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An Illness That Sweeps a Boarding Facility Takes a Plan and Action. Here’s What One Owner Did

She needed to think fast on her feet.

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I TAKE PRIDE IN knowing that my dog-care facility, Wag Central, is super-clean and easy to keep that way. We have revolutionary systems in place for the entire facility, including centralized hydrogen-peroxide-based cleaning and sanitation, wet/dry vacuum (no dirty mops or standing water!), stainless-steel trench drain systems with automatic flush, and an air-handling system with UV air sanitation. Our vaccination requirements provide additional fail-safes to preventing an outbreak.

So how did a highly contagious upper respiratory tract infection resulting in pups having a dry hacking cough blow through in our facility?

I may never know the answer to that, but as a new business owner, I needed to think fast on my feet. This business is all about making and maintaining good relationships, and as the face of my company, being proactive and transparent was key.

Here’s how I responded:

  • Although I knew what upper respiratory tract infections were (Bordetella, parainfluenza, canine influenza virus, to name a few), I wrote a concise script for my staff to ensure that the same information was intelligently related to everyone. This information was spoken, emailed, texted and posted on the door.
  • I contacted my facility veterinarian for guidance. With her advice, I was able to determine the severity of the problem and when dogs could return. Also under her directive, I was able to provide medication free of charge to those clients who wanted it to treat their dogs. No, providing medication did not mean we were admitting fault. To me, it was an inexpensive alternative to knowing our clients might have to pay for a vet visit. Dogs showing symptoms other than just a cough were encouraged to see their vet.
  • I reached out to our pharmaceutical representative. Wag Central can administer all the vaccinations we require for entry, so I wanted to be sure that the intranasal vaccine choice and recommendation we made at Wag’s inception was still the best choice. If you’re wondering, the Bordetella vaccine covers only certain strains of this illness, so even though all of our attendees have been vaccinated there is no guarantee that the dog is fully protected.
  • I decided to shut the facility down for 48 hours to stop the spread among dogs that attend our facility. The health and safety of our pup attendees is always my No. 1 priority. Even though I was dealing with an airborne transmitted disease, staff cleaned the building from top to bottom. Together with my staff veterinary technician, we wrote an outbreak cleaning protocol that included everything, down to light switches and door handles.
  • I also decided that all dogs who attend our facility, which is a hub of canine socialization and enrichment, must have the canine influenza virus bivalent vaccine. Canine flu is making headlines all over the country and infected dogs can be contagious up to 24 days.
  • Most important during this outbreak, I stayed calm and rational. And I made sure that my staff and clients did as well. My clients are well-educated dog owners who know the positives of socializing their dog at my amazing facility. With that choice comes some risk, but it is preventable with proper use of vaccines, appropriate sanitation and quarantine measures.

Overall, clients have responded positively to the implementation of the flu vaccination. Some pups had it already and others participated in our flu clinic offering the vaccine and booster at a discounted price. Of course, there were some grumbles and possibly even lost clients. But as an owner my standards personify my integrity, and they accomplish my end goal of excellent care and service.

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Angela Pantalone is owner and “chief tail wager” at Wag Central in Stratford, CT, a 15,000-square-foot, all-in-one dog-care facility. Email her at angela@wagcentralct.com.

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