The Secret World of Doggie Daycare

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Three Dogs Behind Chain Link Fence

There are times when we must leave our pets, and we often turn to specialized facilities to provide doggie daycare while we’re at work or an extended boarding stay when we have to go out of town. Sure, we trust these caregivers, but aren’t we often just a little curious about what goes on after we drop our pets off? Becca Riker of The Mutt Hutt in Cleveland, Ohio gives us the full scoop about why she started The Mutt Hutt and what her typical days are like.

How did you get started?

“I started researching daycare for dogs in 2003 while I was actively pet sitting. It took me about 2 years to formulate a plan to open The Mutt Hutt. Much of my time was spent looking for the best location and not settling for just any building. I wanted a place that was neighborhood-friendly, had natural outdoor space, and was convenient to my clients coming to and from work downtown.”

What’s been your most challenging experience?

“The biggest challenge was getting city variances prior to opening. This involved canvassing neighbors and attending block club meetings to establish myself as a responsible business owner. Many people have misconceptions about dog daycare, and the biggest challenge was allowing [the naysayers] to have their opinions while [expressing] my own about noise levels and how my business would operate. The Mutt Hutt prides itself on having a calm, quiet pack of dogs.”

What’s your favorite memory?

“We used to have mulch in our backyard before we upgraded to smooth river rock. On mulch delivery days, we’d get all the dogs upstairs in our overnight space and let the dump drunk drive through the facility. The delivery took about 20 minutes to get in, dump, and get out. The best part was when we’d release the hounds back onto the daycare floor. The dogs would come running down the steps, in small groups, and immediately dive for the large pile of mulch!”

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?

“Some of our clients may not realize I also run a nonprofit rescue out of The Mutt Hutt. I founded Secondhand Mutts shortly after I opened and obtained our 501c3 status in 2009. The Mutt Hutt now runs like a machine, so I have been able to really focus on Secondhand Mutts and take on the challenge of finding forever homes for homeless dogs and socializing those pups so they have successful futures. This has become my pride and joy.”

The worst part?

“The worst part of my job is when any of our favorite dogs moves away. We’re in a transitional city, and also cater to professionals, so it comes with the territory. Saying goodbye to our special four-legged friends--who often visit us up to 3 times a week--is rough for our staff. Recently, two separate clients let us know they were moving to Boston this summer. Since I got each of their news within days of the other, I was able to hook them up so they could investigate options for their dogs to play together in their new city. It’ll be very hard this summer when we say goodbye, but knowing they may still have their Mutt Hutt connection makes it a little easier.”

The best part?

“The best part of the job is when one of our Secondhand Mutts is adopted out to someone who becomes a client of The Mutt Hutt, since we never really expect to see them after they leave our care. Whether they’re with us a few months or just a few days, we attach ourselves to each one. It’s always emotional and hard to say goodbye when they leave us, but it brings us so much joy to then find out a dog is returning to us to play or even stay here for an overnight. Seeing the former Secondhand Mutt thrive from having love, stability, and a great family makes us intensely happy.”

Funniest story?

“I have several employees who are members of local bands; they are fantastically talented. Nick, our daycare manager of 5 years, and his band mate, Tony, worked at The Mutt Hutt for a couple of years together. They’d spend their afternoons managing the dogs, cleaning, and singing songs about the dogs. Some of the dogs even had their own cover songs! There is a Doberman named Frannie, and her cover song is "The Weight" by The Band (changed to ‘Take a load off Frannie….’). There is another Doberman named Bob Evans (one of my dogs who was a former Secondhand Mutt), and his cover song is "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys (as in, ‘Bob-Bob-Bob, Bob-Bob-he ran’)."

Was there a time you didn’t think you (or your business) would survive?

“Although I’d already opened my doors and started taking dogs in, the resistance from my immediate neighbors continued. I also found out from the city that I had to cut my yard by two-thirds because of a misunderstanding about property lines. I had to put up a fence to divide my lots and request a second variance to open up the yard to its full capacity. A lot of work had gone into opening The Mutt Hutt, dogs

had enrolled, fences were built, and my reputation was on the line. Potentially losing the majority of my backyard changed one of my biggest selling points of the operation and I was feeling defeated, to say the least. I met with staff leadership and we all agreed this would be temporary and with patience, creativity, and support from our clients, we would get through. Within a few months, we received the variance and took down the fence that was dividing the property. In the end, I was able to maintain my large backyard, and keep the peace with my community.”