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|Inside The Barking Hound Village
By A.J. Mistretta
There are a few things in life that Rio knows for sure. He knows he likes walks. He knows how to play. And he knows the meaning of the words “daycare day.”
“When he hears that in the morning he gets so excited,” says the Portuguese water dog’s owner, Russell Cooper. “He knows exactly where he’s going and he really seems to like it.”
Rio rushes around the front lobby of Barking Hound Village in a flurry of curly black hair, proudly carrying his own red leash in his mouth. This is his routine twice a week, coming to play with friends—human and canine alike—while his owners are at work. And he’s far from alone.
On a typical day about 40 dogs come to this doggie daycare and boarding facility on the edge of downtown Austin. Most weekends another 30 to 40 dogs come for a canine getaway while their owners are out of town.
Barking Hound Village is a far different company today than the one David York and partner John Hogg first envisioned.
“The idea got started because I was looking for a place to keep my dog and I had spoken with several neighbors who had the same problem when they traveled,” says York, who lives in Atlanta where he and Hogg launched Barking Hound Village in 1999. “Daycare with a retail store and grooming—that was the original concept.”
But customers have a way of shaping a business to fit their desires, and Barking Hound Village quickly began getting requests for additional services. “There was such a demand for boarding,” says York. “So the next thing that we opened was the Inn at Barking Hound Village, a luxury boarding facility with spaces that were more like hotel suites for dogs than anything else.”
Barking Hound Village quickly garnered a reputation around Atlanta as the place for people to bring their dogs and have all their special requests met. High service boarding has taken off across the country in recent years as people discover such alternatives to traditional kennels and veterinary hospitals that can seem impersonal. Meanwhile, the pet daycare business is booming, particularly in urban areas where young, dog-owning professionals seek outlets for their four-legged friends.
“What’s great about what we do is that we are more flexible on our service and we can accommodate their needs, from specially cooked meals to seven playtimes or bathroom breaks a day if that’s what’s asked,” says York. “And people like that there is someone in the building 24 hours a day.”
Since its formative early days, Barking Hound Village has expanded to five locations in the Atlanta area, including the 17,000-square-foot flagship store, and one each in Austin and Dallas (the Dallas branch opened after the company realized that traveling Dallasites were driving down to Austin to leave their dogs at the Barking Hound Village there and flying out of the local airport).
York says the business has increased revenue 10 to 15 percent annually. Among its Atlanta locations, about 300 dogs come to daycare every day and up to 600 dogs stay at Barking Hound Village locations during major holidays.
“Daycare is appealing among people who work longer hours and travel more, particularly those in that group who have bigger dogs,” says York. “It’s difficult when they come home tired at the end of the day and the dog is full of energy and is ready to go. Here, by the time they pick the dog up at the end of the day, the dog has had plenty of exercise and activity all day. They’re just as tired as the owner.”
York says the lynchpin of Barking Hound Village is its people. The company now employs about 120 workers across all locations. “Our buildings are very nice, clean and functional, but we spend more of our money hiring great people,” he says. “We work on employee retention because we want consistency for our clients and their dogs. That way we really get to know the dogs and we can build relationships and trust with them and the clients.”
Canine daycare and boarding is not a business for the faint of heart. It’s a 24/7 industry that never stops and only speeds up during the holidays when most people get time off. Many businesses that try to break into the market fail. “It can be a grueling thing,” says York. “A lot of people get into this and they’re undercapitalized and don’t really know what they’re doing. …We’ve gone through the learning curves and we know what to expect and how much work is involved. We have a formula that we’re sticking with.”
Over the years there have been plenty of opportunities to franchise Barking Hound Village along with proposals from a number of private investors to take the concept into new markets. But York says the company is biding its time. “We’re going to spend the next year renovating stores and updating our systems,” he says. “At the same time we’re going to be looking at the market and examining different avenues to expand.”
Barking Hound Village has also played a major role in the Atlanta animal rescue network. The company works closely with groups like Atlanta Pet Rescue & Adoption, and Barking Hound Village often acts as a halfway house for abused and neglected dogs in need of new homes.
One story involving York and a grossly abused dog in Texas actually made national headlines. When an unsuspecting dog wandered into a trailer park in Gilmer, Texas in the spring of 2003, a resident decided she was a pest and shot her in the back. Thinking the dog was dead, the man buried her in a shallow grave. When the dog came-to, she managed to dig herself out, only to be discovered once more by the man and shot again. Miraculously the dog that would come to be known as Hope survived the second shooting and was taken by neighbors to an area veterinary hospital. When no one seemed willing to adopt her, York, who had heard the story from Atlanta, flew to Texas to get her. Hope now lives with him. Her harrowing tale was covered by CNN and other news groups.
And perhaps that’s what makes the people who work in the animal care industry so important—they help to balance out the capacity for cruelty and abuse that runs in others.
Back at the Austin location of Barking Hound Village, the afternoon is winding down and the dogs that have spent the day here are slowly going home. Leroy, a Labrador/Great Dane mix who suffers from separation anxiety is brought up to greet his owner and decides to check out everyone else in the room, offering each person a friendly nuzzle.
The sad-eyed, 11-month-old pup with his tail in perpetual motion has jumped through windows and managed to destroy a metal crate because he couldn’t stand being alone. Now his owner brings him to daycare every day of the workweek to save him from hurting himself. For dogs like Leroy, Barking Hound Village isn’t just a place to play, it’s