It’s a great time to be a dog in downtown Detroit
It was 36 degrees and drizzling one Sunday morning in February, but the 10 dogs gathered on the Detroit International Riverfront didn’t mind.
The pack of furballs greeted each other, sniffing butts and barking to say “hello.” Their owners, bundled in coats, were as excited — complimenting each other’s leashes and doggy sweaters.
“Oh, you have a new coat!” shouts Janet O’Brien, admiring the floral fleece wrapped on Elle Woods, a beagle mix. “It’s fabulous!”
O’Brien lives in Ferndale, but brings Sheamus, her hound shepherd mix who’s “100-percent trouble,” to the riverfront every weekend — snow or shine.
People enjoy walking their dogs along Detroit's Riverwalk as the canines take the lead. It's one of a number of activities and services for dog owners in Detroit organized by Midtown-based Canine to Five.
“He does not understand inclement weather. He likes his schedule,” she laughs. “He knows 10 o’clock we’re down here on Sunday 365 days of the year, whether I like it or not.”
Any dog can join the walk along the riverfront or Dequindre Cut every second Sunday in the winter and every Sunday in the summer.
Organized by Midtown-based Canine to Five, it’s just one of the growing number of activities and services for dogs in Detroit. While pet shops used to be hard to come by downtown a decade ago, there’s now Cass Corridog in Midtown and 3 Dogs 1 Cat in Eastern Market. Last month, City Bark opened in Capitol Park. Veterinarian services are also expanding, as the mobile veterinarian service PetCalls recently started making house calls to downtown apartments
Dr. Glynes Graham, chief veterinarian at Patterson Dog & Cat Hospital on Grand River, says Detroiters used to drive far to dog parks or let their pets run in empty lots, risking injuries from broken bottles. That changed in the last four years, as dog parks sprung up in Midtown, Corktown and Grand Circus Park.
The parks, shops, services — “all of these things make it easier for dogs to live in the city,” Graham says.
And easier for their masters.
“Now is a better time than ever to be a dog owner in downtown Detroit,” says Liz Blondy, owner of Canine to Five, Detroit’s only dog daycare, grooming and boarding facility.
A puppy playground
Blondy, the owner of two 120-pound dogs (a Newfoundland, “Bunny,” and Great Pyrenees, “Argon”), never imaged running a daycare for 100 dogs a day. Things changed when the telecommunications professional from Grosse Pointe came upon her 30th birthday.
“I was kind of like, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ ” she says.
While grabbing drinks with friends who live in southwest Detroit, she learned they drove to Farmington Hills every day to take their dogs to daycare.
Blondy didn’t have a dog at the time. She didn’t even live in Detroit. She thought her friends were “crazy” for driving that far. But then she thought, “Why don’t we have that in downtown Detroit?”
Eighteen months later in 2005, she opened Canine to Five.
“There was no point, like, ‘Oh, I want to open a dog daycare in Southfield or Royal Oak.’ It was very much, ‘I want to provide a service for Detroit residents that’s not currently available,’ ” she says.
Canine to Five’s doggy daycare has “changed life” for many of her patients, Graham says.
“Rather than spending all day in an apartment, or not having any interaction, the dogs have more of a social life than I do,” she laughs.
Shouting over yelps and barks, Blondy, 42, admits business was very slow at first. But as more workers and residents headed downtown, it drastically picked up. The city also responded to the influx of four-legged residents.
“There’s tons of great places to walk your dog, three dog parks opened and a lot of these downtown buildings are dog-friendly,” says Blondy, who lives in an Eastern Market loft. “Dogs are a thing in Detroit now.”
Downtown workers appreciate the new opportunities, as well.
Detroit Medical Center nurse Sommer Eagle dropped off her three dogs ages 6 to 16 — Rylie, a maltese; Frank, a Bichon; and Louie, a Maltese Shih Tzu — at Canine to Five before work one Thursday. The Belleville resident brings them every six to eight weeks to get primped.
“I used to drive to get them groomed in Ann Arbor, then drive to Detroit, so you can imagine the commute,” she says.
The grooming service a mile from her job has simplified her life.
“They work around my schedule,” she says.
Feet away, Azizi Jasper cradled a shaking soon-to-be-bathed Peekapoo, Deejay. Living down the street in Cass Corridor, he says he’s thankful for the convenience.
“I can drop him off and pick him up on my lunch break,” Jasper says.
More toys, treats and eats
In 2014, Jamie Judson opened City Bark in Grosse Pointe to sell pet accessories, locally made treats and home decor. Shortly after, Judson says several shopping districts approached her about opening a second location.
“While I entertained the options, I knew that I wanted to open a store in Detroit,” she says.
According to Live Detroit, a Downtown Detroit Partnership affiliate, there are about 50 pet-friendly apartments and lofts in the greater downtown area. Judson says she called nearly every one to find out the percent of tenants with pets.
“I had a strong case as to why Detroit needed City Bark, and City Bark needed Detroit,” she says.
At the grand opening last month, dozens of two- and four-legged customers scoped out the pet food and toys. There’s specialty treats like dog-friendly cookies and beer, but the majority of products meet the community's’ needs.
“If there is a need for other pet items, we will adapt,” says Judson, who relocated her shop to the 1,225-square-foot space on Griswold. “We also offer a pet food delivery service for those who live and work downtown, and plan to host vaccination clinics, adoption events and mobile grooming services at the store.”
Kelly Breckenridge, a resident of The Albert, couldn’t be happier City Bark opened feet from her residency. The 47-year-old general manager at John Varvatos on Woodward has a 115-pound chocolate brown Cane Corso Italian Mastiff named “Big Sugar Cane.”
“If you’re going to have a Detroit dog, you have to have a good Detroit name. That’s my philosophy,” she jokes.
Working and living two blocks apart, she got rid of her car last year. However, it presented a challenge when it comes to purchasing dog food.
“Without a car, I can’t carry a 40-pound bag of dog food, so I order it online,” she says.
That’ll change now that City Bark’s manager promised to carry Big Sug’s food brand.
Browsing the grab ’n’ go treat bar — stocked with turkey sausages, water buffalo horns and pizzle swizzles — Breckenridge says the shop is “super cute.”
“Usually dog stores look sterile,” she says, glancing up at the chandeliers. “This is much more welcoming and homey.”
Caring for furry friends
Kim Jackson calls herself the “chief puppy cuddler,” but her official title is CEO of PetCalls — a mobile veterinary service that launched in Detroit in September.
The team of two veterinarians and two technicians comes to apartments and homes with vaccines and x-ray machines.
“We have a K-laser, and it heals inflammation, arthritis, periodontal disease, wounds, allergies — it’s amazing,” she says. “Animals are small, so you don’t want to give them too much medicine. This is a way to heal them and not have to get them all drugged up.”
While PetCalls serves Metro Detroit, Jackson says they’ve seen a big need for vet services downtown. They’ve visited elderly residents with cats that haven’t received medical care for 10 years. Then there’s the other end of the age spectrum.
“There are so many millennials and people that don’t have cars any more,” she says. “We are seeing a lot of people that can’t get to the vet, or the pets that get so stressed out getting in a car they get sick.”
Their service solves that.
“You don’t have to have a reason anymore to not take your pet to the vet,” Jackson says.
Graham, whose Patterson Dog & Cat Hospital, opened since 1844, is the oldest privately operated animal hospital in the U.S. and the closest to downtown, says access to veterinary care has improved over the years, but so has pet culture in Detroit.
“Ten years ago, if your dog got lost you would never find it because nobody would ever pick it up,” she says.
Now, she sees three people a week bringing in strays to check for a microchip.
“Previously, if there was a dog running in the street, people were like, ‘Oh, there’s a dog running in the street.’ And now they’re like, ‘Oh there’s a dog. Let me pick him up and see if I can find his owner,’ ”she says. “That is a tremendous change in the way we manage animals in Detroit.”
A doggone good time
The lack of a yard is the most challenging part of owning a dog in Detroit, apartment dwellers say.
“You can’t just open up a door and let them out into a yard to run around,” says Elle Woods’ owner Yvonne Gloria, who lives in Riverfront Towers with her roommate and her 11-year-old Beagle-lab, Jake.
“But there’s a lot of things the city has to offer that suburbia doesn’t,” she says, as they strolled with the Sunday walking pack. “We can come out here, walk them and let them meet other doggies.”
Mago, an 8-year-old German Shepherd, forged a few paws ahead as the group trotted by his favorite spot (the RenCen steps). His owner Chris Angel of Detroit, skipped church that morning so they could join the hourlong walk.
“I like walking Belle Isle, and we like more secluded areas, but it’s nice meeting people on the riverfront,” he says.
So many people stopped to pet him in the summer that Angel set up a Facebook page for Mago to stay in touch. That’s how they found out about Canine to Five’s walk.
Angel laughs, “Mago follows them.”
Upcoming Canine to Five Winter Pack Walk
10:30 a.m. April 9
1340 E. Atwater, Detroit
Free and open to the public