Friday, March 7, 2014
The social rank of dogs is on the rise, and canines in southern Maine are reaping the rewards.
Assistant manager Melinda Larson tries to keep order during an exercise period last month at The Doggie Cottage day-care business in Scarborough.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Kristi Moreau runs the Doggie Cottage dog day care business in Scarborough.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
They have a standing invitation to sunbathe on decks along Portland’s waterfront. They can further their education with circus classes at Pet Quarters in Windham. And an overnight stay at The Doggie Cottage in Gray comes complete with a turn-down service.
But with greater privileges also has come a backlash from those who want dogs – and their owners – to remember their place.
When dog owners in Scarborough fought this past fall against a summertime leash requirement on local beaches, the Town Council countered with an all-out, year-round ban of unleashed dogs on town property.
In the end, the dogs and their doting owners proved their political power. They overturned the ordinance in a townwide vote last month that drew the highest turnout at a special election in Scarborough’s history.
The flap was the latest evidence of how far faithful dog owners will go on behalf of their pets.
Any gain in influence is not a result of strength in numbers. The proportion of Maine households with dogs declined from 38 percent in 2001 to 35 percent in 2011, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Rather, experts say, it’s the result of a shift in attitude about a dog’s place in the home, which has literally gone from the doghouse out back to into bed with the owners.
“The transition socially is that the pet has become a family member,” said Dr. Gail Mason, co-owner of Bath-Brunswick Veterinary Associates and Portland Veterinary Specialists.
Her hypothesis is backed up by a different figure from the American Veterinary Medical Association. In 2001, just over half of survey respondents said they viewed their dogs as family members, rather than pets or property. That number shot up to two-thirds in 2011.
Nancy Freedman-Smith, owner of Gooddogz Training in Portland, remembers her parents being the only people 30 years ago to buy a station wagon so they had enough room for their dog.
“Everyone made fun of us,” she said, but now it’s the norm.
As far as training goes, Freedman-Smith has seen an expansion of educational options over her 20-year career. Once focused on teaching manners, like how to sit and not to nip, the field includes classes synced to music, nose-work and barn hunts. She said it reflects the changing relationship between dogs and their owners, who used to command their pets and now see them as living partners.
“They know things about us. They’re there for everything,” she said.
HIGHER LEVEL OF FOOD, CARE
From dressing them in clothes to buying birthday presents, more than ever, dog owners treat their pets like children. The explosion in doggy day-care services is more evidence of that.
When Sean Kelley was building his first dog resort and day care in 2000, even the contractors working on the facility in Gray told him he was crazy, he said. Within four years, he opened a second Doggie Cottage in Scarborough to accommodate the demand.
Since then, doggy day cares have cropped up all over, Kelley said, including a couple opened by his former clients.
“I think they had more dog day cares at one time than they did restaurants,” he said about the town of Gray.
The American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 survey shows 14 percent of dog owners have used pet day care in the past six months, up from 3 percent in 2006.
Although The Doggie Cottage has always catered to spoiled pets, Kelley said, since opening he’s noticed an even higher standard among them.
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Zion, an Australian shepherd training to become a medical alert and psychiatric service dog, jumps for owner Samantha Boudrot of Old Orchard Beach during a class at Pet Quarters in Scarborough.
Derek Davis/Staff Photographer