Thankful For Being Able To Give Back

By choosing to trust Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out for your pet’s needs, you are making a decision to support a locally owned and operated independent business. We hope you know that your support of our business also makes a positive difference in the lives of pets in need. Ralph is continually challenging himself, and all of us at Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out, to make a difference in the lives of dogs, their people, and our community.

As background, can you remind us how you came to own Downtown Dogs?

Well, it’s a sad story with a happy ending. I spent nearly 30 years in the corporate world – mostly in banking – and assumed that’s where I would stay. Then, in 2011, at the age of 49, my wife suffered a massive stroke and died five weeks later. As often happens in these kinds of world-shattering events, I started to look at my life and especially my career in a new light and realized that I needed to get out of the corporate world. Then it hit me that the absolute best parts of my day (and sometimes the only good ones) were when I dropped off and picked up my dog, Frannie, at Downtown Dogs. I loved the positive energy that I got from seeing all of the dogs and from the big “hello” that greeted me every time I walked through the door. I started to feel that a place like Downtown Dogs was where I belonged. So, in 2013, I called the owner and asked if they had any interest in selling the business. To my delighted surprise, they said yes. A year later, in 2014, I bought Downtown Dogs, traded my pinstripes for jeans and polo shirts, and found my new home. But that’s only part of the happy ending. In 2017, I met someone who loves dogs just as much as I do. Abbe and I got married in 2019 and now share our home not just with Frannie the Pug, but also with Lyle, our mischievous Wire Fox Terrier, and Helen, our sweet (blind) rescue Hound mix.

Is it correct that Downtown Dogs had a history of giving back from its start in 2004?

Yes. From its founding, Downtown Dogs began providing free and discounted boarding nights to several rescue and foster organizations in the Twin Cities.

Was this one of the things that attracted you to buying the business?

Actually, no. I was unaware of it, but I was thrilled to learn about it and knew right away I wanted to expand our giving back programs.

How has your giving back grown/changed over the years?

We’re working with more foster and rescue organizations than ever before. Sadly, that’s because the number of dogs being fostered, and in need of a “forever home”, keeps increasing. So, we’ve expanded our pro-bono and discounted foster boarding and now board well over 100 foster dogs each year. We have also increased work with local animal welfare nonprofits through sponsorships and donations — and in 2021 introduced our Change Unleashed! Initiative. Through Change Unleashed!, our customers have a chance to round up their purchases as donations to one of our animal welfare partners. We also donate 3% of all retail sales to our partners.

How would you articulate your businesses’ giving back philosophy?

Simple. We don’t exist in a vacuum. We have a moral obligation to support the communities we belong to and the organizations that are striving to make the world a better place for animals.

How does purposefully incorporating giving back into how you do business align with your personal philosophy?

There is an important concept in Judaism known as “Tikun Olam” which means, “repairing the world.” Simply put, it means that each of us has an obligation to do what we can to make the world a better place. It doesn’t matter if you do something large or small. What matters is that you do something. (Or, as Master Yoda says, “Do or not do. There is no try.”) This is how I have always approached my personal life and how I believe that our businesses, and all businesses, should act as well.

What lies ahead for Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out in terms of giving back.

The pet services industry – daycare and boarding, grooming, retail, food producers, veterinary services, etc. – is seeing an increase in mergers, acquisitions, and consolidation. That may be good for some of those companies but, unfortunately, it can shift vitally important financial and other support away from local organizations that are providing critical services in their communities. Our businesses – Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out – have been locally owned and operated since they began and, right now, I see that being more important than ever. We get to decide how and where we direct our giving back efforts, and we can be creative and flexible so we can respond to and support our partners in multiple ways.

Do you think giving back helps you attract and retain employees and customers?

I sure think and hope so! It’s very clear to me that folks want to work with and patronize businesses that share their values and are doing good things for the world. So, while we pride ourselves on our businesses being the most flexible and welcoming for daycare, boarding, bathing, and grooming in town, I’m not sure that’s enough to differentiate us from the pack for customers or potential employees. If we can set ourselves apart by doing good and supporting our community, what could be better than that?

The advice provided is based on many years of experience as dog parents and operators of one of the largest and longest established dog daycare and boarding facilities in the Twin Cities. Always consult your veterinarian—and in the case of pet trusts, a legal professional. When not sharing advice, our dog bloggers—Frannie, Lyle, and Helen—share a space with their people, Downtown Dogs and Dog’s Day Out owner Ralph Bernstein and his wife, Abbe.