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Coronavirus affecting the two-legged who care for the four-legged: Doggy day care plummets with workers at home

Across the country, many busy, bark-filled dog boarding and day care facilities have gone quiet due to the coronavirus and canceled spring break trips.

Danielle Daidone, owner and trainer at Four Paws in Lombard, has seen business plummet because of the coronavirus. With people working from home or laid off, there’s less need for dog-sitting. Here she is with a Shiba Inu, Gilly.
Danielle Daidone, owner and trainer at Four Paws in Lombard, has seen business plummet because of the coronavirus. With people working from home or laid off, there’s less need for dog-sitting. Here she is with a Shiba Inu, Gilly.
Provided photo

The coronavirus is affecting the two-legged who care for the four-legged.

With almost everybody working from home — or worse, laid-off — there’s little need for daily dog sitting.

Dogs at Four Paws in Lombard, where services include boarding, training, day care and grooming.
Provided photo

Take Prentice Kidd, who owns Chicago Canine Company, which offers training, boarding and day care at 5750 N. Tripp.

On a typical day, he has about 30 dogs at his business.

“Today, I have zero,” he said Monday.

Across the country, the pandemic and canceled spring break trips are creating a perfect storm for dog day care operators and their staffers, according to Danielle Daidone, whose family operates Four Paws in Lombard. She’s in touch with kennel and pet-service operators around the nation and she says many busy, bark-filled facilities have gone quiet.

Spring break “is the biggest time of year,” said Daidone. But on Monday, she was down from a typical 35 dogs to about 10.

Prentice Kidd, owner of Chicago Canine Company, at an obedience trial with a Belgian Malinois named Aaliyah.
Provided photo

“All my [customers] that were going out of town — at least a dozen — canceled,” said Kidd. “It’s really, really bad.”

Chicago’s Urban Pooch was operating two locations before the downturn. Its owners posted on Facebook that they’ve been forced into their “most difficult decision since opening Urban Pooch in 2010 by laying off the majority of our hourly team members temporarily. Due to recent legislation, our employees will have an immediate opportunity to apply for unemployment benefits.”

Urban Pooch Canine Life Center will remain open at 4501 N. Ravenswood, but Urban Pooch Training & Fitness Center at 5400 N. Ravenswood is closing temporarily. Customers are being asked to support the business by buying gift cards and shopping at the company store, which offers curbside pickup.

Fabian Romo-Vargas, owner of Found Boarding & Training, with Lola the French bulldog.

Owner Fabian Romo-Vargas said he’s had to lay off most of his staff — going from 22 employees to only four — at Found Boarding & Training, 4108 N. Rockwell. He was expecting about 29 pooches Tuesday, down from about 100 daily canine charges.

Normally, the livecam is pretty lively at DoGone Fun, 1717 S. State. Dog owners can log on and watch their pups romping. But the cameras showed an empty facility Monday. Owner Beverly Petrunich, who’s been operating it since 2003, is closing it for now.

“It’s like a mausoleum,” she said.

Petrunich used to care for 40 dogs a day. But on March 16, only 22 were dropped off, all belonging to health professionals from nearby hospitals. By St. Patrick’s Day, her clientele plummeted to five dogs. She speculates those health care workers are still doing shifts at hospitals but don’t need doggy day care for the time being because their significant others have either been laid off or are working from home.

Danielle Daidone trains a foxhound mix named Charlee.
Provided photo

At Four Paws, “It was our decision to remain open for day care for [dogs of] essential workers,” Daidone said. Essentially, “We’re working for free and doing this for the dogs that need us and the families that need us.”

At the dog day care centers that remain open, intake procedures have changed. “We’re not allowing any clients in the building anymore,” Daidone said. Hand-offs are done curbside. Found is switching dog owners’ leashes for Found leashes to try and minimize any germs being brought in, Romo-Vargas said.

“The customers are meeting us outside,” said Manny Escobedo, co-founder of Itty Bitty’s Doggy Day Care at 1040 W. 18th St., where he was taking care of five dogs Monday instead of the usual 15 to 20. His wife, Celia, said she’s been cheered by clients who’ve offered to pay more than a year in advance.

“If we go out of business, and if it [the economy] does start to come up again, nobody is going to be able to watch their dogs,” Kidd said, “because everybody’s going to be out of business.”