Hamilton has 'gone to the dogs'

We take them to daycare and for walks at all hours of the day, buy them treats and toys, and treat them like children.

It seems dogs may be a best friend to many Hamiltonians, and the city boasts 10,401 of New Zealand's 504,275 registered dogs.

The number of registered Hamilton canines has increased by more than a thousand since December 2010, although animal control officers estimate there could still be "hundreds if not thousands" of dogs not known to them.

Nicola Pere, owner of Hamilton's Metro Paws which offers doggy day care and grooming, says dogs are everywhere. "I don't think I can go anywhere now without seeing someone walking a dog . . . even at 9.30 at night when you're driving home," she said.

About 70 dogs a day pass through her daycare, and owners from all walks of life make sacrifices to send their dogs more often. "One of our clients gave up smoking so her dog could come twice a week," Pere said.

"The clients we see here, the pet is literally an extension of their family . . . we call them fur babies."

Loving owners are happy to splurge on accessories such as collars, which can be worth $80 or more.

Honor Wilson of K9 Country Club doggy daycare knew of a dog that chose its toys with its own "pocket money".

Daycare and doggy accessories cost, but sick animals can also rack up a huge bill, so Wilson said more and more owners were getting pet insurance.

But Pere knew at least one client who didn't think twice when her older dog needed care.

"The vet was rattling off how much something cost and she said to him ‘I don't care what it costs, just do whatever you need to do'."

That didn't surprise CareVets Rototuna owner Keith Houston, who remembered owners who paid for three years' worth of drugs and stem-cell therapy for their pooch.

"At the end, they were exceedingly happy to have spent the money for the time they got [with the dog]."

And Pet Doctors staff had a couple use funeral savings to pay for a plate to be put in their dog's broken leg.

Although members of the Hamilton dog community are calling for facilities such as a fenced park, Houston said Hamilton was a dog-friendly city with several parks and obedience schools.

The Hamilton Dog Obedience Club helps about 50 pooches each term.

Training co-ordinator Holly Snape said one major success story was the transformation of a "really, really scared little dog" who couldn't go near the other puppies.

"Now that dog is one of the most confident little dogs running around - excellent at obedience as well."

The club focuses on training so doggy fashion is out, and sometimes "utterly committed" owners are reminded their fur baby is just that. "We do like to have a conversation with people sometimes about recognising that it is actually a dog and not a human."

When it came to dog breeds, Ms Snape thought preferences in Hamilton varied by area.

"If you're at the north end of the city they tend to be the smaller dogs, and if you're in Hamilton East you tend to get the retriever type dogs, the family dogs. And then if you come out where I live, Melville, they seem to be more the strong dogs, the strong breeds."

Houston has noticed a trend towards smaller dogs over the past 20 to 30 years - they tend to live longer and often are not prone to the same health problems as large dogs.

But "cuteness" and the way they fit in with people's lifestyle could also be behind their popularity.

"The days when everybody had a german shepherd or a labrador and there wasn't many of the others, and poodles were minor. That's sort of changed. It's all the shih tzu crosses and those things are more popular," Houston said.

Poodle crosses are also a hit, possibly because they don't cause allergies or shed hair.

And, while the dogs at Metro Paws' doggy day care range from huskies to boxers, Pere said cross-breed designer dogs were becoming more popular, and the number of french bulldogs at her centre had increased.

But some breeds are declining in popularity, such as her rough coat collie who looks "exactly like Lassie".

She said there was a variety of influences on popularity - for instance, the release of the 101 Dalmations movie prompted a surge of interest in the breed.


Poodle cross

Shih tzu cross

French bulldog


Waikato Times