area. No  windows, 2 tubs, 2  grooming tables,  stuff piled up under  a 60 watt bulb.

I said, “Well, you need to install fluorescent lights to start.”

She responded, “Well (X)  groomed here.”

“And she’s not here anymore, I can’t groom  in this low light.”

“Well, how about this lamp?” she responded.

“No, that casts a shadow.  It will be ok for just bathing dogs, but it is not enough to do a good job. And where are your dryers?  This Force dryer is ok, but not enough, You need some crates, too.”

“Well, we have the hydrosurge!”  This is a shampoo delivery system that  allows you to use  concentrated shampoo & not have to hand dilute it.

“That’s fine, but  we need to  set this room up.  Now, how do you contact your grooming clients?”

We went back to the office, and she used  a very common software that I was familiar with.  “Click on this one, this one  comes  frequently,”the owner said.  I clicked on the client, and there was the client’s name, and the dog’s name, and no contact info:  no address, email, or phone.

“Why don’t you have contact information for  your grooming clients?” I asked her,  She shrugged and looked at me.”You have  contact information for your boarding and daycare clients, right?”

“Of course!”

“Then why not  your grooming clients?  What if someone drops off a dog & you have to reach them for an emergency, or they just abandon a dog?”  I asked.
“Do you want us to have clients fill out a form?” she asked me.

“Of course!”

“So, when can you start?”  she asked.

“Lets do this. Post on your Facebook page that you now offer grooming 3 days a week. Lets do Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to start, and as we book up, I will add more days.  But—this is a big one, you have to get  fluorescent lighting in there, and we have to get more dryers and crates.  And you need a fluff dryer—a stand dryer, because  I will ask my clients if they want to come over here,and you can’t do a decent job with just a Force, or cage drying.”

“We have other dryers in storage. I am not going to buy another dryer, but if you buy one, and stay with me for  six months, I will reimburse you for  the dryer you buy.”

That sounded fair, so  we started the following week. I told the manager that I thought  the owner was nice.  The manager rolled her eyes.”Wait and see.  She has a lot of opinions, but is never here and is always changing her mind.”

Mostly, the clients were just bath dogs that didn’t need grooming, but she did have a few that needed haircuts. Her prices were very good, as she was  very close to the Loop, However, she  then  decided, to build business, to offer  social marketing (GROUPON, LIVING SOCIAL, DAILY CANDY) discount coupons, after I had worked for her for about 3 months.   Initially, the manager was giving me the full commission, but when the owner did her stats at the end of a month, she discovered she wasn’t making anything on grooming.   Instead of stopping the  marketing, she decided to cut my commission.

I told her this was not fair to me, that we were not breaking even, but she had another idea: TO HIRE A MANAGER TO MANAGE ME—AND NOT GROOM…JUST MANAGE.

Huh?  She found a girl,  who had been trained by Petsmart,  the only grooming job Claire had ever had,  the only management job, to  take grooming appointments and order supplies (since the store-room I worked in had no phone, and she felt I was too busy? Not sure…)

Claire was a good groomer, but she told me she didn’t want to groom…but what was happening  now was, instead of telling prospective clients, on the day I was not working, “Oh, the groomer is booked today. How about tomorrow?” Claire was taking those grooming clients,  and I was getting fewer dogs…but it gets better.  Claire, who was not yet 30, was given  an open, unlimited budget to redesign the grooming room.

The grooming room was not pretty, but I had made it functional.  Yes, it needed some shelving, we needed another dryer, and a paint job was in order (funny thing…it was Chartreuse—a dayglo sort of yellow green…& I came in one day & Claire had painted it deep blue.  So dark…& Jennifer was put out that I didn’t appreciate the fact that Claire had come in on her day off & painted it FOR FREE!).

While this was going on, the owner also bought the mobile grooming van.   I had told her, “Bad idea. The only people who make money are the groomers who run the van. You will have to pay a groomer, and the overhead.”

“Well, my friend who has a grooming business down the street tells me she is making tons of money!” she  retorted.

“Ask for an audit, ” I told her. I found out , after I quit, that  her friend actually grooms in her own van, and didn’t expand until she had groomers willing to  do it.

So Claire, who didn’t want to groom,  was going out in the van…over 10 miles away, to Berwyn and Cicero.  I certainly didn’t want to drive an hour in traffic to go pick up the van, an hour or so back (you never know when you are going to get stuck in traffic in Chicago…we have winter & road construction season…), but not my worry.  Meanwhile, Claire  is asking me what kind of grooming table I want.
“We don’t need  a new table, This table is fine. We need another dryer. And to stop the Groupons. None of the people stick, half the time they don’t show up. Not worth it,” I told Claire.

“She  won’t buy a dryer.  She wants a new table.  I’ll talk to her about the Groupons. You are right.”

“Why?  Why won’t she buy what we need and quit spending on what we don’t need?” I asked, exasperated.   Claire shrugged.  It made no sense.

& I came in 1 day, and my table is moved out, and I have an ELECTRIC table, that has to be plugged in to be raised or lowered. We have to step over the cord.  My vari kennels (airline crates) were gone, as Claire had ordered a bank of wire cages.  Why?  the owner  didn’t like how the airline crates looked, even though they were safe, easy to clean, the dogs felt secure in them, and we could dry dogs in 10 minutes.  Less than a year later, the wires were being bent on that bank of wire cages, and dogs were getting their feet stuck  on the wire floors—but they looked good!  I made her give me 2  vari kennels so I could dry big dogs.   Her husband   (not a groomer or trainer, but a business owner..)also didn’t like the vari kennels and wanted to get rid of the dryers because a dog could die of heatstroke.   When she asked me how other places dry dogs without heat, I told her, “They don’t. They are under cold air for hours, shivering.”  The other idea they had was to  put the Force dryer in the ceiling & just have the hose hang down, and turn it on with a wall switch.  “That won’t work. You don’t understand  how we use the force dryer, and it will burn out the motors, the switches, and or the  electrical wiring,”    I told her.  She didn’t respond.

The room was done,  after a lot of inconvenience because she hired unlicensed plumbers to  redo the plumbing, and they made a huge mess.  She  didn’t rewire the electrical outlets so they’d be dedicated for the dryers, and I had to unplug and replug.  It took a her another  4 months for her to get around to doing the electrical  because I nagged constantly.

Claire quit (or was fired…nobody is honest), and  right before she did,  both  she & the owner  gave me 4 days of grooming a week, but they wanted me to wear a  uniform scrub.  Fine, whatever.  But then,  the owner  REHIRED H to run the mobile van.  H  is a good groomer.   I know who trained H, but she got fired by the person who trained her for being unreliable…and she is unreliable, because she is has a drug problem.   So this is fine for  a week or so, then the manager, not the owner, tells me I have  2 week days, and if I  want a 3rd day, it has to be Saturday or Sunday, because H is not making enough money  in the van and needs a couple of more days!  So  I  am busted down to 3 days…& the problem with Saturday  is that the  keeps the kennel understaffed as  they don’t  do  good daycare business, so staff is working in the kennel, and not answering the phones. Great.  I have built up this business, been reliable, shown up on time,  kept good grooming notes, and now  I have to find another part-time job.

I do, with Pet SUPPLIES Plus.  I blogged about that  (“I got Fired for Wearing a Scarf”).  Meanwhile,  I   often see the  groomer who trained H as her shop is close to my house.  I stop by.  One day, she asked me if I  ever came across H.  I told her  she was  working where I worked.  My friend asked me to have her give her a call, as she needed her part time and didn’t have a good phone number for her..

The ownerwas furious, but  why?  She has each of us working part -time,  had ‘poached’ H from her competitor, so neither of us is making a living wage…and it went down hill from there.

About  2 weeks before Easter, I see the owner  has hired another groomer.  I email her and tell her I am demoralized.  She calls me into the office and tells me she does not want to lose me, I have priority, but she has another business idea in the works, and needs another groomer, as H isn’t showing up.  I know she does not need another groomer. She alternates between saying the mobile van was the worst idea she ever had and  how much money she is making.

H calls in and says she has walking Pneumonia and won’t be in all week.  I tell B, the new groomer, to offer to do the van.  The owner will be delighted…. but the owner won’t give me another day of work.  I go to get a mammogram, and I stop at my friend’s grooming shop to get dog magazines. There is H. She is not sick, she is making more money with less hassle. I called the manager (this was the owner’s 2nd hire in 3 months. She doesn’t want to manage her own business, doesn’t want  any hands on dealing with dogs, and  the 3 people who are on her staff—her  ORGANIZATIONAL MEMORY who are well qualified,  won’t  take on the responsibility as  the owner changes her mind constantly and then blames other people).

The owner has  fired the manager. I had also told the manager that H was  running off with the nail grinder, not returning towels,  wasting shampoo, and had used up all the  special (we charged for a shampoo upgrade) shampoo  and wasn’t charging for it. She also  almost started a fire when a  dryer blew out an outlet, and she told NOBODY. She was screwing herself and the business, & obviously didn’t care.  The manager told me she could not order shampoo without the owner’s permission.  Very frustrating.

A manager who quit returns to work part time, The owner emails me and  tells me not to ask for shampoo, we have plenty, what is wrong with me?  I email her, “Yes–we have plenty of shampoo, but not the upgrade shampoo, and I won’t charge for a service we do not provide…and nobody told B that he has to dilute the shampoo.”

Meanwhile, B doesn’t like the same things I don’t like:  the wire cages, the way the room is set up, the problems with the electricity, and Jennifer’s latest impulse—to again, put the Force Dryer in the  ‘attic’ with just the hose hanging down, to be turned on by a light switch. …and, nobody had told B anything. I show him where the fuse box is.  I do what I can, but  by this time, there should be a manual.

We —the owner and I, have 2 big issues now.   Because she is still angry that I put H in touch with her old employer, and dared to complain about electrical problems and shampoo. she feels she has lost control.   I had been coming in just before  I have dogs to groom on Wednesday (the slowest day of the week—& I had offered several times to  take a 20% commission cut is she would offer it for Wednesdays!), and she didn’t like that, but she didn’t tell me.  Because she might get a walk in nail trim!    Now, the new rule, which she instituted before she told me, is she is paying me $12 an hour against commission, and I have to be in the shop  8:30 until 3.  I can read if I  want…. and she is taking the  nail grinder away and I have to bring my own if  I want the commission. “Don’t you understand? The nail  grinder battery pack has to remained plugged in!” I yell in frustration. She just smiles.

“So, I guess you won’t get the commissions!” she retorts.

“I am not working for $12 an hour.  This is crazy.   If you  value my work, my integrity,  let me switch out  Wednesday to either Monday or Thursday.”

“End of discussion.”

Now,  groomers know…the Force is a great tool, but delicate.  It is really powerful. You are taught to  turn it on 1 switch at a time, let it power up, then turn on  the second switch.    Often, we use just 1 switch. Motors and switches are  constantly burning out, You need to clean the filter frequently, as dust will  burn out the motors.  We unplug it when we are not using it as it draws a lot of electricity even when off. With it up in the ceiling, she wants us to use a wall switch to turn it on.  B, the new groomer, agrees with me.  This is dangerous. We are either going to burn out the  force dryer or start a fire.  In the meantime, my own Force dryer at home, burns out the switches. The motors are ok, but you can’t plug it in without blowing the dedicated circuit.  My roommate, a forensic engineer, replaces the switches for me, but tells me it will happen again (I know,….), it is not well designed (I know…).  I tell him  what is happening at work—that she leaves it plugged in  with the switches on, and it is blowing the circuit several times a day, even when off.  “Robyn, bring your personal effects home. There is going to be a fire.”

I have  left notes for the owner, and emailed her that this is happening, and her response is, “Stop emailing me! If you hadn’t left 1/2 hour early on Saturday, my husband would have  fixed it, You have too many things plugged in!”

No.  I do not have too many things plugged in.  Her husband is NOT an electrician.  In fact, just 5 months earlier, she had had an electrician put all the outlets I use on dedicated circuits in the fuse box, , and then, because she wanted to stuff more boarding dogs in, taken out our storage/dog drying room, put 4 kennel suites there, and taken out the 3 outlets she had just paid to have dedicated!!!

So, it came down to this:  I showed B where the fuse box was, and told him that HE had to tell   the owner same thing. I told the kennel manager that SHE had to tell the owner, because, she was risking the lives of the kennel dogs, as nobody was there at night.

Tuesday, a  manager called me early in the morning, and asked me if I could come in and groom. They still could not find H (no manager, so they didn’t give the owne the message of where I told them she was…), and B was busy. I told them I would be in at 1, I was busy until then…but the owner  also wanted to talk to me:  “Someone called, she has a Standard Poodle Old English Sheepdog mix. She has to have the dog groomed today.”  “Tomorrow would be better…”  I respond.   “NO, she says today, and I really want to accommodate her.”  Me:  “Ok, tell her to come in at 1, and I will talk to her & can feel the dog.” Which I  did, and I charged her a lot of money, more than  normal, because she told me who usually grooms the dog, and I knew what he charges.   And—the dog had to be done TODAY!!! She ended up being overjoyed and gave me a $25 tip.  But… we are still blowing the circuit even when the Force is off.

I  emailed  the owner on Wednesday night  after talking, again, with my roommate,  and told her that if the Force was not brought back into the grooming room where we could  plug it in & use it properly by Friday, I was quitting. She was endangering the lives of her boarding dogs. I  also emailed office staff and told them the same thing.

She had the manager call me to tell me, since I had been overworked the  Friday before (they really don’t care and don’t respect that I manage my time well…but, after I had asked the  management staff 3 times to  help me make room for dogs I  had to dry, and jokingly asked, while they were on break, if they were crazy.  I could not take a break, but  had no place to put dogs, they  helped me move dogs around—& told the owner that I had called them crazy.  Really).  I came in  30 minutes before  the owner was ready to see me. She was busting me down to 2 days a week and not moving the force dryer. “What days are you going to give me?”  I asked.

“We are doing things more professionally now, You are going to sign this paper that says I  am disciplining you for hanging around the office and calling a manager crazy…”

“Hanging around the office? To call clients and tell them their dogs are ready because staff is too busy? Really?  I am not hanging around.  And I always ask if I can get in the computer and put in grooming notes.”

“Well, you should not be in there at all.”  She would not  give me a chance to tell her that  I often find that the managers have not input contact info for clients.   “And I found out you were working (somewhere else), and you have violated out non-compete agreement.”

“I am not working somewhere else. I am an independent contractor, and you can’t decrease my days  and prevent me from working.” I was going to go to the grooming room and get my  equipment, and Jennifer yells at me, “You are not going back there,  I have hired another groomer, I have 3 groomers working for me now.  Here is your stuff. Call me Monday and we’ll talk.”

“I am busy Monday.” I said as I was leaving.

I was going to an event on Saturday (which I  had offered to cancel),  but she had already hired ANOTHER GROOMER.  So, I stopped in to meet her, tell her I  had no hassle with her.  Show her where the fuse box was (she had already blown a circuit and had no idea…), and saw that—lo & behold—the owner had allowed the Force to be brought down from the  attic…but she again had gotten rid of the vari kennels and the  cage dryer!  I told the new groomer, “You will not be able to dry the number of dogs you get without that.   You have to tell her.  Give me your email address, and I will give you some more info.”    Turns out the girl had built up a grooming business for another non-grooming business owner, and that owner wanted grooming 7 days a week, so basically split this groomers’  job with another groomer.  I told her that was what Jennifer was doing to me, and she would do it to her—make money while  you can.

The owner  called me Sunday to  tell me I had gone over the line giving out proprietary information, and that the new groomer didn’t want to talk to me, and she was going to have her lawyer contact me.  I  am scared…not.  Seems she also forwarded my email to her competition down the street—with all the proprietary information  (so how proprietary can it be?), and the competition told her I was right.  I don’t need a job that badly to  stay where a business owner puts dogs lives at risk.

Boarding your dog: How to Find a Good Kennel

April 4, 2013

“Spring Break’ , “Summer Vacation”  Memorial Day Weekend”.  Yes. the wealthy among us  travel whenever they get  3 or more days off from work.  Many of them own dogs.  Since they learned the hard way that they had to plan ahead for the very best  place for their pets, many of them booked boarding over 6 months ago.  No joke. Call the kennels you Google in your town.  Contact the top 5 that come in  on your search (usually, this means the kennel owners paid for some sort of  search engine optimization,   not that they are necessarily ‘the best’).  Call and ask  how far ahead you should book for the  3 day weekends, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc.  They may tell you they are already booked—and you can be on a waiting list with a deposit.

Must be something about them, right?  Now—now!!! Ask about taking a tour of their kennel—not  necessarily  the busy weekend (some will allow it, some will be too busy to take you around).  Bring your dog, so you can get an idea about how they run.  Do you have to bring your own food?  Is someone there 24 hours?  What is  the  hour interval between last evening potty outing and the morning outing?  How many people do they have on staff per shift?   What is the ratio  of kennel staff to dogs?  What animal hospital do they have on call for emergencies?

There are other questions you should ask….and look around you. Do they have individual indoor/outdoor kennel runs for the dogs (& how large are they?  Will your dog  be stepping in his own mess if the run is too small?)  or, are they ‘open concept’, where all the dog run together?
What kind of training  in animal behavior  does their staff have?   Is the owner/manager involved in any humane organization, or involved in dog performance events?  The reason you want to know this about the people caring for your pet is simple, but extremely important:  there are now more kennels owned by both corporate entities, and people who just want to say they own a dog business, than people who actually  love hands on working with dogs and caring about  how they feel.  We learn about dogs not by just reading, not because someone told us something  is true…but because we spend time with  with other dogs lovers who love dogs enough to want to communicate with them, bond with them, and alleviate their stress in stressful circumstances.

This is NOT to say that the ‘open concept’ kennel is necessarily bad, or unsafe…but there is a reason the tradition  boarding kennels kept dogs separated. Really.  You  don’t want your dog to be endangered in a dog fight.  When people giving negative ratings to those kennels—AFTER CHOOSING AN OPEN CONCEPT ENVIRONMENT FOR  THEIR DOG OVER A TRADITIONAL KENNEL—is  naive .  Just because a business is legal, it doesn’t make it safe.

The ‘open concept’ kennel—where dogs are run in packs…works for many dogs.  However,  not all dogs are Labs , Beagles, and Golden Retrievers.  My issue with these kennels is that the owners and managers either don’t know enough about the dog breeds to acknowledge this—or they deny that the Boxer, French Bulldogs, Bostons, and often individuals of other breeds—are going to cause problems with otherwise  easy going dogs. They also take dogs that should never be with other dogs because they are greedy  (and don’t have the  INTEGRITY)to say, “this kennel is not for your dog”—until after a problem has occurred.

Is the kennel noisy?  With a lot of barking? A barking dog is a stressed dog.  I worked in 1 kennel that was set up in such a way that while dogs were in their suites, they never saw another dog, and got a lot of rest, but I have worked in kennels where dogs faced each other, through barriers, and there are always a few ‘fence fighters’ and this stresses everyone. However, the owners of the kennels do not care, and can’t be profitable any other way but to have  the  suites face each other &  because  they don’t want the kennel to appear as a kennel, and  don’t block sight lines.  Looks good, but stressful for a lot of dogs.

Do they hose down the  potty/play areas?Is there a pool?  This won’t matter if your dog is short haired, but if you have a Cocker Spaniel, an Afghan Hound—any  long aired dog, your dog WILL  matt, and never be totally dry while staying in this place.  that may lead to a skin infection.  The kennel staff does what they are told to do. They do not care if your dog gets matted or becomes soaked. And—that  pool is a great idea for  many dogs. Lots of dogs love playing in water.  Just don’t expect the groomers, at the end of your dog’s stay, to dematt your  Soft-coated
Wheaten Terrier.

When you go to tour the kennel, you want to leave your dog in a typical kennel space while you tour. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!!!  Why?  so your dog get the experienced of being dropped off and picked up.  That’s all your dog will remember: being put someplace, and then being taken back by you. This will alleviate a lot of stress for your dog. it will take you  five to ten minutes to tour the kennel, and that brief amount of time lets your dog know he was not abandoned.  Think of this from your dog’s point of view:  The people he loves leave him in a strange place .  What did I do?  I become depressed and sick.  If I am in bad health, I may die of the stress!

I did  a Google search of  the question, “How to choose a dog boarding kennel’ and while the information all  he postings gave was good, the writers had obviously either never worked in a kennel, or  had never  really taken  animal behavior into consideration—or the economics of running a kennel.  One thing they mention  to ask is—does your state mandate inspections?  Funny (not) thing is, my state—Illinois—is broke. Inspections are mandated by law, but not done.  In fact, our kennel laws are so poorly written that the few inspectors that might come out every 2 or 3 years are party hacks who have no idea what they are inspecting for. As long as they do not see  electrical wires in water on the floor—the kennel passes.  You have to  have sense and be an advocate for your dog.

Staffing is a huge problem with many kennels–especially the open concept ones that run daycare.  Some kennels actually offer their employees health insurance—so they do have a more stable work force—many of those laborers are going to veterinary school or getting advanced degrees in biology.  Most,  however,  just hire people who say they love dogs and show up.  The employees then find out this is physical labor, and can be  smelly work, and  this is the nature of the industry.   I  suggest asking how many people work a shift—or are  employed for  X number of dogs.  ideal is 1  kennel person for every 15 dogs, but most   only add staff after  30 dogs. This means your dog  will have to wait  to go out, and staff may be too busy to supervise loose dogs, or note digestive issues.  This is legal—it doesn’t make it right.  the kennel business is about profit, not about being humane or safe, in most cases.

Will you want your dog to have a bath after his stay?  Decide ahead of time,.  The kennel owner is  not a groomer.  She doesn’t care if the groomer is overwhelmed.  Front desk staff may forget to ask when you check in.

What about NOT A KENNEL , but in home boarding.  You really have to be skeptical and be an advocate for your dog.  I have several friends who do this. They are dog trainers. Some are professionals, some are hobbyists. Their  yards are secure, they ask a lot of questions, they tell you what they can offer you, ask you what  discipline methods they can use, and demand a lot of  integrity on your part.  Others, well….now it seems, there are  companies that  seem to think any idiot can  take care of a strange dog, multiple dogs, and everyone makes money.  I have 1 friend whose dog got loose (kids let the dog out, gate wasn’t secured) &  he was called by the police that his dog would be euthanized in  5 days. The people taking care of the dog didn’t have the integrity to call him on his trip and tell him his dog got out.   I have a client with a Bearded Collie…the dog came back with fleas.  Client with a Pug mix—caregiver was walking another dog, left the pug lose with a German Shepherd.  Pug barked at sleeping Shepherd & got his eye bit out.. Careless, preventable, but these care givers are not real dog lovers. Were they, they would have bought crates, insisted on having  boarders on a flea preventative, and would have been prepared for every contingency.

Boarding at the veterinarian?  I worked for 1. he seemed to think it was ok for  the night interval to be over 12 hours & staff would clean up.  Is that really what you want?

Don’t fall for the marketing.  If you really care about your pet, look for a safe environment. Don’t fall for pretty.  Of course, there should be no odor, but  you want a quiet kennel with  plenty of personnel who  ask YOU a lot of questions.