Lucy Tomlinson discovers a doggy paradise in peril
What do you expect when mini-breaking it up at a luxurious hotel? Squashy sofas, roaring fire, your choice of comfy beds and a pool for a quick dip? Well, naturally. How about regular treats, grooming and lots of furry chums to socialise with? Sounds... interesting, when can I book in?
This isn’t a hotel for humans, but a snapshot of life at Daycare 4 Dogs, Manchester's, and in fact the UK’s, first dog hotel. Despite the name, it runs both daytime and boarding facilities for dogs without using crates or cages to kennel them in. Instead dogs are provided with a variety of stimulating environments and can interact with humans and other dogs any time they like. It’s not for every dog of course, and new guests have to complete a trial day to show they can get along with others before they are allowed to attend.
We are showing how things can be best for the welfare of the dogs and we think that this is the model for the future
By all accounts Daycare 4 Dogs’ customers are very happy, though they often let their humans, such as 'Vicki', do the talking for them. She said in an online review, “My two dogs have stayed in the doggy hotel on several occasions and always come back happy and relaxed. All the staff are great and always message and send pics when we are away. The team genuinely love dogs and although I am always sad to leave my pups, it is so reassuring that they are in such safe and caring hands.”
So what’s the problem in this doggy utopia? It’s not the customers - both human and canine varieties seem to be uniformly delighted. And yet the future seems uncertain. The problem stems from recent changes to animal licensing laws.
Manchester City Council can issue one of three licences – a kennels licence, for premises that keeps dogs separately from one another; a home boarding license for people who sit dogs in their own homes, and a dog daycare license. According to Daycare 4 Dogs none of these are suitable and if an alternative arrangement can't be found, it may have to close.
Daycare 4 Dogs is adamant that it would never kennel dogs, and indeed it would lose many customers if it did, so the first option is out. Daycare 4 Dogs is operated from a commercial premises in order to have the room for all the facilities it needs, so home boarding is not applicable. The dog daycare licensing sounds more promising, but it doesn’t allow for dogs to stay overnight as is part of the Daycare 4 Dogs offer. It seems that their unique model has not been accounted for by lawmakers.
Stepping away from the cuteness factor for a minute, this is not just about the dogs, important as they maybe. Manchester is meant to be a city that welcomes an innovation and cynics might say that if this were small company trying to develop tech, for example, the council would be bending over backwards to accommodate a new proposition. Instead, when it comes to a new approach to animal welfare, they have thrown up their hands and declared themselves defeated by red tape.
Confidentials spoke to Emma Billington, the manager at Daycare 4 Dogs, who told us, “My customers don’t want their dogs in kennels. They’ve been writing to their MPs, we’ve spoken to dog lawyers, to barristers, but the council has said their hands are tied.
“We are proud of what we do and we have created something special. We are showing how things can be best for the welfare of the dogs and we think that this is the model for the future.”
Perhaps the most affecting part of the story is that Emma also runs a dog rescue centre, Dogs 4 Rescue, using all the same principles, which allows rescue dogs to live together as a pack exploring a custom-built adventure playground. The centre has rehomed nearly 1,000 dogs in the four years it has been running and is powered by the profits from Dogs 4 Daycare, alongside fundraising efforts. So, while Dogs 4 Rescue is not directly threatened by the licensing issue, instead it will suffer financially and perhaps even have to close, if Daycare 4 Dogs is not there to support it.
As well as providing the same home comforts that Daycare 4 Dogs does, Dogs 4 Rescue also runs schemes that allows rescue dogs to go for days out or even weekends away with volunteers in order to prepare them for their eventual adoption. Dogs which cannot be adopted for one reason or another will live at Dogs 4 Rescue for the rest of their lives.
Watch a video of them in their happy home.