Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sarah Slater. Owner, PLAY Doggie Daycare

Sarah Slater, Entrepreneur & owner of Play Doggie Daycare shares her experience 
of the neighborhood. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley

We were all struck by how friendly it was here. People would drive by, slow down
and shout out the window, “Welcome to the neighborhood.” Now that I’m here,
I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

I don’t know why it hadn’t hit me before - it’s called the Central District for good reason. I hadn’t appreciated how easy it was to get around, either to the lake or downtown. It’s at the center of very diverse neighborhoods, each one so different.

The kids and I were all struck by how friendly it was here when we moved in, people would drive by, slow down and shout out the window, “Welcome to the neighborhood.” I'd had thoughts of moving here for many years and am now so glad that I finally did.

PLAY Doggie Daycare. Photo: Madeline Crowley

I really enjoy the neighborhood, how different it is. When I opened the business (PLAY Doggie Daycare) in Sept 2012, the community was so supportive, even the other local business owners, King Deli, and Fetene at All Your Family Auto. It really took me by surprise...

Did you always have an interest and connection with dogs?

As a kid in England, we always had animals around the house. Sometimes they were pets, but we were also known as the place to take found animals to, so if you found a rabbit that had been hit by a car, you'd take it to the Slaters. We always had people bringing us rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, even a bat once, and either they would survive with us or we'd end up burying them in the garden. My family has always been animal-lovers. I lived in the countryside in England; our home was surrounded by badgers, foxes, birds of prey. We always had pets too; hamsters, gerbils, dogs, cats, even a couple of old horses that we kinda got stuck with!

Photo: Madeline Crowley
It's always been a surprise to me that I never had a dog of my own until I was well
into my 40s. 

I'd say dogs are my favorite animal, dogs and rats. Dogs are just amazing, they’re not like a pet rabbit or pet hamster or anything like that. I’ve always said they take up as much physical and emotional space as any other member of the family. 

My daughter has had pet rats in the past, quite a succession of them actually! I have to say rats have a lot of similarities to dogs, especially in their desire and ability to communicate with you and their wanting to be with you. Her first rat, called Lulu, absolutely blew all of us away. While we’d sit and watch TV she'd sit on your lap or run around the sofa, it wouldn’t want to get on the floor but stay with us on the sofa. And, if you left the room, when you came back the rat would get on the arm of the sofa, stand up on its back feet and reach its little arms out to you. That rat left a big gap when she died, just like a dog. One day I was looking through photos of her and in every picture I discovered she is looking directly into the camera! Kinda freaky.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
So when did you start a business walking dogs?

In 2004. 

I’ve always said it’s the best job in the world because every morning I'd be going to Magnuson Park to walk and swim - in the summer - with the dogs. All the dogs love you ‘cause they know you’re going to take them to the park. It’s just really rewarding. If you’re an outdoors person, it’s great. It also allowed me to be at home for the kids when they got back from school. This was when the kids were still young. It was great.

Does the fact that the dogs are focused on the walk prevent conflict?

I’m not a dog trainer or anything like that, so when I started I wasn’t even super-aware of that pack mentality that people are always talking about, but it's definitely there. The dogs know they're in a pack and that's who they'll stick with. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley

It was obvious to the dogs that I was first in command. My old dog, Archie, he was funny, he was recognized by the pack as being second in command. If there was a dog trailing behind for any reason, he would go fetch it if he felt I'd been calling it for too long.  It was pretty cool, he'd go back for it and get it moving.

We see lots of different behaviors in the dogs at PLAY. It’s quite fascinating. There are different play styles, the 'cheerleader' who will circle other dogs who are playing and bark at them, the 'play police' who doesn't like other dogs having a good time!

Photo: Madeline Crowley
I would think that would be the best part of the job. First, learning the dog’s personality and then seeing dog’s personality in relation to whoever comes.

Yeah. There is one dog who's a herding breed. When two dogs are playing around him he makes sure to have a ball in his mouth as he circles them. We were wondering if he knows that with the ball in his mouth he won't nip them as his breed normally would? 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
It does make perfect sense, to control that constant impulse.

So, you started the business in 2012. You have Lisa working with you, who has worked with dogs quite a bit before.

She was a lead vet tech for many years. She's awesome. She can really spot things with the dogs. We had a dog come in one day and Lisa immediately said, “Something’s up with that dog" We phoned the owners who thought the dog was just missing it's 'Dad' who was away on business. But for the rest of the day Lisa said, “No, I think there’s something else going on.” We told the owners to please watch her carefully. It turned out she had a corn cob stuck in her gut, and she had to have major surgery.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Lisa spotted that, so we feel confident that we’re taking good care of the dogs. There was another dog who would eat anything, she particularly liked tennis balls; we had to remove all tennis balls when that dog came to PLAY. Lisa told the owners to get insurance because "you’re going to have surgery in your future". Sure enough, just a little later an avocado pit got stuck and the dog had to have surgery. Fortunately, they had followed Lisa's advice and gotten the insurance. Just in time! 

I advertised on Craigslist and found Lisa!

Photo: Madeline Crowley
Wow, what a find. I just assumed you guys knew each other.

Everybody thinks we've been friends for years; we feel like we've been friends for years! I think a lot of people think she's the business owner, which is fine by me.

You know... the whole thing has been very weird, it's just felt like fate. I sat down with Lisa at Cortona Coffeeshop and came away just knowing she was in my future. She joined me before we even opened. I asked her to give up her job, come and help me build the place, which she did, with hammer and nails! I don’t think she’d even heard of dog daycare before. We always joke now because her fear was the work would be seasonal, and of course, it hasn’t been seasonal at all.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

No, because people own their dogs all year.

I still take the piss out of her for that! I feel it is her business as much as it is mine; she’s made it what it is. I can’t imagine if it hadn’t been her, she's been absolutely amazing.

I can’t imagine it without her. You have a great crew. Matthew and Anthony are both great, too.

Matthew is the one with the most experience. Anthony is very sweet and gentle and kind

Photo: Madeline Crowley

We ask during the interview, "If you were a dog, what type of dog would you be?" Most people don't hear the question properly and just answer with what their favorite dog is, but Anthony understood and said he’d be a Malamute. He must have felt embarrassed because Lisa and I just cracked up laughing. Malamutes are the difficult ones in day care because they’re so pigheaded. But they're also big and cuddly and gentle, and that's Anthony.

Malamutes are very smart.

We’ve had two Malamutes, but sadly they're not a good fit for the daycare environment,
not all breeds are. But when Anthony said that he totally won us over. I’m a huge believer
in going with your gut. He’s great with the dogs and you can see it’s where he’s supposed
to be.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
We try to be an extension of our client’s families, that’s really our MO (modus operandi). We feel like we’re a family and when new staff join us we tell them, we’re a small team, we want to be a family, we want to be an extension of our client’s family.

In some places it’s: take the dog in, drop the dog off, somebody different on the desk every time. We want people to feel really comfortable, to know their dogs are loved, not just secure. 

Our newest team member is Olivia, she had been working at a daycare in Tennessee. She’s also terrific, she really cuddles and loves on the dogs.

Back in the first few weeks it was just Lisa and me, and a handful of dogs. Folks would just stop in, sometimes they didn’t even have a dog, they were just coming in to say hello, welcome us to the neighborhood and have a chat; mostly they were curious I think. They would tell us the history of the site and how they were connected with it. One woman come in to tell us there used to be a real estate office on the site. She  wanted us to know her father had bought the house she lives in from the real estate office that was here. I showed her an old black and white photo of the real estate office.

I have photos of the businesses that occupied the site over the years. There was a burger stand and on the sign, it reads, Hot Dogs. I like to joke that those were the first dogs on the site, only we don’t eat ours! I’ve got the old black and white photos going back to the 1930s.


How were you expecting the business to turn out?

As I said, I've been left with a huge sense that it was 'meant-to-be'. Nearly all our clients are in the neighborhood and I wanted it to be a neighborhood thing. I know other places where people come from all over and drop their dogs off on their way to work so those clients aren't going to run into each other when they're out walking their dog in the neighborhood. My dream was to have dogs come across each other, and recognize each other from being at PLAY, and then the owners get chatting and realize they're dogs play together.

That’s actually happened to me walking Joe. He’ll drag me over to this dog all excitedly. I’ll ask the owner, “Does your dog go to Play Daycare?” And it does.

I absolutely love that the owners don’t know each other, but they meet through their dogs. I just love hearing that. We have had owners drop their dog off on their way to taking the kids to school... then in comes another family, and it turns out they're all heading to the same school - the kids are in the same class together all day and their dogs are in the same daycare together. That’s what I really love about it.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

It is a kind of a hub and it is very much a neighborhood place.

I’m glad you say that. That's what I wanted more than anything - somewhere warm and welcoming. We deliberately wanted it to be very open so everyone could see we're not hiding anything. If you drive by on the bus you’re high enough to see right in.

It’s a great addition to the neighborhood.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
Thank you. Daycare doesn’t suit every dog, there are some dogs that aren’t keen to come. If they come because the owner has to go to work and can’t leave them home alone, then we try to make it as nice as we can for them. We’ve got what we call the Cozy Room, a quiet area where dogs can go if they find it too rambunctious or too overwhelming. 

Do they have dog daycare in England or did you have to explain to family about the business?

They have dog walkers but I don't think they have many daycares like this.

It must seem hilarious to them.

I think they're amazed that this is what I've ended up doing. The only way to really describe it is to liken it to a kids daycare. Funnily enough, an owner came in one morning and said, “I think I saw a flea on my dog.” So we made a note advising everyone to ensure they were staying up-to-date on their flea treatments, we put a note in each client's cubby. We had a good laugh when one client remarked, “It’s just like the head lice notice I got from my daughter’s school.” Yup! it’s just like that. 

Photo: Madeline Crowley
We had some trouble early on with graffiti on the building, but not for a long time now. The first time we had Fuck Gentrification sprayed on our artwork, the owner of the BBQ Pit came round to tell us how to get rid of it, but then he went ahead and removed it himself!  We'd never met this guy before, but here he was helping us out; one neighborhood business owner helping out another. That tells you a lot about this neighborhood. 

That graffiti brought so much supportive response from people. They were emailing us and phoning us. Not just clients but people in the neighborhood saying, “I’ve lived in this neighborhood for many years. I’m so, so sorry that someone would do this to you.” It was just this amazing outpouring of support.

Another story from early on when were first opening, shows the warmth of this neighborhood...

Photo: Madeline Crowley
One day when I was working on the site, this lady comes by. She told me that some Calla Lilies were going to sprout up on a corner of the property and to not dig them up.  She asked if she could have them. Six months later when they came up my daughter and I took them over to her.

The lady and her friend were sitting on the steps of her house, and we gave her the Calla Lilies. I think she was blown away that we’d remembered. The best thing was that I had my daughter with me. We just sat and chatted with these wonderful ladies. They gave her hugs. I remember as a child being hugged by neighbors, but in today’s world no one dares to touch a kid. Yet, here were these women giving her hugs. I just felt so grateful that they were treating her like that.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
I just felt just so pleased that they had welcomed her like that. Sadly, it was just a few days later that Justin Ferrari was shot here. Those two experiences in two days, from one to the other... you can't get much real than that.
Photo: Madeline Crowley

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The CentralAreaComm.blogspot.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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