Overbookings put pet services on ‘paws’

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Milena Hanson

Marley, a labradoodle, is considered a grooming dog because of his long, curly doodle fur. Grooming a doodle takes a lot of patience, from endlessly waiting for an open appointment to waiting for several hours-long grooming sessions finish. “If you don’t plan two months in advance and schedule an appointment with a dog groomer, get ready to roll up your sleeves and groom that dog yourself,” said Marley’s owner, Mirela Cukovic.

By Milena Hanson and Kate Ridgway

Stumbling home from a long day, pet owners can always look forward to reuniting their furry friends, who wait eagerly by the door.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, 70% of American households know this joy, and many are more than willing to spend a pretty penny to keep their four-legged family members happy and healthy. In 2021 alone, the pet industry cost owners in the U.S. $123.6 billion.

Vet visits, grooming, and boarding are common among pet owners, but these services are currently in high demand and are no longer readily available to all customers.

One pet grooming service that has observed this change is Bow Wow Meow.

“It’s gotten busier, and we’ve definitely seen more of a backlog than we used to,” said Lisa Bastian, an employee at Bow Wow Meow.

Bastian explained that for simple bathing appointments, people now need to book one to two weeks in advance, and for more time-consuming grooming appointments, the wait time is as long as six weeks.

Similarly, Shamrock Ranch Kennels, a pet boarding, training, and grooming facility, has struggled to keep up with the increased demand. 

“We’re full practically every weekend, and for holidays we’re booking out farther in advance and have more people on a waiting list,” said Kevin Bender, the office manager at Shamrock Ranch. “Ultimately, we’re just telling more people ‘no.’”

According to Bender, the number of animals they board has increased by almost 10% since 2018, and the wait times are getting longer. 

In the past, Bender suggested customers book their pets’ stay just four to six weeks in advance. Now, customers hoping to board their dogs during the winter holidays are being told to book as early as September, several months in advance.

Molli Shields, a senior at Carlmont, is a pet owner who noticed this shift.

“We have stopped boarding our dog because of some issues with boarding services being too crowded,” Shields said. “It’s not that they couldn’t get us in, but my dog really doesn’t like being kenneled with other dogs, and that was all that was available.”

She has also had some trouble with her two cats.

“We’ve tried to take them to the vet several times, but it’s always quite a long wait, and they charge excessively,” Shields said.

Shields is not alone in her experience. Even essential pet services like veterinarian clinics are overbooked and overwhelmed by the number of clients. 

Sonya Sia, a veterinarian at an emergency clinic in Lafayette, explained how the overflow from overbookings at regular practices has begun to affect emergency veterinarian services.

“General practices around us are booked out for two to three weeks, so if someone’s pet is sick and they don’t want to wait, they just come through the emergency service,” Sia said.

Emergency clinics like Sia’s try to reserve their services for animals in critical condition, but they do their best to accommodate the overflow of people seeking veterinarian care.

Many attribute this overflow of people to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For one, a lot of people got dogs during COVID,” Bastian said.

Since 2019, the number of dogs owned in the U.S. has increased by 5.6 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Bender identified an issue with this surge of “pandemic puppies.”

“When people get a new dog, they don’t realize that it will come along with some training issues,” Bender said.

Another complication that Bastian noted was the specific type of dog being adopted during the pandemic.

“At Bow Wow Meow, a lot of people got grooming dogs, meaning dogs that need haircuts,” Bastian said. “We used to do more labs and goldens and other dogs like those, but now we’re doing a lot more poodles and doodles, oodles.”

The doodle craze has taken the world by storm; the number of poodle crosses has increased by 160.3% in the U.S., according to a Nationwide study.

And these oodles of untrained doodles and pandemic pets are not going anywhere. Now the focus of the pet industry is adapting to this newly increased pet population, and the veterinary field is pivoting in response, according to Sia.

“During the pandemic, a bunch of urgent care places opened up, and emergency clinics that are feeling overloaded have been developing urgent care portions,” Sia said.

Right now, according to Sia and Bastian, pet owners should prepare to claw their way to an appointment and sit through endless wait lines with a furry, slightly smelly, but loveable friend by their side. 

“But, of course, I love the dogs and cats, and the customers are usually coming in upbeat because they’re bringing their pet,” Bastian said.

This story was originally published on Scot Scoop News on December 24, 2022.