How kennel design can help boost clinic revenue

December 19, 2018

To maximize short- and long-term boarding potential, it helps to understand the various kennel designs and materials, gate options, and available accessories.

One of the first decisions to make is whether the kennel will comprise an on-the-floor system with a drain or an above-the-floor system. Generally speaking, the former can provide more flexibility to configure the kennels to fit a building’s footprint and it also is usually less expensive than an above-floor design. There are situations, though, that sometimes require an above-floor system, particularly when digging drains is not an option.

On-the-floor systems

If an on-the-floor system is the preference, the practice or building owner must next decide whether the kennels will employ block wall or isolation panels to divide the runs. It can also be worthwhile to consider including some individual “real-life” rooms or luxury suites for premium boarding.

1) Block wall provides a solid isolation barrier that does not need to be resealed with silicone. However, it takes up valuable floor space. Most block is 4 to 8 in. thick, whereas isolation panels are about 1 in. thick. Using block requires either a larger facility space or making the decision to reduce capacity and therefore revenue potential. Block wall also needs frequent repainting and often has a drab, institutional feel. Colorful glazed block or tile is one solution to help with this issue, although it is significantly more expensive. Another option is to use two-part epoxy on the floor and partway up the block wall partitions, or perhaps even all the way up. This last solution also allows for coving at the floor-wall juncture for easier cleaning. Finally, remodeling a facility that has block wall can be difficult, if not impossible.

2) Non-block wall options include a variety of materials for isolation panels, such as fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and stainless steel. Numerous color and pattern choices are available, many of them in the “Fear Free” palette.

3) When offering high-end luxury suites in boarding, individual real-life rooms are a popular option. Quiet and elegant looking, these spaces can be individualized and personalized, adding a “wow” factor to a facility. With a modern door and customizable sizes, they are truly a “home away from home.”

Real-life rooms can be built with drywall or masonry, or purchased directly from a kennel manufacturer as modular pieces. Units can include upscale furnishings, such as beds and toys and extras like an internet camera, television, music, and private outdoor patios. However, they can be more expensive, and some materials may not be dog proof. They also can be harder to clean and can make it difficult to access dog bowls, as well as interact with dogs.

Every facility also should consider having a few kennels at the end of every bank using stainless steel side panels or block wall with a top cover for destructive and jumping dogs.

Preventing cross-contamination with floor seals

With an on-the-floor kennel system, the floor seal needs periodic re-caulking, as sloped floors are imperfect and the gaps between the floor and isolation panel need to be filled with silicone. Types of floor seals include:

1) A two-piece system using a separate floor seal piece that accepts the actual isolation panel. Two-piece systems allow the isolation panel to be adjusted in the field to match any floor slope. The floor seal is approximately 3 in. wide, which is much wider than the panel (these tend to be only 0.5 to 1 in. thick). This wide base can offer more stability and more area to seal to the floor.

2) A one-piece system where the panel itself sits directly on the floor. The specifics of any floor slope need to be communicated to the manufacturer who will taper the panel to suit.

3) A new floor seal offered by some manufacturers helps prevent liquid from flowing between adjacent runs. The two-piece system has a flexible plastic gasket underneath the floor piece. This gasket gets pressed on by the weight of the isolation panel, conforming to and gripping the floor’s surface and imperfections as they develop over time. The system prevents cross-contamination even when the primary bead of floor sealant has been breached or where there are cracks, waves, irregularities, or other floor imperfections.

Above-floor systems

Above-floor systems are typically necessary when trench or multiple individual drains are not feasible in a building. The system is more portable than on-the-floor designs, which can be an advantage if the location for boarding changes in the future. Construction materials also can feel warmer and more inviting for the dogs, as floors are typically made from fiberglass or HDPE. Above-floor configurations also provide good cross-contamination systems if there are no seams.

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Above-floor systems are generally more expensive than their on-the-floor counterparts, since two floors are more expensive than one. Both designs require a concrete pad, although the above-floor system requires a second floor of fiberglass or HDPE. This extra cost, though, is mitigated by not having trench drains, which can be very expensive. The final cost determination is a function of several variables and should be explored with the owner’s architect or contractor. There are limitations on dimensions for above-floor systems, which may reduce the ability of maximizing the building’s footprint. The system typically only comes in even square feet (i.e. 3, 4, 5 ft wide and 5, 6, 7, 8 ft deep). Cleaning underneath also can pose issues, although kickplates extending down from the front can be added to help keep small dogs out from underneath the units.

Above-floor systems may either use an individual drain with floor slope that moves liquid to the back or a shared rear trench drain. With either system, four to six runs can be situated together to the left or right of a floor drain, meaning eight to 12 runs can share one floor drain.

Designing to maximize boarding potential

When creating space for boarding, the most successful facilities typically offer a variety of kennel dimensions, providing flexibility for different sizes and numbers of dogs being boarded. Many design options exist to achieve different kennel sizes while also maximizing cost effectiveness, such as left-to-right guillotine doors to turn one run into two, as well as including other types of equipment in the kennel layout, such as stacked runs. When budget allows, it is better for noise control to have several smaller and separate boarding rooms than one large kennel area.

While units for surgery recovery and short-term holding are almost always one compartment, two compartments are often preferable for overnight boarding. With a two-compartment setup, staff can open the guillotine door and offer treats to bring the dog to the unused space, then quickly close it to clean the compartment that housed the dog overnight. This can be much easier on staff than having to enter the run, leash the dog, and walk it outside while the space is being cleaned.

The average run size has increased over the years and today is 4 x 6 ft. With a two-compartment system, the second run can be smaller than the first.

It is also important to provide dogs with some privacy. While it’s true dogs are social animals, they also need privacy and the ability to choose their level of visual contact with people and other dogs, especially if they get overstimulated easily. Privacy can be accomplished by designing the runs so the dogs don’t face each other, by putting a visual barrier down the aisle between runs, or by incorporating privacy into gates.

Gate design, material choices

The most common gates are either a 3-ft swinging gate or a 4-ft stall front consisting of a 2.5-ft swinging gate, with the remaining space comprising a fixed panel. Swing gates and stall fronts are by far the most popular gate choice, and there are a variety of options for constructing them. The fixed portion of the stall front can also be used for food and water bowls that won’t spill when the gate is opened.

Another option to consider is slide gates, which do not use aisle space to open. They are ideal for situations where tight aisleways exist. Slide gates also can provide additional safety for staff, as an excited or aggressive dog can’t shove the gate into an employee when entering.

Ornamental wrought iron gates can be used to enhance the look of block wall kennel runs, but they are typically not a good solution for boarding dogs. While they can look ornate, the gates often do not have a latch designed for housing dogs. They also typically don’t allow for bowl feeding systems.

For modular or contractor-built real-life rooms, a true human door can be used. These spaces are a great way to soften the look of a kennel, but they also usually do not have dog-friendly features.

When selecting a gate for dog housing, the most common material for the frame is stainless steel or aluminum. The gate can include tempered glass; a stainless steel grid; a galvanized grid; chain link; or a combination of materials, including privacy panels made from FRP, HDPE, or frosted glass.

1) Tempered glass gates have increased in popularity, as they can provide strength and durability while also offering an updated, modern appearance (as opposed to looking like a cage or prison). The glass provides an easy-to-clean smooth surface a dog can neither bite nor chew, helping prevent the spread of disease. Although it is typically the most expensive material option, tempered glass can reduce noise because the glass serves as a barrier to redirect sound. The glass also can be frosted or etched to provide a visual barrier or privacy. However, frequent—and time-consuming—cleaning is required to maintain a spotless appearance. Glass also does not allow dogs to satisfy their natural tendency to smell, lick, and interact with humans. Further, full-length glass isolation greatly reduces air circulation, so it is critical to take HVAC design and cost into consideration.

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2) Stainless steel grid gates are strong, can provide superior airflow for odor control, and do not easily show dirt or noseprints. Stainless steel also allows for interaction with dogs without having to open the gate. However, stainless steel bars can create the appearance of a prison cell and there can be a risk of the spread of disease. They are also more time-consuming to clean properly.

3) Galvanized welded wire can offer the same advantages as stainless steel, though at a lower price point. This material is a good option for outdoor runs or other nonpublic areas. That said, it is not as rust resistant as other options and the potential for sharp burrs and snags exists due to the galvanizing hot-dip process. Some new cleaning chemicals, such as accelerated hydrogen peroxide, are also not compatible with galvanized products.

4) Chain link is an economical gate option offering great value. It often costs a third of what you would pay for tempered glass and can provide durability and a smooth finish that does not easily show dirt. Chain link also allows for interaction with dogs and good airflow. However, this design option can look old-fashioned and convey the feeling of a prison cell. It is mostly used for outdoor applications.

Combination gates are gaining popularity, as they incorporate different materials to maintain their best attributes while leaving behind their drawbacks. For example using 18- to 24-in. stainless steel welded wire in the bottom of a glass gate can allow good airflow and interaction with the dog, and the kennel does not look like a prison cell. Customers wanting more glass can adjust the ratio of wire to glass to maximize aesthetics, while still allowing airflow (which reduces both upfront and ongoing HVAC costs) and the ability to interact with the dog.

Additionally, privacy can be accomplished by placing an isolation panel made from stainless steel, frosted glass, FRP, HDPE, etc., in either the bottom of the swing gate and/or the bottom of the fixed stall front. One important consideration is how high to make the isolation panel in the door or stall front. Dogs are naturally curious and want to see who is walking by. If the isolation panel is too high, large dogs may jump constantly to see what is going on and small dogs may just bark and become anxious or aggravated. It may work best to put the isolation panel in only the bottom 24 in. of a gate and stall front, or simply use one in the stall front, rather than the gate.

For a truly advanced design, gates and stall fronts can also be constructed using FRP on the outside (or “public” side), but include stainless or galvanized sheet metal on the inside (or “dog” side). This approach offers the splash of color customers like to see, while the metal on the inside provides extra strength and durability needed to house dogs who often scratch at the front of the run.

Locking mechanisms

Ensuring the gate locks and stays secure is critical for the safety of dogs and staff. Look for a latch that is 100 percent stainless steel to ensure durability and rust prevention, allows the gate to swing both in and out of the run, shuts automatically, and is operational with one hand. More importantly, make sure the latch secures from both outside and inside the run to allow staff to work inside the kennel knowing the door is securely latched behind them and also easily accessible if they need to leave quickly. The latch should be lockable with a padlock or leash clip for extra security for dogs that may try to escape.

Accessories

Gates come with a number of accessory options that appeal to both dog owners as well as boarding staff.

1) Bowl systems: One of the most popular gate accessories is a bowl system to make it easier and more convenient to provide dogs with food and water. Such a system can save staff time and is ideal for feeding more aggressive or excited dogs. It also prevents dogs from knocking over their food and water bowl and dirtying the run. Systems are available with a single bowl for water or double bowls for water and food. Look for a design that is installed in the fixed-gate portion so the contents are not disturbed when the gate is opened or closed. Systems either rotate like a revolving tray or can be accessed from outside the kennel and pushed in or out. Regardless of the operation, the bowl should fit snugly in the closed position so the dog can’t knock it out. Avoid systems using either square or rectangle bowls, as the sharp 90-degree angles create places where food can be trapped and breed disease or odor. Instead, use round bowls to promote cleanliness and eliminate disease.

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2) Built-in lockers for storage: Convenient storage space is always an issue in kennels. Gates with built-in lockers can provide storage solutions and leave the front of the gates looking clean and uncluttered.

3) Rest benches: These can serve two purposes. First, they allow dogs to get up off a wet floor, and second, they also can serve as a gutter cover. Rest benches can be stand-alone or attached to the side walls and swing up. They are made from a variety of materials.

4) Guillotine doors (also known as transfer doors) are used to separate indoor and outdoor runs. They also can be built into the block wall or isolation panels dividing runs left or right to provide flexible boarding. Approximately 25 percent of dog owners have two or more dogs and often prefer to board them together. A side transfer door allows two 4 x 6-ft runs to be converted into one 8 x 6-ft unit.

5) Decorative gate tops: A variety of decorative gate tops can be used to soften the look of the run. Customers find them aesthetically pleasing and they offer a distinctive look to provide a finishing touch for dog boarding.

Other animal housing options

Other equipment options, including small stacked runs, double-deck systems, and outdoor kennels, can provide additional capacity and flexibility for boarding.

1) Small stacked runs are like a full-size run in smaller custom sizes, but are stacked on top of each other, doubling revenue capacity in a given footprint. They offer a variety of color and gate options and can include trench drains, bowl feeding systems, and storage. While they cost more than cage banks, they look much better and convey the idea of boarding, rather than short-term holding.

2) Double-deck systems provide two stories of kennels by using an above-floor system for the top runs. This configuration can be ideal in areas where land is expensive, making it more beneficial to expand up rather than out. Double-deck systems can be configured in different ways to take advantage of a building’s footprint. Their cost can be worth the investment, as they are often less expensive than constructing a true second story on a new building or adding a mezzanine in an existing facility.

3) As dogs enjoy fresh air and sunshine, outdoor runs can work well if zoning is approved. Less expensive isolation materials (e.g. chain link or galvanized grid) can be used as long as the materials withstand temperature changes without warping and are compatible with the facility’s cleaning products. Make certain at least part of the run is covered to create shade.

A word about cats

Planning for cat housing also can  be a boarding consideration. Today, upscale cat condos and cat towers include shelves for cats to perch on, as well as separate litterbox areas. Another notable feature available on some units is an integrated ventilation system to reduce litter pan odor and control the spread of upper respiratory disease.

Veterinarians clearly have an array of animal housing options for offering boarding. Customization can help ensure facilities look great, attract and retain customers, keep staff and dogs safe, and maintain animal health. It can be worthwhile to determine what your customers and their four-legged family members want to ensure you offer the best accommodations and flexible solutions that meet their needs.

Greg Taylor is CEO of the Mason Company, a designer and manufacturer of animal enclosures founded in 1892. Located in Leesburg, Ohio, Mason offers a broad line of products, including isolation panels and gates in a variety of materials, cat condos, cat towers, fiberglass cages, accessories, and more. For more information, visit www.MasonCo.com[1].

Endnotes:
  1. www.MasonCo.com: http://www.MasonCo.com

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