The first thing that strikes you when you walk into The Neighborhood Pup is a sense of calm, bright spaciousness.
But wait a minute. Isn’t this supposed to be a daycare centre?
Sure, there are shelves with plastic bins for favourite toys and other accessories – each bin carefully labeled with the attendee’s name.
But why does everything seem so calm? No hyper-kinetic toddlers running helter-skelter. No shouts, no tears. No juice spills on the floor.
In fact, there’s neither yelp nor yammer as a stranger enters.
No clamouring for attention; just a few curious hand-sniffs of greeting from the half-dozen occupants of the supervised day area – a large, corral-like enclosure surrounded by a five-foot high fence, strategically draped in blue tarpaulin to foster a sense of peace and security.
And – since this is a daycare centre for dogs – why doesn’t it smell more … well, doggy?
The Neighborhood Pup Dog Center, in the Yukon Inn Plaza, is owned and operated by Cliff and Sheila Robertson, two self-confessed “dog people” who – not coincidentally – both hold down other jobs.
Cliff works for the RCMP. Sheila is a hair stylist who also happens to be president of the Yukon Kennel Club.
From their own experience raising several afghan hounds while working way from home, they realized other dog owners might appreciate having a safe place where little Fido or Bitsy could have some companionship and structure during their humans’ work hours.
The impetus to offer an extended service for dogs, though, came more from the couple’s experience showing dogs competitively for the past six years.
“Because there’s a shortage of space for training, we decided to do something. It was a long period of thinking about what to do, and where to go and how to do it. And then this place was empty, so it was a pretty quick decision to do this,” Cliff explains.
In December, they started their new business in the 1,100 square-foot space previously occupied by a Dollar Store.
“Everything is here. We have grooming and the daycare, we have training, we have retail and we have photography.”
The daycare area, which is staffed by one full-time person, doubles as a training area three nights a week.
“We thought if we were going to operate a dog centre, we needed to offer training as well.”
Although Sheila has been training dogs for the show ring for years, she recently took a course to become a certified trainer, Cliff explains.
“And I’m doing a course in grooming right now. Even though we’ve groomed afghans for the past six years, I thought, ‘Oh well, I might as well get certified, because it’s a business.'”
As expected, the retail area carries large bags of kibble, as well as toys, treats and other canine paraphernalia.
Behind this is a brightly-lit grooming area, with a grooming table and a large, stainless steel dog-washing station, complete with airflow water jets that penetrate even the thickest, most matted coats.
Today, Heather Balfour is at the grooming table, putting the final touches on a perky-looking poodle-cross named Roxxy.
On the other side of the centre, beside the daycare area, stands a small, cabin-like studio where the Robertson’s take dog portraits. Some of their favourite dog photos are displayed in frames on the centre’s north wall.
“My wife and I have been doing photography for the past six years at dog shows, just amateur photography. We’ve just been giving them away,” he says.
Now, after taking some courses in photography, they hope to offer that as part of the centre’s service, and perhaps even expand into other kinds of photography, such as family portraits.
In the short time the business has been open, it has provided daycare for as many as 11 or 12 dogs a day. Eventually, the Robertsons hope to see that move up to a maximum of 25 dogs.
At the front of the centre is a roomy area they hope to turn into a resource centre, where workshops and seminars can be presented on a variety of topics related to dog care, nutrition and health.
When Sheila joins the conversation after finishing her day job, she hints at another service the couple would like to offer – a drop-in coffee lounge, where people who may be in town shopping, with their dogs in tow, can stop in and have a beverage and a light snack.
At the moment, they are in discussions with the City of Whitehorse bylaw department to see if there is a way to accommodate such a service.
They also hope to offer 24-hour care sometime down the road, but there is currently no by-law provision for their type of business to do so.
While the dog centre is a family business – Sheila’s son, Miller, is also on staff – Cliff is quick to give credit for the catchy name.
“That was Sheila’s idea. I’d like to take credit for it, but I can’t.”