Dogs Have Their Day in Kalispell

By Beacon Staff

Dogs like to party too.

At the Lucky Dog Day Camp in south Kalispell, owners can treat their canines to a birthday party, complete with party favors, pupcakes, decorations and a birthday photo. But if what your dog needs isn’t a party, just a little companionship or a place to hang out while you’re at work, doggie day care services are available five days a week.

Either way, it’s clear that Lucky Dog has found its niche in the valley.

“(Business) is doing a lot better than we actually thought,” said Lauren Cowden, one of the center’s directors.

Lauren Cowden walks through the pack of canines toward the window to check on the dogs outside Lucky Dog Day Camp.

Lucky Dog isn’t a hotel. It provides no overnight boarding. Instead, it’s a venue where people can bring their dogs during the day, while they’re working or shopping or running errands, and let their canine buddies hang out with other dogs in a supervised environment.

Also, Teresa Williams, the center’s other director, said some people bring their dogs in simply to ease the problems associated with separation anxiety. Dogs that don’t learn to cope well when their owners are gone tend to chew whatever’s in sight, Williams said.

“People come home and things are destroyed,” she said. “We’re here to alleviate some of that.”

Williams and Cowden came up with the dog day care idea while working together as veterinary technicians at the Animal Clinic in Kalispell. Williams said when she lived in Missoula, where there are about a half-dozen dog day care centers, she took her pups to day care when she was busy. But she didn’t have that option in Kalispell. There are boarding houses and similar centers here, she said, but not a place solely dedicated to free-range day care – dogs are never put in kennels at Lucky Dog.

Lucky Dog opened in October and, with business increasing, Williams and Cowden are already considering what they need to do when they outgrow their current facility on U.S. Highway 93 South. But for now they are focused on providing for the 40 or so people who bring their dogs in regularly. Some dogs come in every day, while some show up sporadically.

On any given day, there will be up to 20 dogs at the center, though that’s pushing capacity. The facility has a roomy indoor portion where dogs spend much of their time, along with a fenced-off area outside.

“I think that’s why we’re doing pretty well,” Cowden said, “because they’re allowed to run around and play here.”

Around the country, dog day cares are growing in popularity. Montana is no different, though Lucky Dog is the first of its kind in the Kalispell area. There’s a direct correlation between Americans’ busy lives and the rise of dog day cares. People don’t want to leave their dogs home alone all day and when they’re running errands they can’t always leave their pooches in the car, especially in the summer.

Buckets with each dog’s personal effects are labeled near the front entrance to Lucky Dog Day Camp south of Kalispell.

For the most part, Cowden and Williams serve as supervisors and, occasionally, mediators. They limit their roles as playmates, though not completely, to allow the dogs to naturally interact. If dogs are left to get to know each other, they display their natural inclinations toward packs. With the exception of the old or tired dogs that prefer to kick back on the center’s couch instead of follow the group, the dogs stick together. Even anti-social dogs fall into this group behavior.

“I think it’s important for a dog to be a dog, part of the pack,” Williams said. “That’s their natural instinct.”

The day care provides an array of services, other than supervision and interaction. Teeth cleaning, nail trimming, brushing, and other services are available. For hyper dogs, there’s a treadmill to burn off some energy before they’re let loose with the rest of the gang.

“We have a couple dogs that are really high-strung,” Williams said.

Then, of course, there are the birthday parties. A regular party takes place on the weekdays during regularly scheduled business hours. But a VIP party, which costs a little bit more, gives an entire weekend day to a dog. Williams and Cowden come in on Saturdays to throw the VIP pup parties.

And it all comes pretty cheap. Regular day care services cost $15 for a full day for the first dog and $12 per additional dog. For half days, the prices are $10 and $8, respectively. Nail trims are $12 and coat brushings are $5. A VIP party costs $45.

Day camp packages are also available in increments of 10, 20 or 30 days.

People interested in bringing their dogs to the day care center have to fill out a 12-page application and make sure their dogs have all of the appropriate shots. Dogs aren’t generally fed at the center, unless owners bring food and request feeding. Treats, however, are always in supply. For Williams and Cowden, working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. by themselves, treats help deal with the long stretches.

“They learn real quick that the quietest one sitting is going to get the treats,” Williams said.

Lucky Dog is located at 2455 U.S. Highway 93 South and can be reached at 257-5825.