Man's Best Friend, Pampered in Minneapolis"Minneapolis is a very dog-friendly city, so it's fun when you realize it's more than just a business, it's a lifestyle for people."
What do you call a place with 85 dogs, a staff of attentive caregivers, and multiple webcams so the dogs' owners can check in with their darlings throughout the day? Pampered Pooch Playground in Minneapolis.
"For most of our customers, their dog is their kid, so the webcam is just an added sense of security," says owner Keith Miller, adding that it doesn't get as crazy as you might think. "Most of the dogs that come here during the week are regulars, so we know their personalities pretty well."
Miller wasn't always in the dog business, though. He worked in radio for 11 years, and his wife, co-owner Patrycia, is a registered dietician. But when a Chicago friend opened a doggie day care, they began thinking about starting their own. "We researched it for about a year and worked at a few day cares, one in Chicago and one in Houston, and a year later, we opened."
The job offers benefits beyond earning a living. For one thing, Miller loves being part of his customers' lives. "We could easily have one of our managers come in at 7 o'clock in the morning, but I enjoy talking to the customers and seeing what their dog did last night."
And there's the mood-enhancement factor. "You could have the worst day going, you could have gotten a speeding ticket or somebody could have broken into your house," says Miller. "But the minute you walk in here, you know the dogs love you no matter what."
Pampered Pooch Playground also offers Miller a great opportunity to interact with people in Minneapolis. Events like "Beer With Your Buddy" ("You drink while your dog plays," says Miller) and "Sushi With Your Poochie" (you eat while your dog gets tableside massages and nail-paintings, with a side of doggie ice cream) have gone over very well. "Minneapolis is a very dog-friendly city, so it's fun when you realize it's more than just a business, it's a lifestyle for people."
But perhaps one of the best things about Pampered Pooch Playground is the opportunities it offers for giving back to the community. The business has donated more than $15,000 to animal causes, including 2010's Halloween party (dogs in costume!), which raised almost $1,500 for a local organization that assists low-income pet owners.
"We could easily have kept that money for ourselves and bought a fancier home and other stuff, but I feel like a good business should give back," says Miller. "That's one of our business models."
Not surprisingly, one of Miller's favorite locations in the area is Lake Harriet, which features a family-oriented beach that's perfect for his dog Roxy. "It's not an official dog beach, but Roxy doesn't swim, so we just take her to Lake Harriet and she loves wading in the water there."
You could say that Roxy is part of the staff at Pampered Pooch Playground, too. She contributes as a therapy dog in a local nursing home, and also works in an after-school program for St. Paul Public Schools.
"We do a whole class on how to care for a dog, and you hope it changes the kids' point of view," says Miller. "Most of these kids have never been exposed to a calm, peaceful dog, so we hope it translates into, 'Here's how to care for my girlfriend or parents down the line.' And Roxy just loves it, because they pet her the entire time."
Check out Keith's Minneapolis.