When Julie Castaneda was in the fourth grade, a dog wandered onto her elementary school playground. The administration planned to call animal control, but Castaneda convinced the janitor to hang on to the dog until after school, possibly by insinuating it was her pet. He agreed, and she took the dog home, where her parents gave her ten days to find it a new home. She did, with a neighbor on a nearby farm.
Today, Castaneda owns Dog Day Afternoon, a daycare and boarding service housed in two Topeka locations. One is the Doggy Dude Ranch on SW 10th Street, which features a large meadow, hiking trails, and a swimming pond for the ultimate outdoor dog experience. The second is the Pet Ranch and Resort on NE US 24, which has a 7,500 square foot indoor play area and a teeny town for indoor and outdoor play. Castaneda has plans to open a large dog park at that location soon.
“I grew up with dogs,” Castaneda says. “I’ve always had a dog throughout my childhood, probably more dogs than I should have had because I would bring home every stray and beg my parents not to call the dog catcher. I diligently advocated for dogs from a very young age, like seven or eight years old.”
Dog Day Afternoon opened on March 1, 1999. Castaneda put a classified ad in the paper, hoping someone would see it. Local radio DJ Marty Brandon would make fun of the classified ads on his morning radio show. However, when he targeted her ad, people called in asking for more information. The next day, he read the entire ad on-air, complete with the telephone number. Castaneda’s phone started ringing non-stop. Eventually, Brandon brought his dog, Reggie the Wonder Dog, to her daycare.
Today, besides daycare and boarding, Dog Day Afternoon also offers grooming and transportation services. There is also a specialized Individual Enrichment Program (IEP) available for dogs who may not fit well in the more traditional daycare setting because of anxiety, medical conditions, or a low tolerance for group play. The staff and client create goals, and then the program evaluator and director come up with a personalized plan based on those goals.
Many people call Castaneda a dog whisperer, but she doesn’t see it that way. “I’m a dog listener,” she explains. “I get their cooperation by listening and building trust, and you build trust by showing them that you hear them. Whispering is still telling a dog what to do. Listening is a whole different thing. I want to do right by the dog.”
Castaneda is now looking towards the future with a plan to let her children and employees take over the business.
“I’ve been in the game for 25 years, and I’m on my way to an exit strategy that involves more horses and fewer dogs,” she explains. “We have a five-year exit plan for me to be able to retire, and these kids take over. Keep the name, keep it strong, keep it meaningful to the community because it has such a fabulous reputation. I’m fully, fully convinced that these kids, who are not kids, can take the reins and do what Mama taught them to do. Keep providing exceptional service for incredible dogs.”