‘Covid puppies’ and stressed cats: why your pet might need a mini-break

It’s been a tough time for pets too – though there’s professional help on hand

While dogs often want company, cats enjoy seeking out quiet spots for time alone. Photograph: Getty Images

While dogs often want company, cats enjoy seeking out quiet spots for time alone. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The idea of a bus load of dogs heading off for an afternoon of fun sounds adorable. And Mark Burns, the man behind the wheel of the Doggy Day Care bus in Clare, says the reality is just as cute.

Set up four years ago as an add-on to his boarding kennel business, the service was an instant hit with local dog owners and the bus is regularly full – particularly during the pandemic as family pets seem to be revelling in the chance to “hang out” with other dogs.

“I used to be a stonemason, but work became scarce and having bred Alaskan Malamutes for years, my wife and I decided to turn our existing kennels into a boarding facility, with the day care centre being added a few years later,” says Burns, who is originally from Dublin.

“We are located just under 10 minutes from Ennis, but I didn’t think people would want to drive out to us before work so came up with the idea of the bus and right from the beginning it has been packed.

“Dogs need exercise as well as the company of other dogs. And especially during lockdown, it is really important for them to get away from their owners for a few hours as when everything goes back to normal and they suddenly find themselves home on their own every day, the adjustment will be very hard, and they can develop separation anxiety.”

Burns, who has been handling dogs for 27 years and is a lifelong member of the Irish Kennel Club, says there is no sign of any stress in his canine passengers as they eagerly board the bus independently.

“If the bus is full, I will have 23 dogs on board,” he says. “They all have their own separate crates and when a car pulls up next to me, the driver opens the door and their dog comes up the steps of the bus and gets into their own crate by themselves. Once they are all in and doors secured, we will set off and there isn’t a peep out of them until we arrive, when I open all their doors and they will run off into their designated areas – big dogs in one field and small dogs in the other.

“We always keep the dogs of different size apart, because even the most placid animal may unintentionally hurt another if they are much bigger.” They spend the morning playing, inside the day care centre or outside if the weather is good, and have lunch at about 1.30pm. Most of them will then have a nap and go outside for another couple of hours until home time at 4.30pm. “They will then go back on the bus and are usually so wiped that they will have a snooze on the journey back, before doing it all again the next day.”

Mark Burns, of the Doggy Day Care bus in Co Clare, which transports up to 23 dogs to its centre outside Ennis, where the pets can play games and socialise with other dogs.
Mark Burns, of the Doggy Day Care bus in Co Clare, which transports up to 23 dogs to its centre outside Ennis, where the pets can play games and socialise with other dogs.

Despite the numbers of dogs in one area, Burns says there are never any fights because the animals are assessed before being taken on and being “pack animals” they really enjoy each other’s company. He and his team spend the day with them, playing games, cleaning up, and keeping them fed and watered.

To some, the socialisation of animals may not seem like a priority, but the Clare-based entrepreneur believes it is vital for both pets and their owners. The Government also thinks so; as services like Dysart O’Dea Doggy Day Care and Kennels were deemed essential during lockdown.

Cat anxiety

Cat behaviourist Alice Chau-Ginguene also believes that felines need some TLC during the current crisis as many are feeling the effects as much as their human counterparts.

“I have seen huge amount of anxiety cases since March 2020,” says Chau-Ginguene, who runs maowcare.com from her home in Dublin. “I have been in touch with behaviourists around the world and they have all experienced the same surge of clients seeking help. We are home all the time during the lockdown so the noise, movement and smell, are all different. And people are waving around in front of the computer doing exercises, cooking, baking and even making home brew.

“All of these activities are new to our cats and it is definitely causing a lot of stress. I have dealt with numerous of cases where I advise people to adjust their set up, by moving the litter tray from the room where they shout at the computer during video calls or allowing the cat access to a spare room for downtime during the day so when they have enough of humans, they can go away.

“Cats exhibit stress in many ways, the most common being inappropriate toileting, overgrooming [hair pulling] and vocalising [screaming]. I have also seen it affect their appetite in the form of overeating or under-eating. So if people suspect their cat is experiencing stress, the first thing to do is to evaluate their set up, and if possible, set up a spare room. If not, even just providing more hiding boxes around the house so that the cat can hide away from others can help a lot.”

‘Covid puppies’

Burns says he has seen a lot of “Covid puppies” over the past 10 months or so, many now used to a certain way of life which will undoubtedly change once the pandemic is over. Chau-Ginguene says the same is true for cats.

“There has been a big uptake of cat ownership worldwide since March 2020,” she says. “Many got a new cat without doing much research and maybe feeling lost and overwhelmed. They may not necessarily be having cat problems yet but starting on the right foot, can help prevent future problems. And as part of the effort to help during the pandemic, I now offer a complimentary webinar once a month to both new and experienced cat lovers .”

So the advice is, if your cat needs some alone time and your dog needs company, make sure to take this into consideration as we move away from lockdown life.

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