Better Governing Now » Dog Boarding Facilities In Tug of War With Regulators


Dog Boarding Facilities In Tug of War With Regulators

    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Barry Smith, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Staffing ratios, other rules are arbitrary, Camp Bow Wow owner say

CJ Photo by Barry Smith
A pet owner picks up her two dogs from the Camp Bow Wow boarding center near Charlotte. Dog day camp owners say arbitrary state regulations make it difficult for them to operate.
    RALEIGH     Heidi Ganahl, owner of the Camp Bow Wow boarding centers and day camps for dogs in several states, says North Carolina's regulations on pet boarding facilities aren't consistent with those elsewhere and often appear to be arbitrary and not aligned with any demonstrated need to protect the safety of animals or staff.

    North Carolina isn't the only state with vague or unusual regulations, Ganahl said. But the Tar Heel State's are particularly arbitrary. One of most common variances between states is the staffing ratio required at Camp Bow Wow camps. Ganahl was the keynote speaker at Wednesday's annual leadership luncheon hosted by the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation.

    Nationally, Camp Bow Wow maintains a ratio of one employee for every 25 dogs at their facilities, Ganahl said. But some states, including North Carolina, require a much lower ratio.

    "Colorado is 1:15; North Carolina is 1:10," Ganahl said. She said in some states, regulators don't have studies showing why certain regulations are required. They just say they have "a feeling" what the right ratio is.

    Dr. Patricia Norris, a veterinarian who heads the Animal Welfare Section in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the ratio is not arbitrary.

    "The reason behind this, dogs are pack animals," Norris said. If a large number of dogs are together in one place and two of them start to scuffle, many of the remaining dogs may want to join the fray, she said.

    "If the staff can intervene effectively, then no animals are harmed and no staff is harmed," Norris said, adding that a minor scuffle doesn't become a major fight.

    Norris said that the 1:10 ratio at boarding facilities applies only in common areas where more than four dogs are together and can interact. The ratio does not apply to boarding areas where dogs are kept separately and can't interact with others.

    "I'm a veterinarian, and the thought of 25 animals loose with only one person, that would make me extremely uncomfortable," Norris said.

    The rule says, "If more than four dogs are housed in a common area or enclosure, then there must be at least one person supervising each 10 dogs housed within each enclosure or common area."

    James Daniel, who owns two Camp Bow Wow franchises in the Charlotte area, said the state's rules are vague and should be revised.

    "We have dogs that are there for day care and we have dogs that are there for boarding," Daniel said.

    He said terms in the rules, such as "enclosure," aren't adequately defined.

    "I think the rules themselves are a little bit ambiguous," Daniel said. "I think that's a problem we run into based upon different inspectors who apply the rules differently."

    Daniel said that Camp Bow Wow has procedures in place to identify dogs that play well with others, and those that don't. He also said the camp's staff is trained to handle problems that might crop up.

    When owners bring dogs for an initial visit, the canines are evaluated for temperament - whether they'll fit in well in an open environment or whether they have aggressive tendencies, Daniel said.

    "We train our employees to try to monitor the dogs," Daniel said. "The last thing we want the employees to do is put their hands in the middle of a dog fight."

    Daniel said the camp can operate safely with a lower ratio than 1:10. He hopes the rule will be changed so that North Carolina will come in line with the rest of the country, he said.

    Staff ratios aren't the only regulations that businesses such as Camp Bow Wow have to worry about.

    Ganahl said that in New Jersey, regulators have qualms with camps that place artificial grass such as Astroturf in some of the pet exercise areas. Ganahl said that regulators weren't sure if workers could clean the surface properly or thoroughly.

    Ganahl said her camps use a specific product to clean the turf that's safe for the dogs and environmentally friendly.

    "This isn't based on any research or good data," Ganahl said of the regulators' objections. "Why they care so much about Astroturf in doggie day care facilities, I don't know."

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