Want weekly pet news from columnist Kate Karp? Sign up for The Scratching Post newsletter here.

Vivian Dominguez and Danielle Portillo, owners of bark! bark! Daycare in Downtown Long Beach and Signal Hill, are concerned about the reported “mystery” canine respiratory disease that local health officials have been warning about. Actually, they’re actively concerned about any contagious pet disease and ensure that they won’t spread in their facilities. But the anxiety over this new disease has taken an unhealthy chomp out of their business.

“We get a lot of calls from worried owners,” Dominguez said. “About 53% of boarding, grooming and doggy-day-care business was canceled [when the disease was first reported].”

Long Beach Animal Care Services recently alerted the public about the illness, whose symptoms include prolonged coughing and sneezing that sometimes develops into pneumonia. As yet, the disease hasn’t been identified, and no cases have been specified in the Long Beach area.

“We haven’t seen any cases of the illness, either, but we know that it exists,” Dominguez said. “We also have clients who’ve talked to their doctors, and they haven’t seen any sign of it.”

Dominguez and Portillo asked several local veterinarians whether they’ve seen signs of the illness. None of them reported any cases, but they all said that more clients have called about this illness than any other.

“We sent out emails to clients when the panic hit at the end of October,” Dominguez said. “We tried doing our part to ease worry, but we can only do so much.”

Dominguez and Portillo have owned bark! bark! for 24 years and strictly enforce protocols to prevent the spreading of disease. Dominguez said that any responsible pet-related business will do this.

tall person in black shirt and cap "dances" with a big, fluffy, tan dog as other dogs look on.
Bark! bark! follows strict sanitation protocols for their boarders. Dancing lessons are optional. Photo courtesy of bark! bark!

“Even before this whole mystery respiratory illness existed, there have been other respiratory illnesses,” Dominguez said. “There’s been kennel cough, canine influenza and others that we’ve always had strict cleaning regimens for. Our protocols and safety measures include good HVAC systems, and we have an internal tracking system so that if a client has symptoms or a diagnosed disease, we keep a tracking table. That’s solely to determine what time period something may have come in. Every dog has to have proof of vaccinations 30 days before boarding, and if any dogs later show sneezing, soft stool, anything, we call the emergency contact to get them.”

The staff regularly scrub walls and clean air-flow systems, and dishes are sanitized hourly. The employees do four daily body checks on all animals. The staff will not board or groom any pet showing signs of contagious disease. If any client later contacts bark! bark! about signs of contagious diseases in their own pets, the staff contacts other clients whose pets have been in their care and tells them to be watchful.

“They’re very good at calling us,” Dominguez said of their clients.

Responsible humans are the ultimate key to running a healthy pet-care business. Dominguez said that it’s essential that anyone wanting to board their pet at any facility make themselves aware of their protocols and reputation.

“And if their dog is feeling under the weather, keep them home,” she said.