For Dog Day Care Watching Over First Responders’ Pets, It's a Slumber Party at Work

Lindsey Parker in the play area at the Dog Social Club in Oakland on March 25, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

For Lindsey Parker and Katie Wojnoonski, sheltering in place has meant hunkering down at the dog day care they operate, together with the dogs who are boarding there.

The day that several Bay Area counties began ordering residents to stay at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the two co-CEOs of the Dog Social Club moved into their West Oakland facility to provide around-the-clock care for the animals there.

“There was really no hesitation between Katie or I about what we needed to do,” Parker said. “We had sort of mentioned, almost jokingly, between ourselves before the actual directive was announced, that if something like that were to happen, we would just move in.”

Katie Wojnoonski pets Banger, a dog boarding at the Dog Social Club, on Mar. 25, 2020. Banger's owner is a firefighter.
Katie Wojnoonski pets Banger, a dog boarding at the Dog Social Club, on March 25, 2020. Banger's owner is a firefighter. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

And that’s what they did, on March 16, almost two weeks ago. Wojnoonski took the corner office and made it her bedroom, bringing along her husband Andy. Parker took another office as her bedroom, and they’re all sleeping on air mattresses.

“Thank goodness there is an employee shower that already existed,” Parker said. “We really didn't want to have to use the grooming facilities to bathe.”

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They’ve closed the facility to most of their regular clients but have kept it running for the pets of health care workers and first responders who have been on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

About nine dogs were there on a recent day, romping in spacious pens lined with astroturf. They’ll typically spend one day to a couple nights there at a time, Wojnoonski said, as their owners work long shifts at hospitals or elsewhere.

“[We’re] doing what we can to take one little bit of stress off of them by knowing that their dogs are well taken care of,” she said. “That's the way that we know we can help.”

Lindsey Parker in the play area at the Dog Social Club in Oakland on Mar. 25, 2020.
Lindsey Parker in the play area at the Dog Social Club in Oakland on March 25, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The facility boasts 50,000 square feet of space, which feels pretty empty these days. Before sheltering in place began, the day care and boarding center saw an average of 200 dogs a day and employed a staff of 50, said Wojnoonski.

That staff is now furloughed, but the CEOs have been closely monitoring developments like the stimulus bill, signed by President Trump on Friday, that could help their workers.

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Meanwhile, the two women have been doing what they can to keep routines going.

“This sounds really silly, but I've been doing a lot of dance parties with the dogs,” Parker said. “It keeps up my morale, and also they seem to enjoy wiggling around and dancing around the yards.”

She said they also fill up little pools with water for the dogs to splash in and do “toy time.”

And as for the women’s sustenance? They’ve been using the staff kitchen, which is stocked with microwaves, a toaster oven, a hot plate and even a camp stove one of them brought from home.

Katie Wojnoonski and her husband Andy (pictured) are sheltering in place in the offices of the Dog Social Club in Oakland.
Katie Wojnoonski and her husband Andy (pictured) are sheltering in place in the offices of the Dog Social Club in Oakland. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“We had a luxury meal last night ... with some backyard-grown artichokes,” Parker said. “That was really amazing.”

For now, they said they’re prepared to do this indefinitely.

“The coming weeks are still really uncertain,” Parker said. “We want to make sure that we can be a resource to people who need it.”