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Pets get creature comforts at day care

The day care crowd was panting and weary, so although it wasn't technically nap time, a self-imposed rest period was under way.

Jackson retired to his pillow. Ollie lay splayed on the floor. Nadia stretched out across the middle of the room. The little ones settled down, too.

But then Gayle Hayes came into the room and her charges gathered around. Ollie climbed into Hayes' lap and she held him and scratched his head and said, "Daddy will be here later."

Comforted, Ollie went off to sniff around _ a favorite activity of the schnauzer and his canine day-care colleagues.

Almost two months ago, Hayes opened what is believed to be east Pasco's first dog day care at Gayle's Doggie Talk II, her pet grooming and boarding business just north of Dade City on U.S. 301. Ollie is one of the regulars.

"I just love animals so much that grooming wasn't enough," Hayes said. "I had a lot of people ask about (daily) boarding. I thought, "What a great idea to have dogs during the day.' "

A pet groomer since 1976, Hayes has room at her day care for 21 dogs. The charge is $8 per pet per day or $35 weekly. A good brushing is part of the day-care routine, so long as the dog has no mats, and other grooming services are available for extra. The business is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Cats are welcome, too, but they are less likely to adapt readily to hanging out with other felines and canines, so they must be brought in their carriers. They still will receive love, attention and snacks _ mostly doled out by Monte Johnson, who works for Hayes.

He keeps the dogs fed, watered and exercised and occasionally serves as referee when the day-care buddies get on each other's nerves. Generally, the dogs are happy to see each other when they arrive in the morning.

Nadia, a 1{-year-old German shepherd and Rottweiler mix, never much liked riding in owner Brad Fickel's truck. All that changed when Nadia started going to day care.

"When I say, "We're going to day care,' she hops right in the truck," Fickel said one recent afternoon when he arrived to pick up Nadia from day care.

He can tell Nadia has had a good time because she's tuckered out.

"She goes right in and jumps in my bed and goes right to sleep" when she gets home, Fickel said.

Happy as they are to see each other at the start of the day, the dogs _ like children at day care _ are thrilled to see their owners at the end of the day.

Hayes said that the dogs are affectionate with her and Johnson until it's time to go home and then their attention is completely diverted.

"They do real well until the mommies and daddies arrive," she said, "then they act like they aren't even our buddies anymore."

She doesn't take it personally. She seems to get a charge out of watching the "mommies" and "daddies" greet their dogs.

Jackson, a black cocker spaniel, began leaping into the air when Deborah Thomas walked in to pick him up.

"He had a ball," Hayes told Thomas.

Jackson is a big fan of day care because "he needs a lot of attention" and doesn't like hanging out alone during the day when she's at work, Thomas said as Jackson continued to leap.

While doggie day care catches on in east Pasco, residents of west Pasco have a pet-sitting option for when they are away.

"It's kind of like a doggie day care," said Wendy Moore, owner and operator of Fur, Feathers & Friends in New Port Richey.

The difference is she goes to the owner's home to do the pet-sitting.

She started her business a little more than a year ago and has been busy from the beginning. She averages 10 visits a day for five to 20 pets, charging $8 for one daily visit, though the charge varies depending on the distance she must travel.

"Most people have adult dogs and usually can get by on two visits a day," she said. "People with younger animals and puppies require more."

Both Hayes and Moore are particular about the animals they take in to day care and the sitting business. Hayes insists that day care clients be free of fleas and meticulously cleans the converted house from which she operates.

Moore is careful to avoid taking on pets that bite.

"If I can't get in to take care of the pet, then it doesn't do either one of us any good," she said.

Gayle's Doggie Talk II can be reached at (352) 567-0092. Fur, Feathers & Friends can be reached at (813) 376-8959.

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