Monday, November 28, 2005 at 2:31:26 PM by Edward Knittel
Downtown Dog Lounge-or DDL to those in the know-is not your momma's dog kennel. Or should we say kennels, as DDL has two, soon to be three, hip locations in Seattle proper. And wait, can we take back the word kennel? As the Downtown Dog Lounge tagline suggests, these doggie daycare and boarding facilities are more accurately described as urban dog retreats.
Before opening Downtown Dog Lounge, owner Elise Vincentini had a successful marketing and sales career that provided a comfortable lifestyle-and a lot of travel. But after her Weimaraner, Lily, battled a life-threatening condition, Elise realized that her pup was one of the most important 'people' in her life. Through Lily's recovery, Elise educated herself on the benefits of natural foods, homeopathic remedies and alternative treatments such as acupuncture and Reiki. Armed with her newfound knowledge, and determined to create a safe and healthy environment for Lily and other dogs just like her, Elise started Downtown Dog Lounge to cater to the overall well being of the treasured family pet.
And she must be doing something right. It's first location, described as a "boutique" doggie daycare, opened in 2002 in a 3,000 sq. ft. facility located in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. In 2004, DDL opened a 12,000 sq. ft. urban dog retreat on Elliott Avenue, and plans to open a third location in late Spring 2006 in the Capitol Hill/Madison Park area.
The décor of both existing locations could be mistaken for a retro-chic hangout for the hip "see-and-be-seen" scene. Inviting Dalmatian-spotted walls and furniture with red, yellow and black accents are complemented by an array of flat-screen TVs-tuned to Animal Planet, of course! Comfy couches line the hallways and play areas, perfect for an afternoon snooze. But while the aesthetics offer a hip and funky first impression, it's the dedicated customer service, hands-on staff and array of holistic products and services that keep Seattle's VIPs, that's People and Pets, coming back.
Like many kennels, dog daycare, or playcare in "DDL-speak", and boarding make up the majority of business. All dogs must be current in their vaccinations and pass a temperament test before they can stay or play at DDL. But you are not named Best Dog Daycare of Western Washington, as determined by a local evening television program and City Dog Magazine, by operating like any ol' kennel. "When I started this business, my goal was to provide my dog-owners with 'Nordstrom-level' customer service," said Vincentini. "I have 62 employees between both locations. There is one staff member-called a dog wrangler-for every 10 dogs, a ratio that is practically unheard of in this business. We installed Web cams so clients could check in with their dogs anytime, and we encourage owners to stop by, call, e-mail or even instant-message anytime."
"Communication between staff members, as well as between staff members and owners, is critical," continued Vincentini. DDL uses the Web-based KennelSource Pawtracker software to help track dogs' special needs, vaccination records and owner information to ensure smooth operations between the two separate, but equally efficient, facilities.
The Elliott Avenue location houses an onsite veterinarian for added convenience, as well as to fix up the occasional nip or scrape from friendly playtime "rough housing." Boarded clients are never left alone; there is always a DDL employee onsite overnight. Both locations offer boarding and plenty of room for the dogs to mix, mingle and play, as well as safe, healthy and natural retail products such as treats and dog food, collars and leashes, and even doggie slippers and outfits for the fashion-savvy canine. And it's not just the toy breeds who enjoy playing "dress up;" with hand-knit sweaters in sizes from small to XXL, even the big dogs can indulge their inner fashionista!
Speaking of indulgences, how about an herbal bath? Ever heard of a pawdicure? Downtown Dog Lounge's full grooming services even include a Brazilian! (Typically referred to as a Sanitary.") In addition to grooming, there is an on-staff trainer for Puppy 101 and basic and advanced obedience training classes. But as Vincentini learned during her ordeal with Lily, the parent often needs just as much training as the pooch!
"I want to educate people on the health benefits of natural dog food, free from additives and fillers," said Vincentini. "I know first-hand the remarkable results that can happen by changing a dog's diet and using herbal remedies." When dealing with Lily's illness and subsequent recovery, Vincentini's research on pet care indicated that an overall holistic approach could improve the health, disposition, and even behavioral problems in pets. To help educate her busy clients, she hosts seminars on these topics, featuring guest speakers such as animal communicators, behaviorists and Reiki massage therapists.
Downtown Dog Lounge practices what it preaches. Services include Reiki massage and doggie acupuncture as ways to help heal an ailing pooch, or calm a stressed-out dog. "At our Elliott location, we have a private suite for post-operative, ailing or elderly dogs who need a safe place to recover or relax," said Vincentini. "The lighting is soft, we play classical music, and we release pheromones in the room to help eliminate separation anxiety and encourage healing and rest."
At the other end of the spectrum is the doggie playtime and adventure. Most of the day, apart from 30 minutes before and after lunchtime to ensure proper meal digestion, is spent chasing friends and jumping on furniture. Dogs are grouped by size and demeanor to help avoid mishaps and misunderstandings. DDL's four-legged clients also enjoy outdoor walks in the park and around town. A brisk jog through the park is worth the few extra dollars to owners who don't always have time to do it themselves.
DDL-organized doggie and owner adventures include overnight camping trips, sheep herding lessons and hikes through the mountains. "We also hold events, like our recent Oktoberfest, for dogs and owners to socialize and network," said Vincentini. "Our events offer clients a fun way to make new friends or business contacts with others who really care about the well-being of their dog. Right off the bat, they have something in common with each other."
One recent personal adventure for Vincentini and a DDL manager was a trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. They helped manage temporary kennels and treat and keep track of the injured, sick and malnourished dogs. Hearing about their experience, an anonymous benefactor donated a plane to fly 14 of the rescued Katrina dogs to Seattle for treatment, fostering, and ultimately, adoption. "We started a not-for profit, Animal Relief Foundation, or ARF, to help secure donations for the medical care of the rescued dogs," said Vincentini. "We already support and will continue to support our local Anti-Cruelty and other rescue organizations; this new fund will be set aside specifically to aid animals affected by natural disasters and other cataclysmic situations."
The new not-for-profit is befitting an organization that exists to promote and encourage happy and healthy dogs. Some might even call it a mission.
"We know dogs love coming here," said Vincentini. "They literally drag their owners from the car and through the door because they are so excited to get inside and play with their friends."
More information from Downtown Dog Lounge
Tuesday, September 27, 2005 at 2:33:31 PM by Debbie Jacobs
Lucky Pawz: A Four-Legged Friendship Launches a Four-Partner Doggie Daycare
Macy Koller and Sully Kelly weren't always the best of friends. What began as a chance meeting in a local Iowa City park quickly led to regular after-work play dates. One thing led to another, and soon Macy and Sully weren't just meeting in the park, they were working together, where they could run and play all day long.
Sound like your typical workday? Probably not. But what if we told you Macy and Sully are dogs? And while these pups didn't actually start a business, they did inspire their four owners, Jim Kelly, Megan Kelly, and Jake and Brooke Koller, to set up shop as dog daycare and boarding facility, Lucky Pawz.
"We saw a need that wasn't being addressed in our community," said Jim Kelly. "City ordinance forbids dogs from running around 'off leash,' but we saw firsthand the benefits of our play dates. Not only did the dogs love playing together, but the exercise also really calmed them down in the evenings. A tired pup is a happy, less destructive, better socialized family pet."
Launched in Iowa City in July 2003, Lucky Pawz has since doubled in size to 8,000 sq. ft. of doggie play space, including almost 4,000 sq. ft. outdoors. Lucky Pawz doggie daycare clients are kennel free for the entire day (unless they need a time out!) surrounded by colorful walls and playground equipment, where they sniff and fetch and climb and swim all day long. Lucky Pawz has room for up to 70 dogs, with most regular clients coming 2 - 3 times a week to play. How do they know these dogs are having a good time? "We've had several owners tell us that all they have to say is 'Lucky Pawz' and their dogs go crazy!"
"Lucky Pawz only offers daycare and boarding," continued Kelly. "We made a decision early on to focus on what we love and what we do best: doggie love and playtime. These dogs are played with and cared for by handlers who love dogs. We even have one employee who sits and reads children's books to the dogs that sit in a circle around her!"
Given its proximity to the University of Iowa campus, many of Lucky Pawz employees are students who miss their own dogs back home and come to work to get their "doggie fix." All four owners interview prospective dog handlers at once, an intimidating process, but one that ensures Lucky Pawz is staffed with responsible dog lovers who understand that the job can be great fun, but it's still a job; keeping the facility spotless and the dogs exercised and happy takes unlimited patience and lots of energy. Slackers need not apply!
And neither should playground bullies. Like most daycare and boarding facilities, Lucky Pawz requires that doggie clients are spayed or neutered and up-to-date on all vaccinations. But they also take great care to ensure aggressive dogs don't compromise the safety of the staff and other pups. Some dogs are shy at first, hesitant to join the group. Handlers help these quiet pups to warm up to playtime and find their place in the group. But aggressive dogs can be dangerous for both handlers and hounds alike. "Dogs are pack animals, they establish a hierarchy right away," explains Kelly. "Groups are always changing, and as new dogs are introduced, the hierarchy changes and adapts to the new makeup of the group. When we first opened, we thought that the dogs should be grouped by size, when in fact, playground harmony has more to do with personality than size; many of our small dogs like to run with the big dogs and vice-versa." No matter the size, proper screening ensures no group is ever confronted by a bully on the playground!
Lucky Pawz boarding clients are part of those groups, as they are free to play with all of the daycare dogs during the day. Every night, happily worn-out from a day of games and general doggie carousing, these happy hounds relax in the comfort of large kennels-kennels so large that dogs from the same family can sleep side-by-side at a discounted price.
"We already have some boarding reservations for the holidays, which, like the summer time and the University spring break, are a busy time for us," said Kelly. "We're open every day of the year except Christmas Day. Walk-ins are always welcome, if we have the space." But don't wait until the last minute to make your reservations, you may find there's no room at the inn! Thanks to the PawTracker software by KennelSource, Lucky Pawz tracks all clients and schedules electronically, making it simple to secure reservations up to a year in advance.
Lucky Pawz doesn't just leverage technology for tracking clients and reservations. It receives fan e-mail from across the globe for its online doggie photo gallery at www.luckypawz.com. Cleverly captioned photos are posted daily and are archived on the site for a full year. Dog parents love to see what their canine kids are up to during the workday or while they are on vacation. Word has quickly spread to friends, relatives, and random Internet visitors from as far away as London and Iraq, who flock to the site to check in on daily hound happenings-always good for a belly laugh or two, especially as All Saints Eve draws near.
Every Halloween, Lucky Pawz is transformed into Spooky Pawz, complete with a haunted house and costume contest. Jim Kelly calls upon his degree in sculpture to help create stuffed ghouls perfect for gnawing and climbing on by the costumed canines, who stay dressed up at least until the photo session is over! "Last year we had a German Shepherd puppy come dressed in a nightgown and cap with a doll in a red cape attachedâ€¦he was the Big Bad Wolf from Little Red Riding Hood!" said Kelly. The costume party has become so popular they are holding Spooky Pawz over a few days this year so more dogs-or pumpkins, cheerleaders, court jesters and ballerinas-can take part in the festivities.
Kelly and his three partners have a lot to celebrate, and their enthusiasm and love of all things canine often takes shape in charitable donations. Lucky Pawz recently sponsored a local Paws in the Park event, and Kelly sits on the board of Johnson County Dog Park Action Committee (www.jcdogpac.org), a local group building the city's first sanctioned dog park. Getting the park built to the benefit of all local dogs, whether they visit Lucky Pawz or not, brings the business full circle, and speaks to the owners' dedication to happy, well adjusted dogs everywhere.
The owners' commitment to Lucky Pawz and its four-legged charges is obvious: three of the four entrepreneurs also hold other jobs, but still find time to improve the facility and to experiment with new programs and offerings. The latest example: an upgraded rubberized floor that will not only improve the look of the facility, but make it easier to clean and more comfy during playtime, whether running on two legs or four. Lucky Pawz, indeed!
More information from Lucky Pawz
Tuesday, August 09, 2005 at 10:22:19 PM by Debbie Jacobs
"Every Dogs Dream"
"The Five-Star Resort for Dogs"
"A Human's Haven, A Doggie's Heaven"
"The Next Best Thing When You're Not Around"
When employees of DoGone Fun Chicago, a doggie daycare, boarding, training and grooming facility located in the city's South Loop neighborhood, were asked "What is DogGone Fun?" company founder Beverley Petrunich was thrilled to find these phrases scratched in black marker on the white poster board. Her staff, she said, "got it! They all understand our philosophy. We treat the dogs like our own."
DoGone Fun Chicago opened its doors August 1, 2003, in an expansive space that formerly housed the Chicago Patrolman Museum. The 20,000 square foot facility includes indoor and outdoor doggie playgrounds, two boarding kennels, training rooms, grooming stations, and a retail store. In addition to doggie daycare, boarding, training and grooming, DoGone Fun also provides pet walking and sitting services, pet transportation services, agility classes, dog massage and even doggie yoga!
All DoGone Fun employees are carefully screened before hiring, and are observed spending time with the four-legged clients before coming onboard full time. People without boundless energy, outgoing personalities and genuine love and respect for dogs need not apply.
"Before I opened this business, as a dog owner, I liked that every time I would go to pick up my dog from daycare, the handler could always tell me a fun story about him," said Petrunich. "And who doesn't love to hear fun stories about their kid? It's important that my employees have good communications skills with the clients as well."
Communication with the doggie clients, whether in the daycare, boarding or training programs, is strictly limited to positive reinforcement. There are no choke collars at DoGone Fun Chicago, even if the dog wears one at home. There's also no yelling, no pushing, no pulling. To sustain this environment, and keep the staff and the dogs safe, DoGone Fun Chicago separates itself from other daycare facilities by asking the owners some tough questions about their 'kid's' behavior. Does she show any aggression to toys, to people, to other dogs? The staff will slowly introduce the new dog to the group, without the owner present, to ensure she "plays nice" with the other dogs. But even if she passes the initial test, if she starts to show signs of aggression later on, the dog is asked to leave. "This is very important to our human clients," said Petrunich. "We're very careful with their 'children,' we're not putting anyone's 'child' at risk"
What else separates DoGone Fun Chicago from the pack? Apart from a one-hour nap in the middle of the day, its doggie daycare clients spend 8-9 hours running around on playground equipment, wrestling with their best friends or playing ball or "kong" with staff members. "If you visit with other kennel owners, they are very focused on how much money than can make, and they cut corners," said Petrunich. "For instance, in daycare, they cycle the dogs in and out because they don't have enough space to have all of the dogs outside of the crates. So they kennel the dogs half the day. And that's not what I wanted for my dog! So that's not what we do here at DoGone Fun."
That's not all that they do differently. How about power-washing the floors of the kennels and indoor and outdoor dog playground each and every night? Visitors often comment about the lack of "wet dog" or urine smell. And while clients don't bring home a stinky dog every night (whew!), they do go home with a report card, filled with everything from comments on who the dog played with, his demeanor, the state of his "output," and any other observations to update the owner on his 'child's' day.
That's daycare, but what about the rest of DoGone Fun Chicago's services? Unlike most facilities, its boarding kennel is staffed 24-hours-a-day, is always open for a tour, and is enhanced by the KennelSource "Pawtracker" software package. Each day everything about all guests, from name, breed, personality, dietary restrictions, medical needs and more is printed out on a report that employees must initial and follow throughout the day. All of the dog's requirements are also posted on the outside of its temporary home, easy to match against the master report to avoid errors and ensure the highest quality of care. The boarded dogs receive complete daycare privileges, so they play all day and have supervised sleep at night. Of course, owners are encouraged to call and check on their 'children' at any time, and often pay extra for super comfy doggie beds, one-on-one cuddle time, and gourmet bedtime treats.
Beauty is More than Skin Deep
The puppy pampering continues for clients of DoGone Fun Chicago's Master Groomer, Dan Vaughn, CMG, CAH. Vaughn, who received his training from Chicago's first certified Master Groomer, has a reputation as one of the city's most sought-after groomers and was a perfect fit for DoGone Fun Chicago. "What was drilled into me from the start of my training is that how you treat the dogs is more important than what you do with the dogs," said Vaughn. "It's great to have a nice-looking finished product, but my primary goal is to respect the dogs and treat them well."
To do so, Vaughn refuses to overbook clients, even though his calendar is filled three weeks in advance, with Saturdays reserved for his regular clients. Having enough time to interact with the dog and give a proper shampoo and clipping ensures neither groomer nor dog is stressed. After all, isn't a day at the salon supposed to be relaxing? He adheres to AKC grooming standards, which can include nail painting and pretty bows, but will accommodate special requests, within reason.
His advice for dog owners? If you can consistently "walk-in" and get an appointment with a groomer, there's probably a reason they are not busy. Second, if you have a puppy that will need to be clipped, bring him into the groomer as soon as possible, even if they're not ready for a cut yet. "I like to meet the new puppies, get them used to everything," said Vaughn. "We have cuddle time. I turn the clippers on and lay them on the table so the dog gets used to the sound, can sniff it and touch it." Vaughn has witnessed, first hand, adult dogs scarred by early experiences at the groomer and knows it can be avoided. "I don't want to create a dog that is going to hate to be groomed for the rest of its life!"
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Especially if your dog trainer is Laura Monaco, a former dolphin trainer at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, followed by stints as the lead zookeeper of the Children's Zoo at both the San Diego and Brookfield Zoo.
Lured away by the challenge of creating her own training department and program, Monaco was also encouraged by the "dog-and-client first" mission of DoGone Fun, and the fact that Beverly Petrunich wanted to build the program around positive reinforcement training. "Dogs inherently want to please people, and positive reinforcement training involves praising the good and ignoring the bad," said Monaco. "The hardest part of my job is getting buy-in from skeptical owners who are used to yelling 'No!' or yanking the dog's lead to control behavior. I tell them 'You cannot force a tiger to come to you. But you can teach a tiger, a dolphin, a beluga whale, a sea otter or hawk to willingly come to its enclosure, to want to come to you.' The same holds true for dogs"
Whether the dog is in Puppy Preschool or Basic or Ongoing Obedience training, Monaco gets results using the same techniques she applied at the zoo. Modified for the classroom, of course! Each class contains no more than 8 dogs, to ensure each dog gets proper attention, and every caregiver in the family is invited to participate, including children. "It's important that the children understand where the dog is going for school," said Monaco. "If the child sees me reacting positively and calmly to his or her dog, that sets an example for them to follow."
Just like children, keeping dogs occupied keeps them out of trouble. In addition to training, agility classes, new to DoGone Fun Chicago, are great outlets to work the dog's mind and burn off some energy! "Dogs used to get a lot more stimulation and exercise. As our society urbanized, the dogs that were running around on the farm protecting the land are now in smaller living quarters, bored and looking for something to do…which might include getting into the trash or destroying furniture." explained Monaco. Agility training is perfect for the high-energy dog that needs to channel that energy into something other than gnawing on its owners prized possessions!
But the staff at DoGone Fun realizes that the dog is, in fact, one of the owners prized possessions and goes out of its way to make things special for them. Take birthdays, for instance. The special birthday dog is celebrated with his picture on the Birthday Board, and in addition to his daily report card, receives a birthday card hand-signed by the entire staff. For those owners who want to take it up a notch, enter Jennie Rice, DoGone Fun Chicago's Party Consultant and in-house baker.
"We rent out the facility on Sundays or we have parties during daycare, where owners pay for cake for the birthday dog and all his friends. We provide the cake, put up decorations, and attempt to take pictures, complete with dogs wearing the party hats," said Rice. "The cakes come in multiple sizes: individual cupcake sized or a cake big enough to feed 50 dogs!" And while the cakes contain all natural, human-grade ingredients, Rice can provide a cake fit for the human partygoers, too!
DoGone Fun Chicago hosts more than just parties. It also opens its doors, free of charge, to breed rescue organizations for monthly meetings. The South Loop Dog PAC recently held a dog wash and DoGone Fun Chicago volunteered to wash all of the dirty doggie towels. In cooperation with Chicago Animal Care and Control, DoGone Fun Chicago offers free training and care seminars for every dog rescued from the city's dog pound. And Laura Monaco helps train dogs for the Sit, Stay, Read program, a volunteer literacy program that brings dogs and kids together to make reading fun.
The list of all that DoGone Fun Chicago contributes to its community, both neighborhood and client, is enough to exhaust the busiest of pet owners! But the team of Petrunich and Patton are just getting started. "Life is about energy and where you find the joy," said Petrunich, "and I feel like I've been put in this business for a reason. It's a happy business. I spent most of my career in Human Resources and no matter what you are doing, somebody's always unhappy. Here, the dogs are always happy. And they make you laugh, they really do."
More information from DoGone Fun Chicago