Ahead of the Pet Expo, Vicki Notaro meets the people making careers out of their passions for dogs
Without a shadow of a doubt, the best thing I have done in my life so far was adopting my two rescue dogs, Dora and Jacko. I only meant to get one dog on the fateful day I arrived at Kildare Animal Rescue, but when I fell for Dora instantly (her paw gripped my hand through a wire fence, and I was in love) and they told me she came with a little pal, it was very simple — both of them would be mine.
They’d had a hard old life in their short time on the planet and had been through the mill, but they always had each other — and now they have me. It’s been three- and-a-half years since they came to live with me, and I couldn’t imagine life without them now. When I met my partner Joe not long after they arrived, the fact that they took to him instantly was a very good omen. While it is a selfless thing to rescue a homeless animal, in most cases, you’ll find that they rescue you right back.
Cards on the table — I am a crazy dog lady. If you were to log on to any of my social media accounts, you would be greeted with a host of pictures and videos of my two furry children. I’m not maternal towards human children in the slightest, something I keep expecting to change as I get older, but with dogs it’s an instinctive and overwhelming affection — and the feeling is mutual.
I am that woman in the street you see approaching the mangiest of mutts for a cuddle, the person that even other dog owners think is insane and who perhaps should have been bitten about 300 times by now, but never has been.
If I’m completely honest, I’ll admit that I prefer dogs to the vast majority of people. They’re kinder, sweeter, endlessly loyal and affectionate and emotionally, they’re simple creatures. What you see is what you get with dogs; there’s no game-playing. That’s why they make such brilliant therapy animals.
I recently wrote a piece about a puppy pilot programme in Irish prisons, one that has the dual benefits of calming and focusing inmates, and training dogs to work with disabled children. One of the prisoners told me that dogs don’t judge like people do, and for me, that sums up why they’re so brilliant.
I often dream about giving up the rat race to open a doggy day care, and like to imagine a retirement surrounded by pooches. So whenever an opportunity comes up to write an article about canine companions, I’m always the one that’s asked to do it — a task I take on with glee.
This time, the angle is this year’s Pet Expo in Dublin’s RDS. Taking place today and tomorrow, it’s heaven for dog nuts like me and for those who are crazy for cats, bananas about birds and really love reptiles. And it doesn’t end there — there’ll also be an alpaca farmer with some of his herd, if your tastes run to the, er, exotic.
The event follows on from the Doggie Do in September, an outdoor canine festival in Merrion Square Park, Dublin where dog aficionados from all over the country came to see, be seen and take part in a fashion show, agility training and more. One might scoff at the silliness of it all, but it was absolutely joyful — and people are crazier about doggies than you might think.
Evidence of this comes in the sheer amount of dog-related businesses cropping up all over the country in recent years, from the aforementioned doggy day-care establishments, a sort of crèche for pooches, to groomers, behaviour experts, and even more unusually, photographers, bakers and more.
Niall Harbison is an entrepreneur best known for his website LovinDublin.com and its offshoots, and also his book Get Shit Done. He recently launched Ruby and Duke, a doggy delivery service that provides pups with healthy treats and interesting toys. Each month, a box arrives to your home stuffed with goodies designed to make canine eyes light up.
“I started the company because I always found pet toys and treats really expensive, and difficult to find interesting ones that were healthy and kept the dogs entertained. The business allows me to be around dogs all day, and we often have four or five in the office, including my own two rescues Buster and Snoop,” he says.
The business is relatively new, but Harbison honed in on the popularity of such services in the States, and also other types of delivery boxes in Ireland.
“There are similar box subscription companies in other areas like Glossybox for beauty and Graze for food. People (and animals) love getting a delivery of treats in a box. One of the main reasons for starting the business is that people always spend on their dogs no matter what, and as the economy improves people will treat their pets even more,” he says.
Another dog lover making money from her passion is Canadian-turned-Dubliner Jenny McCarthy.
The 34-year-old will be exhibiting at the Expo this weekend, and her company Cheeky Dog makes fresh-baked goods for pooches. Scoff if you like, but I bought some at the Doggie Do and my dogs were wild about them — particularly the little peanut butter biscuits shaped like Jenny’s pride and joy, miniature Dachshund Oscar. And humans will enjoy the gorgeous vintage caravan Jenny works from too.
“I started the bakery with a view to eventually be able to work in a pet-centered world. I’ve worked with animals previously and it’s always where my heart has been. I was lucky enough to stumble into baking for dogs after I couldn’t find a cake for Oscar’s first birthday. I knew dog bakeries existed as I’d seen them back home,” she says.
“I ended up making a cake for him myself, it was not pretty but he absolutely loved it so it went from there.
“My end-goal is to have a proper shop where you can bring in your dog to choose their goodies, hold birthday ‘pawties’ and engage with my furry clients as well as their owners.” Jenny took the leap because she sees a change in dog culture in Ireland.
“Things relating to pets that used to be socially unacceptable years ago are now seen as the norm. People who told me I was mad to get a dog in the city, called me crazy for travelling with Oscar, for buying him toys and clothes and told me I was “daft as a brush” when I decided to make a go of the business, have now been converted and want a dog of their own!
“It’s great for Ireland; dogs bring joy into people’s lives and I look forward to the day we catch up to some of our European neighbours where dogs can be seen (behaving themselves) in shops or cafes, riding on public transport or just out with their people doing whatever it is they’re doing.”
Co Mayo man Gerry Molloy recently took a leap and set up WoofAdvisor, who will also be at the RDS this weekend.
“Most people would describe WoofAdvisor as the canine equivalent of TripAdvisor — personally I think there are more differences than just the number of legs involved,” he says. After talking to his family about unsatisfactory experiences with pet travel, he decided to take the leap and set up a pet-oriented community.
“Pet Travel may be in an early stage in Ireland, but it is already a fact — and growing — in the UK and America, and the key is that this trend is forecast to continue to grow.
“Euromonitor forecasts the UK Pet Travel market to grow 6% per annum. for the next five years. More people would travel with their dogs if it were simpler to do so. The problem is the reality often fails to match the marketing.
“It’s not always practical to get the right information, specifically as to what “pet friendly” really means and what restrictions, if any, apply.” Gerry’s business attempts to solidify all available information, as well as giving the option for users to leave reviews.
So it seems that we really are a nation of dog nuts, barking mad about our pooches, and the RDS will likely be full of canine aficionados this weekend. With the trends Gerry forecasts, perhaps it’s time for me to hunt out a day-care premises …
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