BRESLAU — All 165 spots at Country Paws Boarding in Breslau were booked months in advance for March break.
By the time it started, only four reservations remained.
The province had begun its long fight with the COVID-19 pandemic, one that continues six months on. The results have been disastrous for the dog boarding industry.
“It was supposed to be the best week of the year for us,” said Country Paws Boarding owner Jaymie Crook. “So, that was our introduction for what the COVID-19 pandemic had in store for us.”
With travel grinding to a halt in March, coupled with the land border to the U.S. shutting down, travel plans the world over have been put on hold.
And dog boarding is a mirror image of the travel industry, explained Crook.
With more people staying at home — or exploring Ontario — it means their faithful pup isn’t in need of their own hotel destination.
Daycare dog services for front line workers helped ease some of the burden in the early days, and it was an important service for those that needed it. But between his two boarding locations in Breslau and London, Crook has dropped from about 85 employees to 25 today.
They were able to take advantage of government subsides for as long as they could manage. But when it became clear that business wasn’t picking up, they had to let go out of most of their staff.
Crook estimates they are back to about 40 per cent of their regular occupancy, and that’s during the summer months when travel is usually at its highest. From July to August, he said they tend to be close to full occupancy for all eight weeks.
“We anticipate it to stay this way until it is safe to leave the country,” he said.
During the 2008 financial crisis, Crook said most families were scaling back their vacations, opting for American destinations instead of flying to Europe or the Caribbean. But they were still travelling, he said, and it had nowhere near the impact the pandemic has had.
For the staff that have remained, Crook is now working to train them as dog trainers to expand the business.
Dog grooming has been one of the bright spots over the last few months. And dog treat sales have been another surprise, outperforming previous years with more owners at home and paying attention to their dog’s wants and needs.
But the pandemic won’t last forever. And with 25 years of experience, Crook has seen generations of dogs from loyal pet owners, and he knows they will return.
“We know these dogs on a first-name basis,” joked Crook. “We know them better than we know the owners, and I think they appreciate that. We don’t know what the future holds, but people will travel again. When they do, we’ll be here and ready for their dogs.”