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