IT'S PLAYTIME AT BARBARA BOCCI'S DAYcare center, and young Chelsea, Claude and Bailey are busy working on their socialization skills. Nearby, beneath pictures of balloons and lambs, Dolly is getting some special one-on-one attention. She is the center's "problem child," explains Bocci, 35, who worries that the youngster may be in need of behavioral counseling. Soon, it is hoped, Dolly will join the group for its regular routine of exercise, free play and snacks before returning to her cage.
Yup. Welcome to the Yuppy Puppy Day Care center in Union Lake, Mich. Like counterpart centers for kids without tails, Yuppy Puppy answers a growing need, says Bocci, who opened her business three months ago. With two-income families increasing in number, "all of a sudden people are not home anymore, and they're leaving their dogs for eight, nine and 10 hours a day."
Bocci's charges (they range from weeks-old pups to dogs in their dotage) are given a dog-friendly environment complete with rubber balls, squeaky toys and even collapsible plastic crawl tunnels. "The puppies have a riot in them," says Susan Carpenter, 32, one of Bocci's two instructors. "They burn up energy, so when the parents"—Yuppy Puppy talk for owners—"pick them up, they're not maniacs." Training is strictly by repetition and reward ("We never, ever strike an animal," says Bocci) and the five-to-one student-instructor ratio allows time for contending with such common puppy problems as separation anxiety, insecurity and hyperactivity.
Bocci began learning her methods early, while growing up on a Romeo, Mich., family farm where, she says, "I trained anything that would move." A college grad who has worked as a fashion model, taught high school and studied dog training, Bocci has owned a dog-obedience school (Trainers Academy, the parent company of Yuppy Puppy) for 10 years.
Yuppy Puppy now fetches $10 a day from owners who can drop their dogs off as early as 7 A.M. pick them by 6 P.M. and—for an additional $7.50—enroll them in private obedience lessons. Puppy day care, Bocci predicts, will soon spread faster than oversexed fleas. "The only people who don't understand," says Bocci, "are nonpet people."
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