HERE it is! Here it is! Honey races down the steps of her Nudgee home, panting at the gate as the Toyota HiAce rolls to a stop. The sight of this van pulling up outside her house in Brisbane’s north on a Wednesday makes her body quiver. The door slides open and behold! Her friends. There’s Elmo, the doberman, and Zali, the german shepherd, who first clambered in about 5.30am at Fortitude Valley, and look, Lottie and Mickey from Ascot. Logan and Molly are here, too, and Cosmo, the big hunk. Up the front are the little ones, Cody and Calvin.
OK, it could be a tad anthropomorphic to think the golden labrador knows the names humans have given to the wolfhound cross or the vizsla, the maltese and the cavoodle. It’s debatable she knows it’s Wednesday. But there’s no doubt, says owner Fiona Leonard, the six-year-old dog knows the arrival of the Houndog Doggy Day Care van means a morning of running and swimming with other pooches and “she just loves it”. It’s a day “purely for Honey”.
“I wanted something different to break up her week, socialising with other dogs, going out with someone else, exercise,” says Leonard. “And she’s just thrilled when Wednesday comes around.” That’s the day twins Leah and Angela O’Meara do their northside run, each sister (and assistants) collecting up to 14 dogs in separate vans and heading to different dog parks to run their pack. Big and small breeds run about, tails high, chasing balls and sniffing butts. All of them trail leads in case of scuffles and those with a tendency to herd or be ball-possessive wear exercise muzzles. “It’s a lot of pressure to look after people’s dogs,” admits Leah. “I always feel that pressure, I’m not blasé about the responsibility.”
The O’Mearas know the truth: for most of us, our pets are part of the family. They’re our buddies, our confidants; we love discussing their personalities, their habits, their quirks. And we’re prepared to pay big dollars to keep them happy. Or to give us a laugh, if you count the pyjama market for dogs. Market researcher IBISWorld has calculated that Australians spent more than $7 billion on their pets last financial year. Fido ain’t eating scraps any more.
Quality pet foods touting more scientific credentials than Stephen Hawking are increasingly in demand, with IBISWorld noting that despite little growth in pet numbers in recent years, “premiumisation” means more money is being spent on the pets we have. Pet insurance, once scoffed at as a rich man’s indulgence, is becoming a must-have. Cat collars come resplendent in Swarovski crystals. If you’d like to walk your parrot, there are bird harnesses. No more is the toilet the inevitable destination for a sick fish: witness the case of Conquer, a $12 goldfish for which 21-year-old Emma Marsh, of Kuraby on Brisbane’s southside, was happy to pay $500 to save from starvation after it swallowed a pebble last month.
Read more: couriermail.com.au