Innovative entrepreneurship brightens up a dog’s life with new center in Zagreb

ZAGREB – Only a few years ago, Neven Silvestar Kovacevic’s idea of a daycare center for dogs met with dismissive smirks in his native Croatia. «People often said to me: ‘Why on earth should anyone have a dog and then give it to someone else to take care of?’ This kind of business is common in the USA but still quite exotic in this part of Europe,» Kovacevic said. Today, his Nesi daycare center for dogs, located at the foot of Mt Sljeme overlooking the capital Zagreb, is proof that innovative entrepreneurship is taking root in this European Union candidate country. Judging by a group of dogs of various breeds and sizes enjoying a brisk walk in the rain under Kovacevic’s supervision, life is mostly fun here and they don’t seem to miss home. «A friend of mine, a single mother, asked me a few years ago to help take care of her dog on a daily basis as she couldn’t cope with all the demands in her household. That’s how it all started,» said Kovacevic, who was a dog trainer for 15 years and has worked in France and Austria. The center, still the only one of its kind in Croatia, has taken four years to become profitable. «I have between 15 and 20 dogs in regular daycare,» Kovacevic said. «Ideally, I could accept one new dog a month, and the center’s capacity is about 35 to 40 dogs.» Dogs are picked up at between 7 and 9 a.m. and taken in groups of four to five for a long, active walk involving different games and exercises. Suncica, Lego, Lord, Joster and Thor follow Neven’s commands obediently on their excursion, then return to the center. «We don’t train dogs in the daycare center, but the walks are quite intensive,» Kovacevic said. All of the dogs get along well, although there are »troublemakers» like Sar, an epagneul breton (Brittany spaniel), who sometimes tries to start a fight with other dogs. But Kovacevic intervenes before it comes to physical contact. «You can’t fool dogs, so it’s easy to see if they enjoy the time with our staff. Also, we think the owners have a better time with their dogs if they don’t have to run home to take care of them. That is also part of a changing mentality,» he said. One day of dog-care costs up to 140 kuna (-19) and Kovacevic admits the best clients are foreigners, diplomats and businessmen working in Zagreb. While Nesi may be the only dog daycare center in Croatia, Jurica Ivanus, who runs a pet taxi service, already faces competition in Zagreb, amid growing demand. Ivanus got the idea for his service while working as a waiter in a cafe at Zagreb’s veterinary faculty. Ivanus takes animals to have their fur clipped, or to dog shows around the country or even abroad. «Interest is steadily on the rise,» he said. «I have plans to extend my business to Slovenia.»