Moving to Tampa Bay: Pampering our pets, day and night

Finding the perfect fit for your pet to play while you’re away is less of a challenge in the Tampa Bay region since so many lodges, spas, resorts, parks and sitters now cater to their needs.
Taking a vacation and putting your pooch in a cage at a kennel is so 1980s.

Today’s version of pet boarding has gone to a whole new level. Webcams to check in on your fur baby 24/7? Check. Bone-shaped swimming pools for a refreshing dip? Check. Groomers on site for beauty treatments? Check.

Even using the name “kennel” is passé.

For overnight stays  -- and yes, daycare for those who work and can’t bear to leave Fido home alone for eight hours -- business names have taken on a new tone. Now they’re lodges, spas, resorts and parks. At Camp Bow Wow in Tampa, for example, the dogs stay in “cabins” and their caretakers are called “camp counselors.”

And people are spending money, a lot of money, on food, vet care, supplies and services for their pets. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners are expected to spend some $60.59 billion this year, up $2 billion from 2014. Of that figure, boarding and grooming comprises some $5.24 billion.

TyVy Pet Hotel

“It’s our job to keep the animals safe and happy,” says Beckie Laplant, GM of TyVy Pet Hotel in Tampa, one of the newest additions to the burgeoning boarding business in the Tampa Bay area. “That’s a promise we make. If you want to stay in this business, you better deliver.”

TyVy is an all-inclusive facility, offering a range of services under one roof, from one-on-one behavioral training to basic health care with an on-site veterinarian. And the company dotes on humans as well with a unique perk: It has a transport van to give clients free drop-off and pickup service to Tampa International Airport and the Port of Tampa. They can also leave their cars free of charge in TyVy’s parking lot.

There’s another company rule that helps put their clients’ minds at ease. Laplant, a graduate of Ohio State University with a bachelor's in Animal Sciences, says all staff members are trained in animal care, and are only assigned 10 boarders to oversee at one time.

That was one of the selling points for Kim Kaiser, who works for a commercial real estate company in downtown Tampa. She recently moved from one part of town to another, and her 12-year Lab mix, Lucy, wasn’t doing well with the transition. After hearing about TyVy and stopping in for a tour, she signed Lucy up for day care.

“In just one day, they were able to evaluate her personality and knew just how to handle her,” Kaiser says. “When I go to pick her up after work, Lucy is so happy. She’s had a day of socializing and swimming and plenty of attention. There’s no anxiety at all.”

Though Kaiser is now settled in her new digs, she plans to buy another package of day care visits. It gives her a sense of peace, knowing that Lucy is in good hands.

Preppy Pet Boarding & Spa

At Preppy Pet Boarding & Spa near Tampa Downs, don’t be surprised to see assistant Manager Paige McIver cradling a visiting guinea pig or hedgehog. This facility doesn’t discriminate.

“Dogs and cats make up most of our boarders, but we take in all pets. Lizards, birds, rats, ferrets, you name it. We even had a pot-bellied pig here,” she says. “I love all animals, so this is pretty much the most perfect place for me to work.”

Lucky Dog

For some customers, having employees on the premises 24/7 is important, so the staff rotates around the clock at Lucky Dog, next to the University of Tampa. Having a personal relationship with the human client is an important part of what they do, says assistant manager Gaby Hernandez.

“The owners are leaving a very treasured family member with us, so we have to earn their confidence and gain their trust,” she says. “Sure, they love the webcam option, but they also like knowing someone is always here in case something happens.”

Pasadena Pet Motel 

Wendy Sandstrom of Pasadena Pet Motel in South Pasadena says word-of-mouth is the best advertising for a business like this. Staying flexible is a plus as well.

“We have people drop off their dogs for just two hours while they go to church. And then we’ve got snowbirds who come for three months, but live in condos that don’t allow pets,” she says. “So their dogs come here, and they visit daily. This is their home away from home, too.”

Private sitters

There’s another option for owners who want personalized in-home care. They’re booking private sitters (who go through a rigorous approval process) with companies like Dog Vacay and Rover. Just put in a zip code to find sitters in that geographical location, read their personal stories, check out previous customer reviews and review their rates, which vary by size of dog and special requests like giving medications.

For John and Dotty Hickerson, using was the only way to go for their 4-year-old Benny, a Schnauzer-Yorkie mix.

“Benny is a little aggressive. We really didn’t want to put him in a situation around a lot of people and a lot of other dogs,” John Hickerson says. 

Even taking Benny to a private home made the couple a little nervous. So after selecting a sitter, they decided to leave Benny there for a “test night” prior to going on their vacation.

Benny had no problems at all and got along with his sitter just fine. So when the Hickersons left on their trip two days later, they knew Benny was in good hands.

“He got his medication, he got his bottled water and he got a lot of walks,” Hickerson says. “When we picked him up, all he wanted to do was play. He was one happy guy. So Benny made his choice. We’ll definitely be using that sitter again.”

Read more articles by Michelle Bearden.

Michelle Bearden is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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