dogtopia: a dog hotel comes to mississauga (and we give it a great review)

When we travel, we've always had someone stay over in our home with the dogs. In almost 30 years of dogs, we only boarded our dogs once. It was not a good experience, and we never did it again. Also, for many years, our schedules also required a dogwalker. So we're accustomed to paying for quality, personal care for our dogs.

Now, however, we've come to the end of the road with dogsitters and dogwalkers. For many reasons, that won't work anymore.*

Fortunately for us, times have changed. These days you can find quality doggie daycare in almost any city, and the low-rent kennel is a thing of the past, at least in major metropolitan areas. Friends told us about ParK9, located near Toronto Pearson Airport, and we stopped by for a visit. The facilities are amazing, and the care sounds top-notch. The catch was the price. We've always tried to be generous when paying for dog-care, but the fees at ParK9 were well out of our range - more than twice what we would normally pay. Ouch. Plus, there are add-on fees for administering medication and other services they consider extras.

Driving around Mississauga one day, I saw a sign: Dogtopia. Google told me it's a dog daycare and hotel chain, mostly in the US, but growing in Canada, too. I explored the website, then Allan and I went for a tour. We were really impressed.

The Dogtopia facilities are clean and bright, and smell fresh. The staff clearly loves and understands dogs. They have a webcam, which seems to be standard these days. The staff was extremely amenable to accommodating Tala's condition, with a certain amount of time playing, balanced with rest time in a crate. I feel like I can trust them to give Tala her meds, and to make sure she doesn't aggravate her condition with too much activity.

We've decided that this is our best option for our next vacation. In preparation for that, we're putting Tala and Diego in daycare a few times, so (we hope and assume) they'll associate the place with fun, and not feel frightened or abandoned. We did our first daycare last week! First time ever!

It went great: absolutely no complaints. The dogs had a great time, and Tala had no ill effects from alternating periods of play and rest.

One thing we find odd in both Dogtopia and ParK9, is that the dogs don't go outside to pee and poop. I thought there would be a small outdoor enclosure where attendants would take the dogs, but there isn't. The dogs relieve themselves right in the playroom, and the attendant cleans up. Supposedly the texture and scent of the floor seems, to a dog, like they are outside. Dogs (we are told) act like they're at the dog park, but they don't bring the habit home. I'm a little skeptical, because Tala wouldn't relieve herself at all, the whole time she was there.

One big difference between ParK9 and Dogtopia - other than the price - is where and how the dogs sleep. ParK9 has private rooms or suites - which might sound nice to humans, but being alone in a closed room with no windows could be scary and stressful for dogs. At Dogtopia, crates are set up on either side of the big daycare play area. The dogs take time-outs in the crates, and they sleep in the room they've been playing and socializing in all day, and where they can see all the other dogs and humans. I know that Tala and Diego will feel much more comfortable and secure this way. So, amazingly, the less expensive option is, to our minds, the best option.

Dogtopia has some great deals, too. For starters, they gave us a complimentary day of daycare for each dog. If you buy a multi-day pass in advance, the per-day fee goes way down, plus the overnight boarding fee is half the price. If you buy a pass right away (after your complimentary trial), they give you four free days of daycare. Pass-holders' dogs receive free nail trims, ear cleaning, and other perks. With a 30-day pass, we're actually spending the same, or a bit less, than we used to spend on dogsitting - without any of the worry.

We were very pleased with our complimentary daycare day! The dogs had a great time and seemed very well cared for. As soon as we left them there, we sat in the car and watched the webcam on my phone, then spent a good deal of the day watching on our computers. The challenge will be not spending our entire vacation watching Tala-and-Diego-cam. (Or should that be Talavision?)

* It's one thing to hire a friend to stay over when there's a backyard for the dogs, and walking is optional or at least easy. Walking two dogs, separately, in a building full of dogs, from the 19th floor... who wants to do that?? In NYC, a lot of walking was required, but there was a steady supply of writers, actors, musicians, etc., who were mostly home during the day, and always in need of short-term income. Here, not so much.

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