We’ve Got a Lot to Celebrate!

5, 10, and 20 Year Anniversaries    

Some pretty big things happened 20 years ago, in 2004. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, while still a student at Harvard. Nintendo released the Nintendo DS. NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity spacecraft landed on Mars. The Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918. And Downtown Dogs opened our doors to dogs from all across the Twin Cities!

20 years later, we are still going strong as the longest established and most experienced doggy daycare and boarding business in the Twin Cities! In 2004 when Downtown Dogs opened, the idea of dog daycare was brand new. Since then, it’s become a thriving industry that we’re proud to have been part of from the beginning.

Over these last 20 years, we’ve grown and evolved to meet our customers’ and community’s needs — opening Dog’s Day Out in 2020, launching our Change Unleashed! initiative to help local animal nonprofits, and providing our employees with a living wage and generous benefits including free health insurance. Through it all, we have never lost sight of our founding tenets — treating each dog as an individual to meet their needs in the best way possible; offering free and discounted boarding to local rescues (over 1,200 nights in 2023!); and welcoming all breeds, ages, and sizes of dogs.

After 20 years, Downtown Dogs continues to thrive because of you, our amazing customers. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to delight your dogs, day in and day out for daycare and night after night for sleepovers (boarding)!

This year also marks 10 years that I’ve owned the business. As many of you know, it was tragedy that initially led me to become a Downtown Dogs customer. In 2011, at the age of 49, my vibrant, healthy wife Stephanie suffered a massive stroke. She died five weeks later. At the time, I was working downtown as a banker, and I needed a safe and nurturing place for my dog Frannie to stay during my long workdays and heavy travel schedule. I visited Downtown Dogs and absolutely loved everything about it!

Three years later, the corporate world work no longer carried the importance it once had. That’s when I realized that the two best moments of my day came when I dropped off and picked up Frannie at Downtown Dogs. Stepping into the door, I was awash in happiness and warmth. The people and the setting and the pure positive energy of Downtown Dogs created a unique feeling of “home.” I knew I had found my next calling and approached the original owner of Downtown Dogs about buying the business from her. Many conversations later, the deal was done! I traded in my business suits for jeans and polo shirts and never looked back. In fact, for the first time in three years, I was excited to look forward.

Happily, this year also marks 5 years of marriage to my amazing wife Abbe. Many of you have seen her around in our lobby, rearranging or adding new items to our retail Barktique. She also works behind the scenes with me on the business’s marketing and outreach. I’m so fortunate to have her as a partner and teammate in work and in life! Of all the changes that I’ve seen since 2011, meeting and marrying Abbe is the one that amazes me the most. She also loves dogs as much as I do, and it was dogs that brought us together. But that’s a story for another time.

Speaking of indispensable partners, our Chief Administrative Officer Erin celebrates 20 years with Downtown Dogs this fall! Among the first group of employees hired, Erin has literally and figuratively grown up at Downtown Dogs. Initially hired as a dog handler while still in college, Erin was Downtown Dogs’ General Manager when I bought the business in 2014. She immediately became, and remains, my “right hand” and the person I turn to first to help me solve problems, figure out new ways to do things, and to test new ideas with. (FYI, she pulls no punches.) Promoted to CAO a few years ago, she’s constantly innovating and improving how we serve our employees and our human and canine customers. I’m incredibly grateful that, 10 years ago, Erin took a chance and stayed with Downtown Dogs under my ownership. It’s easy to say this, but I truly could not do this without her. You can read more about Erin’s story here.

General Manager Lindsay celebrates 10 years at Downtown Dogs this August. Since she started as a dog handler at Downtown Dogs shortly before I bought the business, I feel like we’ve helped it grow up together. When Erin became CAO, promoting Lindsay to the role was an easy decision. Since then, she’s brought her energy and passion to the job, every day. Lindsay’s compassion for people and pups is enormous, helps set the tone whenever she’s working, and is a great example and reminder for every Downtown Dogs team member, me included.  You can get to know more about Lindsay here.

Two more employee milestones to celebrate are 5-year anniversaries for Training & Communications Manager Jess, and Groomer Megan.

Jess joined us as an experienced dog handler, having worked at another daycare for several years. It wasn’t long before we saw her great skills and abilities, so we quickly moved her into a shift lead, and then manager, role. It also turns out that Jess has a natural talent for training people about dog handling, right at the time when we wanted to expand our employee training. And that led her to the role she is in now. “Jack [or maybe we should say ‘Jess’?] of all trades” is how Erin recently described Jess. Her broad skill set, switching up her manager duties as needed, and doing whatever it takes to support the team, make a huge positive impact here, every day.

Megan started as a dog handler and then became a shift lead at Downtown Dogs. These days she spends most of her time next door at Dog’s Day Out but keeps her hand in at Downtown Dogs by leading our Monday evening shifts. A couple of years ago, Megan mentioned that she was interested in grooming, just when Dog’s Day Out was starting to take off. We were looking into sending her to grooming school when Andy, our Dog’s Day Out manager and lead groomer, said that he could teach her everything she needed to know. (Andy’s been grooming for 20 years, so he knows a thing or two.) After apprenticing with him for 18 months, she’s now grooming up a storm! And she’s our resident expert on adding color and bling to a dog’s groom. I’m thrilled we could give Megan this professional growth opportunity and that she’s getting to realize this career goal.

This month you’ll see Erin, Lindsay, Jess, Megan, and our whole team wearing blue tie dye 20th anniversary shirts. Along with the new T’s, employees received news of an additional perk bring added to their already above-industry-standards benefits: A discount at our Change Unleashed! Barktique retail shops in the lobby of each business, which opened one year ago this month!

We have a variety of special events, promotions, and giving back activities planned for June. We look forward to celebrating with all of you and your pups! 

With appreciation for being part of our pack,

Ralph