BEMIDJI -- Early last year, Janet and Brent Holbrook hoped they were barking up the right tree when they took a leap of faith and opened Bemidji’s newest pet care facility The Dog House Inn.
For Janet, a former house cleaner, and Brent, a contractor, the idea of entering into the world of professional pet boarding and daycare seemed a bit foreign at first.
While the couple shared a life-long love for animals, Janet’s pet-sitting had just been a side gig mainly done for friends. But as word of mouth spread, she realized it could be more, much more.
“We love animals, we always have. I've raised dogs, and we're good with animals,” Janet said. “I had friends ask me to watch their dogs, and then other people started asking me. So I started putting it together that if I had so many dogs it could pay (as much as) one house that I cleaned.”
Initially, Janet’s plan was to construct a simple area for kennels. But, upon doing research, she discovered “luxury” pet care facilities in larger cities and knew that was what she wanted to create.
Once Brent was on board, the plan was doable as they had his contracting expertise in addition to a sizable property next to their home for the pet inn.
With their son Chris, the Holbrooks built and designed The Dog House Inn, beginning construction in August 2019 and then opening their doors to the public in February of last year. The inn is located at 10381 Hillcrest Drive NE.
“So that's how we did it: Just a love for animals and the ability to do it,” Janet said.
In their first month of business they had a full house, with customers welcoming the off-leash, indoor-outdoor style of play for doggy daycare, as well as the comfortable “suite-style” kennels for boarding.
But then, the coronavirus pandemic hit and travel stopped.
"Customers had scheduled dogs, and then they called and said they thought maybe it wouldn't be a good time to go on their trips because of COVID,” Brent said. “So it affects this business, just like a lot of other business, big time.”
While they still had customers, business was slow, but the Holbrooks said they tried to make the best of an unfortunate situation.
Janet used her time to become certified in canine behavior and enrichment as well as health, nutrition and first aid. She said she currently has one more certification in training to receive.
Brent said he used his time learning handling tricks and observing dogs’ behaviors firsthand in order to understand the best way to socialize them with one another. He uses his own dog, a golden retriever named Farley, to help acclimate new dogs to the facility.
“You learn all the time. Every dog has its own mannerisms, and you are always thinking about each animal individually,” Brent said. “I go so far as when I put them down at night, I make sure that I stop and pet each one in their pen, talk to them a little bit, and it really seems to make a difference. If you see a dog's having a little bit of a hard time, then you spend a little extra time and try to help it out a bit. It works just like kids.”
The Holbrooks said they’ve also developed a balanced routine of playtime, naptime and mealtime for their canine customers in order for them to have the best experience throughout their day.
“By 11 a.m., it’s naptime for the dogs. I turn out the lights, put on Celtic music and sometimes put down yoga mats, and they lay down and go to sleep. It's just like kindergarten,” Janet said. “They're down until around 1:30 or 2 p.m. because dogs need their sleep. That's a lot of play for a dog. They're getting way more play here than most dogs get when they're at home.”
Once business picks back up, the Holbrooks said they’re looking to add more outdoor additions, such as shade areas and agility-type items, along with a play area for smaller dogs. In the future, they said they might consider adding a doggy swimming area.
The Holbrooks also hope to eventually adopt a work-life balance by hiring a couple extra staff, but as of now, they are unable to do so. Up until recently, they had each been working 11 hour days, seven days a week since they opened.
When asked what drives them to do it, they summed it up with one word: Love.
“In 90% of new customers, you know that they really love their dog and that they don't want to leave their dog anymore than the dog wants to be left,” Brent said. “But the next time they come, they feel so much more relaxed about it because they know their dog is going to be happy and loved here.”
“We want our customers’ dogs to be happy, and we want them to come and say goodbye to us when their owners pick them up,” Janet added. “The best thing about it is the love that the dogs show us. Coming here is like a combination of going to grandma's house and going to the park. They're catered to and they're having fun. We treat them like we do our grandchildren. When the dogs are happy and don’t want to go home, that's my success.”