Duluth dog boarding businesses adapt to pandemic world – Duluth News Tribune

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Duluth dog boarding businesses adapt to pandemic world – Duluth News Tribune

With less people leaving their homes for work or travel, businesses that specialize in pets have seen a decline in business. Andrea Schokker, owner of

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With less people leaving their homes for work or travel, businesses that specialize in pets have seen a decline in business. Andrea Schokker, owner of Canal Bark, a pet boarding and day care service at 4502 Airpark Blvd., said she’s seen a definite decrease in boarding clients since the start of the pandemic.

“With little to no travel lately, that’s been pretty rough,” Schokker said. “For example, in our peak times, we usually have maybe 60-70 dogs overnight during the summer peak or over the holidays. We’ve had nights with no dogs.”

Jo Ann Fairbanks, owner of Harbor City Kennels, 2512 Jean Duluth Road, said it’s been about the same for them.

“Some nights when we’d see somewhere around 100 dogs, we’re seeing zero to three,” Fairbanks said. “Today, we have 38 dogs and it’s kind of like a miracle.”

Pet care assistant Ashley Ferguson pets Hera during a 15-minute playtime with another dog Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. Dog owners purchase packages that determine how much playtime their dogs get throughout the day. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Pet care assistant Ashley Ferguson pets Hera during a 15-minute playtime with another dog Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. Dog owners purchase packages that determine how much playtime their dogs get throughout the day. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Schokker said she has mixed feelings about the downturn, however.

“It’s tough because you want to say you wish it was bigger, but I’m also glad that people aren’t traveling. It’s kind of a Catch-22,” she said.

But while both businesses have seen a decrease in overnight boarding services, day care is a different story. At the start of the pandemic, Schokker said more people kept their dogs home with them.

“But pretty soon we’d get calls saying, ‘OK, they’re driving me crazy,’ and they’d bring them in to day care a few days a week for a break,” she said.

Bins are filled with leashes, treats and lunches for dogs attending day care Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. The bins are sanitized at the end of each day. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Bins are filled with leashes, treats and lunches for dogs attending day care Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. The bins are sanitized at the end of each day. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Canal Bark has also seen more new clients, Schokker noted, due to more people choosing to get dogs throughout the pandemic. They’ve especially seen an influx of puppies and operate a puppy day care.

“A lot of people who got dogs at the start of the pandemic are starting to bring them to us as they return to in-person work,” Schokker said. “And we’re seeing a lot of 6- to 9-month-old puppies who haven’t been out and socialized much. That’s a bit of a new challenge, but we’re working through it.”

Adapting to meet customer needs has been a big focus for Schokker this year. They’ve updated their drop-off and pickup system to a valet service, meeting customers at their cars to limit in-person contact. They’ve also started offering dog bathing services again, something they’d cut back on a year earlier.

“That’s an area that’s still strong lately. Even through COVID, people need their golden doodles groomed and washed,” Schokker said.

Pet care assistant Lindsey Morgan picks up Ryker for a breather during playtime with Aero on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Pet care assistant Lindsey Morgan picks up Ryker for a breather during playtime with Aero on Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Another area that’s remained strong is the demand for dogs. Fairbanks also runs Harbor City Retrievers and breeds golden retrievers. She said her list for puppies is longer than in the past.

“It’s about twice the size as usual,” Fairbanks said.

She has had to change her system for the latest litter. Usually, she invites the soon-to-be owners to visit the puppies when they’re 2 weeks old and return weekly.

“It’s good for them to get to know each other and for the puppies to be handled at a young age like that,” Fairbanks said. “But with COVID, we’ve mostly done photos. I’m a little nervous about people holding up the puppies to their faces. So we’re waiting until they’re at least 6 weeks old.”

Pet care assistant Ashley Ferguson gives Hera a few more pets before putting her back in a kennel post playtime Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Pet care assistant Ashley Ferguson gives Hera a few more pets before putting her back in a kennel post playtime Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

An unexpected side effect of the pandemic; Fairbanks had a hard time buying enough of specific brands of dog food due to demand.

“And you really don’t want to switch up your dog’s food quickly and with puppies, I don’t like to switch it at all,” Fairbanks said.

Schokker also breeds dogs and added that although she doesn’t plan on having a litter for another year, she’s also already got a long list of people interested.

“People are really looking for puppies right now,” she said. “Which is OK with me as that helps keep us afloat. We just took January off in order to offset costs and we’re back and seeing an upward trend. We just hope it continues.”

Aero and Ryker enjoy some extra time outside as general manager Brenda Olson cleans up Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Aero and Ryker enjoy some extra time outside as general manager Brenda Olson cleans up Wednesday, Feb. 24, at Canal Bark. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

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