Many New Orleans households have beloved family members who answer to names such as Pumpkin or Scout. Our love for our feline and canine friends is stronger than ever; as families shrink in size and an ever-increasing number of people live alone, pets provide the affection and companionship that make a house a home.

Your pet’s home away from home
That love has led to a boom in the pet daycare business. In much the same way that parents look for safe, enriching and enjoyable centers for their preschool children, pet owners seek out stimulating surroundings for their dogs and cats.

At Au Pair des Chiens, owner Anne Marie Hesson says the mission is to keep each dog busy and happy – and that means never kenneling them. Instead, the dogs play indoors and out, run through pools and misters, and receive as much or as little socialization as they desire.

“The dogs go home tired and happy,” Hesson says. Au Pair des Chiens is located near the city’s medical institutions and many of her patrons work 12-hour shifts and don’t want their dogs home alone for such a long time. One bonus:

because the dogs play so much during the day, tired owners don’t feel guilty about skipping long walks after work.

Hesson recommends waiting until a puppy is about 4 months old to begin daycare. That is a good age for young dogs to learn to “hold their own” with other canines, she says. Dogs must be up-to-date with vaccinations and flea protection.

Michelle Ingram, owner of Zeus’s Place on Freret Street, says people considering her center for boarding or daycare have high expectations. They want to tour the facility, see the schedule and make sure the dogs get enough outdoor playtime. Pet owners used to feel comfortable leaving their dogs at home when they left town, with a neighbor coming by with fresh food and water once a day. Now, Ingram says, owners believe it’s better for their pets to board.
They also like the luxury of having their pets professionally groomed, Ingram says. Grooming may begin with have begun as standard bath-and-brushing, but nowadays there are plenty of “spa” treatments for Fido, including exfoliating paw scrubs. After all, a purebred pup can be a $2,000 investment, warranting top-shelf pampering.
Deedra Wing, a self-described dog lover, caters to pups and their parents at a retail store, Canine Culture, and a boarding center, Canine Connections. Wing says boarding and daycare have been so popular that she’s had to expand her center several times; Canine Connections recently moved to larger quarters on Tchoupitoulas Street. She says her patrons like the way she separates the larger and smaller dogs, and that she has a variety of playrooms, some restful and some more active. In the retail shop, pet owners love to buy their doggies toys to keep them occupied while “mom” and “dad” cook dinner. Another big seller is comfortable bedding.

Cats are generally thought of as solitary creatures, but Dr. W. Mark Cousins, a veterinarian with The Cat Practice, says felines benefit from boarding, too. The Cat Practice’s boarding center features New Age music and a calming waterfall. “Cats are extremely social animals,” Cousins says, pointing out that lions travel in packs. “Cats like to hang out together.”

Checking it out
Regular check-ups are also an important part of pet care. Dr. Pamela Doskey owns Doskey Mobile Veterinary Care, one of a handful of pet doctors who go to their patients’ homes. Her practice-on-wheels can handle just about every facet of health care except major surgery. The service is a boon for geriatric pets, as well as those who are terrified of travel.

Doskey says more people are requesting house calls, both for the convenience and to spare their pets what can be traumatic car rides. She says she often sees animals that haven’t had regular checkups in years because it was too difficult for their owners to transport them.

Cousins says it is essential to bring cats in yearly until they are 7 or 8, and twice a year after that. Cats are adept at hiding disease, he says, and pet owners may not realize their cat is ailing.

To cope with the bills that come from all that care, some pet owners turn to insurance. Ann Bell, director of Southern Animal Foundation, a nonprofit animal hospital, says although the insurance is available from a variety of companies, a lot of people aren’t aware of it or decide it isn’t worth the expense. It might be worth looking into if you acquire a pet that is predisposed to certain problems: Cocker spaniels, for example, have terrible ear problems, she says. Other breeds are prone to hip failure.

The ASPCA offers insurance plans for as little as $7.50 a month, while more expensive plans cover wellness and dental bills. For those with tight budgets, the Louisiana SPCA offers low-cost veterinarian care, including spaying, neutering and wellness visits.

A walk in the park
Exercise is also a big part of a health pet’s life. The desire to get outdoors with your pet – and other pet owners – has led to a proliferation of dog parks in the New Orleans area. New Orleans leash laws prohibit allowing dogs to run free, but authorities usually tolerate these parks because owners police their animals.

Pet owner Melissa Sawyer, who lives in the Marigny, takes her Akita to Cabrini Park in the French Quarter. Cabrini, which is fenced, has become an “unofficial” dog park, and Sawyer says people there are respectful of one another’s dogs. Sassy weighs 65 pounds, and needs a lot of exercise. “I know she likes to run,” Sawyer says, and the dog park provides a safe environment. Other dog parks have sprung up Uptown on Camp Street, along the levee near Audubon Park and at Pontchartrain Park Beach.

A popular Jefferson Parish spot is the Bonnabel Boat Launch Dog Park, a gated facility where dogs more than 4 months old can legally run free. Gwen Styron, spokesman for the Jefferson Parish Recreation Department, says the park is well used. Dogs must be supervised by someone 16 or older, and no female dogs in heat are allowed.
Unregulated dog parks can present problems, says Mimi DiMassa, owner of a 6-year-old Boxer named Maverick. At a dog park in California, an enormous pit bull terrorized her dog, she says, and she’s seen dogfights escalate at parks. She relies on long walks and a big backyard to give her dog all the exercise she needs.

To avoid some of these problems, a group of dog lovers have come together to open NOLA City Bark, an off-leash dog park in City Park. The park will be the first officially designated dog park in New Orleans, where it’s against the law to allow unleashed dogs to run free. The park’s 4.6 acres will include a wading pool, water fountains for dogs and humans, and separate play areas for small and large dogs. Jackie Shreves, president of NOLA City Bark, says supporters hope to open the park by December. The $500,000 needed to construct the park came from donors, including City Park, Friends of City Park, many veterinarians and animal hospitals and dozens of dog lovers.

Finding Fido and Fluffy
In the confusion following Hurricane Katrina, many people swore that if they were reunited with their pets, they would definitely have beloved animals microchipped. During the procedure, which is painless, a chip about the size of a grain of rice is implanted into the animal. The chip contains an identification number and other identifying information. Every animal shelter can scan the chips, LA/SPCA community director Katherine LeBlanc says. The LA/SPCA will microchip pets for $15 with wellness visits on certain days of the week.

The chips have a lifetime of 25 years. Experts recommend that pets also wear a collar with identifying information, and they remind pet owners to update their identification information if it changes. Microchipping is “an easy way to protect your pet,” says veterinarian Pamela Doskey. Because the chips are so small, just about every type of animal can receive one.