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Dog Days of Summer

How Downtown Dogs and Dog's Day Out Cater to the Canines

Article by Courtney Reed

Photography by Leslie Plesser

Originally published in Minneapolis Lakes

Downtown Dogs is run with heart and soul, and you feel it from the moment you walk through the front door. From the enthusiastic greetings by the staff to the joyful demeanors of the dogs, it is a happy environment. Ralph Bernstein, owner of Downtown Dogs and his new DIY dog wash and grooming facility, Dog’s Day Out, had a unique start in the business.

After moving to the Twin Cities with his wife and children twenty- five years ago, Ralph was on the corporate path and working long hours while traveling and raising a family. All of that abruptly changed in 2011 when his wife suffered a stroke and died unexpectedly. Left to cover a lot of bases, Ralph knew he had to make adjustments to his life. In addition to juggling his children’s needs; another was finding a safe dog daycare center. He remembers seeing ads in the skyway for Downtown Dogs and decided to give them a try. Soon, he realized that dropping off and picking up his dog at Downtown Dogs was a huge bright spot in his day. Fast forward to 2014 when Ralph decided he needed a career overhaul that included owning his own business. Having become a great fan of Downtown Dogs, he picked up the phone on a whim and called the owner. “I have a crazy question for you,” he asked, “Would you ever want to sell?” And she replied, “I have a crazy answer for you. Yes.” Almost as if it were fate, the timing was right. Ralph claims, “it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

The dog daycare and boarding business has evolved significantly during the past decade. Ralph feels that demand for facilities like Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out have increased exponentially along with the dog population. Client expectations have also changed. People desire reliable and trustworthy services for their dogs. Today, Downtown Dogs is under the careful management of Ralph and his team. Their philosophy is simple. They want every owner to know and see that “every dog is special to them.” Ralph explains that they run several tailored schedules each day. Tailored scheduling allows them to accommodate the unique needs of each dog. For example, some dogs may have more energy in the morning and require an afternoon nap, whereas others may arrive and need some rest before going out on the play floor. Moreover, and unlike many daycare and boarding facilities, they take all sizes and all breeds which requires special attention to varying canine personalities. Ralph does not believe in a “cookie-cutter” approach and feels that customizing is key in trying to “meet every dog where they are for that day.”

Ralph chooses his staff and team carefully because it’s not easy work. He compares a day’s work to that of a “playground supervisor” because employees deal with all sorts of personalities while keeping the peace and ensuring a fun and safe environment. It demands long hours on one’s feet, walking up to 10 miles per day, while monitoring an entire room at once. His staff members are high energy. They love dogs and are attentive listeners who are always alert to any changes in vocalizations by their canine companions.

Downtown Dogs has been operating for sixteen years. But the brand-new DIY dog wash and grooming facility, Dog’s Day Out, recently opened in June. A large and bright space, it is located immediately next door to Downtown Dogs and boasts 7 self-serve tubs, and three high-powered drying stations (without heat) to provide a complete and comfortable bathing process. For dogs that experience anxiety during bathing and grooming, there is a private “Zen Den” with a separate tub and drying station. Each tub and drying station is ergonomically designed for comfort. Dog’s Day Out also offers full- serve bath and grooming appointments. Training classes and retail are planned for the near horizon. Ralph aspires to offer his customers products from locally owned companies who make dog treats and gear.

Ralph has a personal interest in his business as well. He and his wife of one year, Abbe, are the proud owner of three dogs that include Frannie, the 9 year-old Pug who accompanies him to work each day along with Lyle, the Wire Hair Fox Terrier. Helen, a 70 lb. hound-mix rescue, who was born completely blind, prefers to roam the yard at home. Personally and through Downtown Dogs, Ralph helps to support many charities including Pet Haven, Underdog, Warrior Dogs, Secondhand Hounds, Spot’s Last Stop, Mission Animal Hospital and Home for Life.

When asked what he imagines what dogs would say if they could speak, Ralph answers without hesitation, “I can’t wait to go to Downtown Dogs. It’s so much fun and I get to be myself.”

(In light of these times, and to increase customer confidence and convenience, Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out offer curbside service. The staff will fetch and retrieve your dog to and from your car on request. The high ceilings and large, open plan design of both businesses allow for plenty of air circulation and social distancing.)

Visit www.dtdogs.com or www.dogsdaympls.com for more information.

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