For this week’s #ShopFranklin Spotlight, I took a walk with Cathy Sutton of Happy Tails Doggy Daycare!
During Cathy’s former career in corporate America, she felt the need to do something different and more fulfilling. The solution presented itself when a sick dog named Menace arrived at her home, and Cathy began to study ways to bring him back to full health. Cathy realized that once Menace was physically healthy, he needed some “mental activity and social skills;” the dog park was nice for an hour or two but wasn’t enough, and Cathy wasn’t thrilled with the daycare she subsequently enrolled him in. Despite her feeling that he wasn’t getting the best of care, Cathy noticed that Menace was worn out when he arrived home, so she “knew there was something to this thing.” Cathy hit on the idea of opening her own doggy daycare, and when she told her husband “Guess what we’re gonna do?” his uncharacteristic response was “You know, it’s not a bad idea!” Happy Tails Doggy Daycare, Inc. was born.
In business since 2004, Happy Tails DDC moved to its current location in 2012. Cathy explains that dogs are “very spatial and really need a certain amount of area,” and it became clear to her after six or seven years in business that Happy Tails had outgrown its space. It took about two years to find the facility in Forge Park where Happy Tails currently resides, but it couldn’t be more perfect for the dogs’ needs. With 16,000 square feet inside and 5600 fenced-in square feet on 3.2 acres outside, the dogs have plenty of room to run and play and there’s even room for future expansion. The best part, according to Cathy, is that because the outside yard doesn’t overlook any other buildings, the dogs have total freedom to play and bark without bothering anyone else. Happy Tails isn’t the only tenant in its current space; it’s the anchor for several independently-owned, dog-related businesses, collectively known as Destination Dog. One of the features making Happy Tails unique is its partnership with these other businesses, which results in total “convenience for the customer. The business model is that we can take your dog to grooming. We can take your dog to acupuncture. We can take them to hydrotherapy.” At the end of the day, when the dog’s family picks him up, everything is already done. “The dog is taken care of, which is the priority for us,” Cathy says. In addition to the groomer, acupuncturist, and physical therapist, Destination Dog also houses a trainer who teaches everything from puppy basics to agility, and a bakery and deli featuring healthy dog treats and grass-fed, antibiotic free meat, fish, and poultry.
Every morning, when the dogs arrive at Happy Tails, they’re eager to get going. “The dogs know that it’s so fun here that they usually don’t look back,” says Cathy. After a quick potty break, each dog goes into his or her compatible playgroup, which is determined by the Happy Tails staff at the time of admission through a thorough assessment. Cathy notes, “just because you’re a dog doesn’t mean you like other dogs! Just like people.” Contrary to what you might think, the dog’s age, size, or breed has nothing to do with the playgroup where he or she ultimately ends up; it’s all about the dog’s personality and play style, whether it’s soft, medium, hard, or really hard. According to Cathy, “you wouldn’t think about it but a large Bernese Mountain Dog is a soft player.” It’s important to Happy Tails to have diverse playgroups, since the aim is to teach the dogs social skills they can carry over into their lives outside daycare; the dogs need to be able to look at another dog and know whether that dog’s behavior is saying “go away” or “let’s play!” Interestingly, other than moving from the baby group into a defined play style group, the dogs’ placements usually don’t change. “I liken it to a kid that was the cutup in school… When you meet them as an adult, they’re still doing the joking. They might have some social skills layered on that, but they’re still the cutup,” Cathy says. Once in their playgroup for the day, the dogs rotate through various activities, including swimming in summer, indoor and outdoor play, and even craft projects. It’s not all party time, though. Every day from 12:00 to 2:30, the dogs have a snack and naptime; they don’t have to sleep, but Cathy says that usually “they eat their snack and then pass out.” After naptime, it’s more play until the parents show up to take home their happy, worn-out dogs. (And sometimes, they don’t go home; Happy Tails offers overnight services for its daycare attendees, in a more homelike setting than a traditional boarding facility.)
Cathy isn’t currently a Franklin resident, but feels like one based on the amount of time she spends at work. Cathy originally decided to locate Happy Tails here because she found that “Franklin was the most business-supportive town.” Although Franklin’s rules and regulations could be tough to navigate, Cathy felt that the Town knew what it was doing and was willing to work with her to help get her business established. “Franklin is very special from a standpoint of how cohesive the community is and how being a Franklin person is really important to the Franklin people,” Cathy says. The support she’s found from other local business owners, in particular, has been integral to the success of Happy Tails and Destination Dog.
Overall, Cathy wants the community to know that “we’re really, really good at what we do.” Happy Tails has a very high ratio of people to dogs, and all staff members are hired on the basis of having the right attitude and a true commitment to the wellbeing of the dogs. According to Cathy, “we treat the dogs like I treat my dog at home. We take care of them and love them the same way as our own dogs.” In one case, Cathy learned from a dog’s family that they had previously enrolled the dog in another daycare for three years, and never knew how unhappy the dog was there; the difference in his behavior and personality after starting at Happy Tails was dramatic. “That’s it for me and that’s what makes me get up in the morning,” Cathy says. “It’s a very special place.”
Happy Tails Doggy Daycare is located within Destination Dog at 7 Forge Parkway in Franklin. Find them online at their website and on Facebook for more information! For more photos, please visit Focus Designs and Photos‘ recent #ShopFranklin Photo Spotlight on Destination Dog.