COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lily doesn’t like to sleep alone.
So, when the beagle stays overnight at Cheryl’s Doggie Daycare on the west side of Columbus, an attendant lies down with her on a futon.
“We try to do what the customers ask,” said Cheryl McCool, who owns the business. “They (the dogs) are like children to some of them.”
With the busy summer-vacation season under way, kennel owners are fielding a fair number of unusual requests from pet owners seeking to board animals.
Kennel owners have been asked to cuddle dogs at bedtime; feed them on china; and, on an Ohio State game day, dress them in Buckeye gear.
“You try to meet every customer’s request as often as possible,” said Adam Schellhammer, whose family owns Camp Bow Wow on the west side – a franchise of a national dog-boarding business.
Kennels have a good reason to keep customers happy: In 2012, pet owners spent an estimated $4.16 billion on pet grooming and boarding, according to the American Pet Products Association.
In a recent survey for which Camp Bow Wow franchisees were questioned about the most memorable requests they’d received from pet owners, one reported that it had been asked to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to a mastiff at bedtime. (The franchisee complied.)
Another was asked to serve red wine to a Great Dane at mealtime – and not a cheap variety. (The business said it doesn’t serve alcohol to dogs, and the caller wasn’t heard from again.)
Although kennel owners in central Ohio couldn’t recall requests quite so peculiar, they hear their share of appeals for special treatment – many of them involving food.
“We’ve actually had to feed a dog on a washcloth. That’s the only way the dog would eat,” Schellhammer said. “We had one owner who ... (said that for) every meal we had to make a chicken potpie.”
The Pet Palace Pet Boarding resorts in Columbus, Hilliard and southern Delaware County order steak or chicken dinners from restaurants for dogs whose owners request them.
“The workers like it because they get to eat the side dishes,” said Pet Palace owner Brian Hudock.
Cliff Boyden, owner of Puptown Lounge in Upper Arlington, hosted one dog that would eat only off a plate. (The owners sent their own china.)
“We had another person who wanted us to give the dog a treat when the Jeopardy! theme song came on.” (The staff complied.)
At Acme Canine in Lewis Center, Laura Pakis has a regular customer – Moose, a 175-pound mastiff – who expects a warmed hot dog and liquid from the hot-dog package placed atop his dry food.
She gives them to him.
“He doesn’t like when we’re gone, so he doesn’t eat very well,” explained Stacy Gotti, owner of Moose. “They have found, if they put hot-dog juice on his food, he likes that, and he’ll eat. You’d never think that a 175-pound dog would be that picky.”
Few requests from dog owners are surprising, Pakis said.
One thought his scent would comfort his dog in his absence, so he went into the kennel bathroom and took off his T-shirt so the dog could sleep with it.
Another specified that the dog get a nightly bowl of vanilla ice cream.
“Wintertime, they’ll bring in whole outfits,” Pakis said. “On a game day, they’ll ask that the dog wear a sweater with Ohio State on it.”
The OSU sweater might seem a bit of a stretch, but some owners have good reason to ask for special treatment.
Lily, the beagle who likes human sleep mates, was adopted from the Franklin County Dog Shelter and has separation anxiety so intense that she has hurt herself trying to escape a crate, said her owner, Katie Dean.
She takes the dog to Cheryl’s precisely because of its willingness to accommodate Lily.
“They’re outrageously wonderful.”
Yet not all dogs are as needy as their owners imagine, kennel operators say.
Worn-out after a day of playing with other dogs, most boarders usually go to sleep quickly – whether in their pajamas (yes, someone requested them) or not, said Boyden of Puptown Lounge.
And they’re often too hungry to need their mealtime rituals.
An owner who requested that Boyden’s staff say a chant in a foreign language before mealtime was probably just asking for what he thought the dog needed.
Come suppertime, though, no chant was uttered, Boyden said.
“The dog ate anyway.”