Doggy Daycare Operations

Once relegated to the outlying periphery urban belts of cities, and in Auckland to reasonably distant outlying farmland areas far away from neighbours, commercial pet care facilities have moved into urban areas and are now a growing business phenomena. Total Property writer Rosemary Williams investigate.

Doggy day cares as they are known are springing up in the industrial zones of what was once the domain of mechanics’ workshops, panel beating yards, and light manufacturing premises in industrial enclaves from the North Shore to South Auckland and suburbs in between, including Onehunga, Penrose and Mt Wellington.

Professional canine facilities are now also situated close to residential areas and/or arterial routes into and out of the city, for people who want to drop their dogs off at the start of each day.

Originally an American pooch pampering concept with businesses in some larger US cities almost on every corner, the Kiwi doggy day care entities offer everything from day minding, to exercise regimes, socialising, training, dog walking, grooming and overnight kennelling – even ‘field trips’ and short overnight farm stays. Several facilities drop off and pick up pets in their branded vans.

The first city-based doggy day care operations was set up just over a decade ago and is well–established, but in recent years there have been a number of new start-ups operating from industrial and semi-suburban zoning locations to cater for city people who treat their dogs like children – dropping them off and picking them up each day without having to participate in the exercise in the evening.

As one doggy day care business owner in Auckland put it: “People who use our facilities are cash rich but time poor. Dropping their dog off is part of their daily routine and they appreciate not having to go out at night in the dark, especially in winter, to walk them. Most people have very busy lives these days – they work longer hours and have less leisure time, and this industry caters for that.”

The professional canine care industry also caters for people who don’t want to leave their dogs home alone to be a barking or whining nuisance to neighbours who aren’t working.

It is certainly a growth industry with tentacles now spreading throughout the industrial property sector. Those canine care service operators who are already expanding their facilities believe dog ownership has grown in recent years.

One doggy day care facility operator told Total Property: “I’ve noticed in the last 10 years that dog ownership seems to have increased. It’s every man and his dog up early. You only have to go for a morning stroll at around 7am and everyone’s got their dog with them.

“And what do you do with your dog for the day? But this day care is a brand new concept. I grew up on a farm and the dogs stayed in the kennel outside. It’s certainly not like that now.”

That ‘early bird’ dog catering also applies to most day care centres. Often clients are literally queuing up at the door at 7am in the morning to drop their pets off.

Auckland City Council has no specific regulations around urban day care facilities for dogs. While doggy day care operation and premises bylaws have been described as rather undeveloped, it is not an easy business to set up. Compliance costs are a hefty part of the capital needed to get a day care facility going.

Until now, Auckland City Council has allowed doggy day care and overnight kennel facilities to be established in a range of zoning areas from industrial to commercial – but on a project by project basis.

The official line is: “Dog kennels and pet day care are a non-complying activity in all residential and commercial zones. Resource consent can be obtained for a non-complying activity, but the applicant must demonstrate that the adverse effects associated with the activity will be minor, or that the activity is not contrary to the objectives of the plan.”

“As such, consent applications for a non-complying activity are potentially costly, and may be notified to the public or neighbours at the consent planner’s discretion.”

A dog kennel or pet care business can be undertaken in residential and commercial zones if resource consent is obtained. Through such a consent application, the effects of the activity on the surrounding area and the objectives of the plan will be considered.

When the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan (PAUP) is finalised, however, there will only be four zones that a pet facility will have the right to set up in. And three of these are in rural areas. All others, and the extension of existing facilities, will have to apply for resource consent.

It is possible that it will be much harder under PAUP to establish a doggy day care facility similar to those already in operation within the urban limits of Auckland.

Under the Unitary Plan, dog kennels and pet day care will be a permitted activity (no resource consent required for a change in use) in Light Industry, Rural Production, Mixed Rural and Rural Coastal zones.

Three of the zones again put kennels and facilities back where they were 30 years ago on the periphery of Auckland city in rural areas and as another canine day care business owner puts it: “Putting them back into the dark ages.”

As for existing businesses, the council guidance material states: “Any existing lawfully- established kennels, doggy day cares etc can continue to operate without obtaining resource consent. However, any proposal to change the scale or intensity of the activity would trigger the requirement for resource consent.” Many of the businesses currently operating in both industrial and urban zones have enlisted the services of specialists to guide them through the consent process – costing anywhere from $20,000 upwards including council compliance costs.

For some doggy day care operators, it wasn’t so much the resource consent process which held them back, but finding the right industrially-built building in the right location – especially when the business wanted to offer kennelling as well.

As one operator commented: “The commercial zoning wasn’t much of a problem really. You’re allowed to have a day care here and we have boarding as well, which is a unique feature. It was finding the right commercial building with good visibility and easy access that wasn’t too far out of the city or off the beaten track into Auckland city.”

Some of the more established doggy day care operators in Auckland have managed to buy or rent buildings with substantial outdoor space. This is not a requirement for resource consent, however.

Noise is, however, and the council does take readings. One canine care centre insulated its building – citing the process also protected the four-legged clientele against industrial noise nearby.

Leading engineering and design consultancy firm Harrison Grierson has been involved with a range of entities looking for planning consent for doggy day care facilities. Planner Angela Stewart says the most important factor for operators is site selection.

“Generally the rules for industrial and business zones will be more accommodating towards a doggy day care. Sites further from residential properties are preferable – while sites immediately adjoining residential properties may be problematic,” Ms Stewart says.

“The key factor to consider is noise. Applicants will need to commission an acoustic report. The report will look at the possible noise issues that may arise on the particular site with reference to the specific business they are looking to set up.

“The noise report may make suggestions to limit the noise impact – such as acoustic fencing, sound installation or limited dog numbers and/or operating times.

“Parking is also important. Many commercial and industrial areas have heavily parked roads during business hours. The provision of on-site parking for the doggy day care, including sufficient parking for key drop off and pick up times is important.”