Opinion: It’s a dog’s life … in our fair city

My girlfriend and I were faced with a major business problem earlier this week, and I’m going to be frank with you: for a while, things looked pretty grim.

We’d already tried a reasonably orthodox solution, with terrible results. But after scouring the city for an answer to our quandary – a predicament caused by a last-minute trip out of town and a need to house our four-legged friend, Roxy – we finally found a solution.

I’m talking, of course, about finding a decent place to board our dog while we’re away. The hard concrete floors of most kennels didn’t really appeal and the use of one of Ottawa’s umpteen dog-sitting services, where people enter your own home on a daily basis, seemed kind of weird and unsettling.

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But our answer came when we spotted the Web coordinates of a business called “Bone Voyage.” Operated by Malcolm and Christine Watson, the company matches families or individuals who want to be care providers with dogs in need of temporary shelter, when their owners need some time for themselves.

As Ms. Watson explains, the desire for such services in Ottawa is real and growing. “There’s a huge demand – there are times in the year when we don’t have enough care providers,” she says, adding that right now the company uses between 20 and 25 providers scattered across the city, each who receive remuneration for their efforts.

“Over holidays and long weekends, and much of the (snowbird) season we’re always looking for more providers,” she says, adding many private dog-sitting businesses exist, though they mostly operate on a word-of-mouth basis.

The traditional kennel, as well as most well-worn notions on the proper place of pets in the home, is under seige these days.

In case you haven’t noticed, the pet industry is ridiculously huge right now. One only has to read clippings of the recent founding of Pet Airways, where critters fly in the main cabin, to see that.

More than $3 billion was spent in the U.S. in 2008 on pet services, and spending on pet supplies and over-the-counter medicine accounted for around $10 billion that same year, according to the web-based Small Business Trends.

And as more people decide to live alone and couples put off having children, that market will grow.

Ottawa itself has several specialty dog boutiques. Wag Pet Shop, in the Glebe (of course), Dogz Spa and Boutique and Bark & amp; Fitz in Westboro (also of course) and A Guy, A Girl, Two Dogs And A Cat in the ByWard Market are some examples, though there are others. Most seem to do a pretty decent business, though I can’t say I’ve ever picked up a designer collar or fitted Polo dog sweater for our canine. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Several specialty food stores also exist in town for various types of animals – no doubt spurred by the massive pet food recalls of 2007 – offering “off-the-grid” organic grub or even vegetarian dishes for discerning pooches.

As Ms. Watson explains, that all adds up to big business for Ottawa’s pet industry.

“People treat their dogs now as if they are their children, especially families who don’t have children or people whose children have moved out,” she explains. “And they’re looking for better services for them – whether that’s buying clothes for them, or finding a good place to stay.”

And as for Roxy? Well, let’s just say she’s already looking forward to her vacation.

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