Dog and cat on a yellow couch under a white blanket
Adding In-home Pet Sitting to Your Existing Pet Care Business
November 18, 2019

Board(ing) Thoughts: Older Dogs Can Teach Us New Tricks!

Older black dog with a grey muzzle looking up.

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals.

Board(ing) Thoughts is our  Pet Care Pro Quarterly feature from IBPSA advisory board members. These thoughts are courtesy board member Kelly Cullum, CEO and owner of Best Friends Furever Inc. (BFFE), a full-service canine care organization with two locations in the Baltimore, Maryland, area employing more than 80 dog care professionals. BFFE entertains between 100 and 200 guests per facility daily with daycare, boarding, training, or grooming. BFFE also offers special needs/medical boarding, a service that remains uncommon in the pet care services industry. In this issue, Kelly shares her thoughts and experience caring for these special pets.

When Best Friends Fur Ever (BFFE) opened its doors in 2004, my two dogs were 10 and 11 years old. Needless to say, caring for the geriatric dog population was a relevant decision for our company. In doing research in our county, it was apparent that this population was excluded from all boarding facilities and many veterinarians’ overnight care when dogs reached the age of 12. Thus began our Assisted Canine Care (ACC) unit, and for 15 years we have had the privilege of caring for our special needs clients.

For many owners the aging process or post-surgical care for their beloved family member is extremely stressful. Having sought and received medical advice and treatments, many pet parents still feel very anxious about the daily care for their special needs dog. To that end, they will often forego vacations or important life events to stay at home and care for their four-legged kids. They cajole and beg other family members to keep their dog if they must go away, knowing that this “big favor” is difficult for the caregiver.

Full care dog facilities can be the solution for the welfare and wellbeing of both the pet parent and their family dog. Setting up a ward that can care for these guests is not as daunting as one might think. These dogs will need a secure space with many soft beds and blankets, as well as crates for those needing restricted mobility for post-surgical care. The staff needs to be pre-vet tech or vet tech qualified and will operate very much like a hospital ward with rounds, chart notes, shift change briefings, and intensive one-on-one care.

Fair warning to all facility owners: this program will be incredibly popular in your various communities. Most likely they will never have seen this type of service offered and they will be thrilled to have this specialized care for their “little old boy or girl.” Your local vets will refer to you because they appreciate having a solution for the 12 and older dogs. Your orthopedic surgeons will be “over the moon” happy that the post-surgical care of their patient will not fall to someone with no experience in caring for special needs dogs.

For our special needs guests, BFFE adheres to the following beliefs as the core foundation and values of our special needs program:

  • We believe older dogs are wonderful contributors to our quality of life and have much to teach us about patience, respect, responsibility, loyalty, and unconditional love.
  • We believe every senior dog deserves to live out their golden months or years in a place of love, security, and comfort. We fill these needs when the family is not able to be at home with their dog due to work or travel.
  • We believe that dogs crave the attention of people and around the clock care to help them thrive in their rehabilitation or aging process.
  • We believe that meticulous post-surgical care is the major contributing factor for a successful rehabilitation. Dogs deserve the same critical care after these extensive surgeries that we do.

Five benefits of bringing a senior dog to a full care facility that specializes in assisted care

Exercise. Even in the “golden years” it’s important for your dog to stay active. Exercise increases blood flow, releases toxins, and improves bowel movements. Regular exercise can slow the aging progress and advancement of arthritis and keeps muscles from atrophy.

Mental stimulation. Dogs can suffer from their own version of dementia—the brain is a muscle and needs exercise! The smells, sounds, and excitement of an assisted canine care ward are great forms of mental stimulation and activate all the senses.

Supervision. Your dog may sleep at home much of the day, and it may be more difficult to detect issues, illnesses, or conditions when you are accustomed to letting them have their space. While it’s true that they are more self-sufficient and less active, they are also at higher risk for health concerns. When an owner is away at work for long hours, a serious condition can go unnoticed. In an assisted canine care ward the ACC specialists monitor your dog and alert you to signs of disease, illness, or pain.

Young at heart. We find that dogs, like people, enjoy a daily routine that includes lots of one-on-one attention. Sometimes the “one-on-one” is with another dog in the ward and it’s true that dogs communicate on a different level with one another. Communicating, socializing, and mental stimulation keeps their mind and bodies in an active state. Like people, dogs stay young at heart when they are an active participant in daily life.

Considerations for offering special needs care

Location. If this is your first foray into an ACC ward you will need to find a space in your facility where your staff can always easily monitor these guests. If your front reception area has the space it may be the perfect location. When your ACC attendants are hand-walking a post-surgical or geriatric guest, the front desk personnel can keep an eye on the remaining guests in your ward. You may find that your customers are very excited about seeing these special needs dogs when they come in to drop off or pick up their family member. Who doesn’t feel the tug of heart strings for the gray muzzles? You will also need to have designated large crates to keep your post-surgical guests separate from the rest of the guests. In considering the size of your crates be sure you can accommodate the “cone of shame” that they may need to wear during their recuperation.

Staffing. Given the shortage of certified veterinary technicians throughout the U.S., you most likely will need to do in-house certification of your ACC ward staff. We developed a training program, shift pass down, checklist, and protocols with help from our local vets and technicians. One consideration may be to promote your top tier handlers into these positions and onboard appropriate training. These guests are your extremely precious cargo and, for us, only the senior staff qualifies to work in this ward.

Pricing. This is specialized care so charge accordingly. You will be doing many ancillary care items. If you’re worried about a higher bulk price for this ward, consider a cafeteria style pricing system that allows you to charge extra for: oral medication administration, subcutaneous fluids, insulin administration, bladder or bowel expression, basic physical therapy exercises, and any transport for veterinary visits during overnight stays.

Differentiate yourself from the pack

In adding this ACC ward to your offerings, you will raise the bar for your competition. You will also now be able to accommodate your guests from cradle to orthopedic bed. One of the most rewarding experiences and gifts in our industry is the ability to care for our guests through their entire life’s journey