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Help Wanted: Doggy day care workers

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 4:01 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Pandemic puppies have been a common phenomenon during the course of the pandemic. But since many people have gone back to work, local dog daycares are having a hard time keeping up with demand. As part of our ongoing series on high-demand jobs, our Kayla Martin spoke with some local businesses trying to get more employees in the door.

Anissa Joy, a team leader at Play Dog Play in Burlington, has what some dog lovers would consider a dream job.

“I actually worked at a dog boarding facility in Milton for about five years. Then, I left there and decided to go sell cars for a year. That made me realize that I really enjoy working with dogs,” Joy said. She says they could really use some help right now and that no special training is required. “We are always willing to train the right candidate for the position.”

“It’s been a very challenging process and experience for us, nothing that I have dealt with before,” said Lyra Anderson, the businesses’ co-owner. She says the labor issue mostly stems from the pandemic. “Just because of the anxiety and stress and nervousness about the global pandemic, and rightly so. I’ve been dealing with a lot of applicants who are interested and would possibly like to work, but then they have something that comes up with their family or friends.”

Anderson says there is a high demand for dog day care services throughout the area. “It is unprecedented how quickly we are booking up,” she said. Every dog has to go through an interview process before they can join. “We opened up the interview process after closing it for a couple of months and in a matter of three days we had already booked out two months’ worth of interviews.”

She says the increase in demand is likely because so many people got pets when stuck at home, but now they are returning to work. “Social creatures by nature, so they are not getting what they naturally need if they are sitting home by themselves the entire time,” Anderson said.

Play Dog Play has a strict 20 to 25 dog to handler ratio. “Specifically did not want to change our business philosophy to meet the need,” Anderson said. “I am not the type of employer or worker that’s looking for a warm body on the floor.”

Anderson says that means that if they don’t have the staff, they don’t take the dogs. She says that often means having to close for the day or decrease the number of dogs they can take in. Their normal limit is 100 dogs, but sometimes they can only take up to 60 or 80 dogs at a time. “That directly affects our bottom line,” Anderson said.

They’re looking to hire at least two more full-time front desk team members and two more full-time handlers, some of the hardest positions for them to fill.

So what kind of characteristics do you need to become a handler? “Dogs are just like children in many ways. So on top of loving them, you have to have compassion and patience and empathy to really successfully work with dogs,” Anderson said.

But being able to play with the dogs is only a small part of the job. “It’s a lot of hands-on work, it’s a lot of dedication. There are definitely some days that are really, really frustrating and really energetic,” Joy said.

Overall Joy says it’s a positive experience. “This is what handling is all about. Right here we’ve got these two dogs trying to interact, trying to feel each other out. I want to try to let them play if they can do it appropriately together,” she said. She says understanding dog behavior is a big part of the job. “See what support they need. See how they do weeks, months, sometimes really years later. And really starting to see them flourish is so wonderful. It’s probably my favorite part about this job.”

For example, take Ziggy. “This is a dog a year ago wouldn’t see bouncing around this excited with another dog,” Joy said.

Other perks include getting to bring your dog to work, discounted dog training, and pet supplies. Anderson says they also attempt to provide a living wage. “We actually bumped up our starting pay to $15 an hour. From there, we then are really beyond happy to communicate and coordinate beyond that of what is truly is going to be a livable wage,” she said.

There are a variety of shifts and hours available from full-time to part-time.

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