There are daycares for parents to bring their children while they are at work. But what if you have a four-legged child? Jimmy Johnson, owner of Dog Days of Birmingham and Hand In Paw board member, tells us all about his very special business that fills a need for those who desire full time care of their pets.
Their building located at 112 18th St N, was erected in 1917. Run as a furniture store by the Hunter family from 1920-2010. Dog Days of Birmingham opened in September of 2010. With twelve employees, they offer daycare, boarding, grooming and supplies.
We open at 7 am and close at 6. You think of it just like a child’s daycare. Moms and dads drop off on their way to work and pick up on their way home.We also offer boarding. Those dogs are in daycare during the day and stay with us at night. They are not shut up in a cage. They’re in there playing and at the end of the day the other dogs go home and the boarders stay. We do that 365 days a year. We do not have days or nights when there are not dogs here.
We offer three types of boarding. We offer crated. A few people have dogs that were raised crated and prefer it, not many, but We have cageless, where they actually sleep in the playroom on cots with the dogs they have been playing with that day. They love it! The third option we call the loft. It’s a six by six foot room where they can come out of daycare and go into that room for the night. A lot of people like that when they have dogs of different sizes that are in separate groups in the playrooms during the day because of their size, but at night, they can eat together and spend the night in the loft together. Some people just want their dog to get a break from the fifteen hours of play. When we first opened, crating was the biggest thing. It took awhile, but I educated the people that cageless was okay. Here’s the key. After playing for ten or eleven hours, you feed that dog and boom, he passes out. It’s not a problem.
I also have cameras all over the place. I can watch from anywhere on my laptop. I can even flash it up on my tv screen in my loft upstairs and watch them. The dogs are never left alone in the building. If I have to be out of town, there are staff members that sleep on bunks in the office.
We top out at ninety dogs. Holidays are when we max out and have to turn some away. We could run this place differently and make more money. The classrooms of dogs, cageless, take more staff to run, but it’s better for the dogs. If the dogs were all in a concrete run or crates, I could run with only two people. I have five or six people working here at any given time in addition to those at the front.
Our rooftop play area is a bit hit. It’s really unique for the state of Alabama. There are some in California and New York, but it was out of necessity that we do it here because we’re downtown. Where would we take the dogs? We got our architects and engineers to figure out how we could do it.
We have a full time groomer on staff who can do anything from nails to baths to show cuts to coloring. Around holidays and at the beginning of football season, some folks will get a big Alabama “A” on the side of their dog. People like to show their team colors, even through their pets. We even had one vet that had stripes put on his labrador to look like a tiger for Auburn University. We make sure that the animal is not stressed out. The groomer works a little bit at a time and if the animal is stressed by it, we just tell the parent we can’t do it.
I use Vulcan Park Animal Care and he’s basically on call, but if we have an emergency after hours, we go to the emergency clinic on Acton Road. Every Thursday, we have a vet, Dr. Walker, who comes and sets up a booth right out here on the sidewalk and offers low cost cost vaccinations and tests for heartworms. Since there is no office visit fee, it keeps the cost way down. We keep up with when our clients have vaccination renewals coming up and we’ll refer them to the Thursday clinic so they can stay up to date on their vaccinations. We’re not trying to take away anyone’s vet, but we also don’t want to turn away any business.
We do temperament tests where we bring the dog on leash into the group they will probably play in. We watch their body language. If they show signs of aggression, we tell the parents they need to work on certain things and try again later. When they come in as puppies and start out here, they’re fine, because dogs are naturally social animals.
One hope I have for the future of Birmingham is that the school system will get better and become a draw for all ages of people to live downtown. Right now, it’s only really young or retired folks.
The hardest thing about being a small business owner is that there is no handbook you get from the city of all of the steps required to open and run a business. They don’t tell you that if you don’t file this certain paper by this date, you’ll get a fine. So much of opening a business you have to just learn the hard way. We could not have made it through the opening without the help of Operation New Birmingham. They walked us along through the process and are so very thankful for their help. When we first opened, we were tied to the business for two or three years. As we developed the systems and worked the bugs out and got some people we could trust, we now have a lake house where I can spend time on the weekends.
The best thing about owning this business, personally for me, is brand recognition. I can hardly go anywhere in my Dog Days shirt without someone saying, “Oh, I know Dog Days! My grand-dog goes there!” When you create that brand and get that recognition, it makes you feel really good. The other part of that is seeing these parents pull right up in the front and we’ll go over to open the door and the dog jumps out of the car and runs right in! Every time I see that, it touches me because that dog wants to be here. Those smiles on the parents’ and dogs’ faces is just what it’s all about.
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