The widespread respiratory illness affecting dogs in Colorado and several other parts of the country is impacting local groomers and boarding services.
At least one business has cut hours for staff, while another is dipping into savings to avoid making a more difficult decision this close to the Christmas holiday.
“It is pretty bad,” said Amanda Kramer, owner of the Iron Will Dog Lodge for the past 10 years. “Honestly this hit a few months ago, but it just progressed. For this month, it’s the slowest I’ve ever seen it.”
Kramer has been forced to cut staff hours as a result of the lack of clients. She is usually booked up around the holidays.
Many are calling the disease “mysterious,” reminiscent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The American Veterinary Medical Association says there aren’t yet numbers available for how many dogs have been affected by the illness, but stated Colorado, New Hampshire and Oregon officials are working with state and federal veterinary diagnostic laboratories to determine the underlying cause or causes of the disease.
The consensus in the pet care community here seems to be that the illness is affecting local dogs, but owners of dog grooming and boarding facilities say the effects of the illness on the average pet have been overblown.
The illness is being called canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), and Dr. Scott Reese, a pathobiology professor at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College, has theorized that the illness might have been brought on by changes in how dogs have been cared for and managed since the pandemic.
“… I mean that it’s more likely that it’s a longstanding cause of disease that we’ve never diagnosed before, versus a new bug that’s recently emerged and is starting to spread,” he wrote. “The current disease patterns don’t really fit with emergence of a new highly transmissible pathogen.”
That seems to align with the the thinking of Alicia Wouters, owner of The Paw Spa in Montrose.
“Everyone is calling this a mystery virus, but two years ago we had an outbreak of this, but it wasn’t as public because we were dealing with COVID,” she said. “And now we are kind of seeing it again. We love our pets, and Coloradans love their pets more than average person, I’d say.”
Wouters says her business is dealing with 5-6 cancelations per day, which is much higher than normal. She says the decline in business can be attributed directly to fear of pets catching CIRDC.
“That’s huge for a small business,” she said. “I have 18 employees, and this is the time of year I definitely don’t want to cut their hours.”
She has dipped into savings to subsidize the decline in revenue.
Wouters says she is usually closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day but is making an exception this year to accommodate clients.
She said several of the cancelations have been immunocompromised dogs who are actually at serious risk if they become ill. During that week she normally closes, she will stay open to allow for one-on-one appointments with those types of dogs.
“We’re a large staff, so I’m just trying to keep everyone busy,” she said.
At the Iron Will Dog Lodge, Kramer said, business has declined significantly as well.
“Right now, tonight, there will only be 14 dogs in 14 kennels,” she said Wednesday. “Last year and the year before it would have been like 30-40 kennels full. We are the biggest dog kennel in town.”
For the week of Christmas, she said, she is currently booked up, but she don’t know if things will stay that way.
“I don’t even have a waitlist right now,” she said of the lack of demand for owners to kennel their dogs.
Both Kramer and Wouters said it’s a wait-and-see game for now.
There is speculation that January could be the same as December in regard to the illness.
Both businesses are going through rigorous sanitization practices in response to the illness, and neither will see sick dogs. Both agree that the fear is harming their businesses more than the actual disease.
“I’ve always run a tight ship,” said Wouters. I had three veterinarians’ dogs at my salon last week,” she said. “And that was a vote of confidence for me that we should be living our life (and not be too fearful).”
Kramer is calling for common sense.
“People are panicking about it,” she said. “I think we need to use more common sense. If a dog is going to die from it, that’s not going to be a common thing. Most dogs are healthy enough that this won’t kill them.”
And for dogs that are immunocompromised, both agree pet owners should contact their veterinarian for the best advice on how to care for their dogs.
This story is by Justin Tubbs, editor of the Montrose Business Times. You can reach him at email@example.com or by phone at 970-765-0915.