Detroit dog day care grows by leaps, bounds

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

How to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of a small business so successful it has surpassed your every dream?

If you’re Liz Blondy, owner of Canine to Five Dog Day Care Boarding and Grooming on Cass, you expand your business to the suburbs and purchase a building in Ferndale.

Blondy started her business in May 2005, watching seven to nine dogs all by herself for the first five months. Consider that now, 10 years later, the Cass Avenue daycare location accommodates 80-100 dogs daily, and the Ferndale location is equipped to handle 200 dogs daily. The trajectory of growth is nothing short of awesome.

And that’s not even counting the number of overnight boarders, nor the 7,000 haircuts given to dogs last year in the grooming side of the business.

She even grew her business during the recession in one of the hardest-hit cities of the country.

“It’s crazy, right?” Blondy, 40, said recently. “I really had no idea, honestly. Canine to Five has exceeded my every expectation.”

Business idea on a whim

Even the idea of a dog day care business happened “totally by chance,” she said. Back in 2003, Blondy and her then-boyfriend, now-husband Patrick Deegan were at the Bronx Bar with friends who mentioned they used a dog day care facility in Farmington Hills. Blondy didn’t even have a dog at the time, but after having worked in telecommunications for eight years, she was interested in striking out on her own and “passionate about providing a service for Detroiters that they weren’t able to get in the city.”

A longtime Detroiter — Blondy’s folks moved the family from Huntington Woods to the city when she was 8 years old and she’s never left — she researched the pet care field for two years. She volunteered at dog day cares and at the Michigan Humane Society and took some pointers from her mother, who’s run a small art framing store downtown for almost 40 years. In fact, it was her mother who found the building for sale on Cass and touted its location: in between Wayne State University and downtown and close access to the Lodge, I-96 and I-75.

After the first year, Blondy purchased the dog grooming business next door when the owners retired. In 2007, she purchased outdoor property — 8,000 square feet — to the north and in 2011, she purchased 16,000 square feet of property to the south.

Networking with others

Customer service has been paramount. “I’m fanatical about it.” she said. “If the same girl recognizes your dog day after day, you’re going to take your dogs there. This girl is part of my family; she’s helping me raise my dog.”

To that end, Blondy attracts a long-term workforce. Full-time employees get vacation time, a health-care stipend and an IRA.

“I can’t tell you how valuable it is for an employee to know a dog’s personality,” she said. “To know that dog doesn’t get along with black Labs, or that dog has allergies or that dog is scared of men.”

Having never been anyone’s boss or supervisor before, Blondy, who graduated from Grosse Pointe High School-South, joined forces with another young female entrepreneur — Claire Nelson, owner of the first retail shop on West Canfield, the Bureau of Urban Living. Together they founded “Open City” in 2007: a monthly gathering (usually at Cliff Bells) of established and perspective business operators to host speakers, exchange ideas and resources. Now, Open City is a fully fledged networking organization run by the Build Institute.

“I’m really proud that it’s still ongoing,” Blondy said. “It’s an excellent resource.”

Intent on supporting the local economy, Blondy switched her dog shampoo and grooming products from a manufacturer in New England to E-Z Groom products, manufactured in Oak Park. She encouraged her friend Scott Moloney, proprietor of Treat Dreams in Ferndale, to develop specially formulated ice cream for dogs. Pooch Pops are now served at Canine to Five.

Blondy also is big on community engagement. For the last six years, as many as 40 dogs take part in “Pack Walk” on Sunday mornings on the riverfront. The annual summer “Drinking with Dogs” begins again this June where canines take over a dog-friendly patio both in the city and in Ferndale.

“What I love about my business is that our demographic is all over the place,” Blondy said.

So long as pet owners love their dogs like family, Blondy said she’ll continue to find ways to make the business grow. Recently she visited 12 dog day cares in California on a road trip from San Diego to San Francisco. She came home with all sorts of ideas for the new space in Berkley: from “private play” areas for dogs who prefer not to play all day long, to a “senior lounge” for older dogs with more beds and more personal interaction.

Even the humans are treated to better accommodations.

“For the first time we have a real break room,” Blondy said, laughing. “We no longer have to have employee meetings in the laundry room.”