July 2016: Small Business Startup

Laughing Dogs Lodge

“I know how stressed out dogs get, and people. I wanted the dogs to feel like they were in a home and not in a cage.” — Patti Gorby, owner, Laughing Dogs Lodge, Glenfield. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

“I know how stressed out dogs get, and people. I wanted the dogs to feel like they were in a home and not in a cage.” — Patti Gorby, owner, Laughing Dogs Lodge, Glenfield. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

THE INITIAL IDEA

As a lifelong dog lover and former director of the Lewis County Humane Society, Patti Gorby witnessed how stressful kennel boarding can be for dogs and their owners.

When she left the Humane Society, Ms. Gorby wanted to remain in Lewis County instead of moving to run another shelter. Instead, she put two and a half years into planning a new kind of dog boarding experience.

“I knew from my own experience what I wanted, but I wanted to make sure it was a viable business,” she said. “I drew the place out I don’t know how many times.”

Her vision was to create a comfortable, happy boarding experience for dogs and their owners by making it as homey as possible, instead of the cage-style of most kennels. From this philosophy, Laughing Dog Lodge in Glenfield was born.

TARGET CLIENTELE

Through her own experience boarding her dogs, Ms. Gorby said she was never happy with the standard way boarding kennels were set up so the dogs could see each other.

“I know how stressed out dogs get, and people,” she said. “I wanted the dogs to feel like they were in a home and not in a cage.”

Instead, Ms. Gorby’s designed rooms for her kennel, cutting down on the stress by making it impossible for the dogs to see each other and taking away the typical caged atmosphere.

Each room is large enough to accommodate two dog beds for families of dogs, and have easy-to-clean tile walls and garden gate-style doors with carved Adirondack-theme designs.

The lodge also includes three outdoor play yards and indoor playroom for winter to make sure the dogs can be out as much as possible, Ms. Gorby said.

“I don’t want them to sit in their rooms all day,” she said.

The lodge was designed for the owners as well as the dogs, though, Ms. Gorby said, because she understands the stress of leaving your dog with someone else, especially since many kennels don’t allow the owner into the back to see where their dogs will stay.

“You can’t just walk through the building,” she said. “I want people to walk through mine.”

Since she opened in May, Ms. Gorby said she’s received an amazing response. Several of her boarders have become repeat customers.

“It’s better than I’ve expected,” she said. “They just thought their dogs were happy here.”

THE JOURNEY

Ms. Gorby wanted to create a sustainable business where people would want to bring their dogs, which took more than two years of planning and another two to execute before she was comfortable with the boarding experience she created.

“I want to be as good a resource as I can be,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable recommending me to their friends.”

Part of creating her business, though, was creating a homey atmosphere. To do that, Ms. Gorby and her boyfriend, Joe Suiter, built the building completely from local wood, most of which was from the grounds on which the building stands.

Everything about the lodge was handcrafted, Ms. Gorby said, including the steel doors with carved designs in each room.

Ms. Gorby designed the play yards to prevent any of the dogs from getting out. The 6-foot fences have an additional 2½ feet buried underneath the soil to discourage digging and netting on top to prevent climbers.

“I designed it with the worst escape artists in mind,” she said.
The construction also included installing a self-service dog wash area with professional grooming appliances, including an elevated tub and dryer.

“That elevated tub makes all the difference because you don’t have to bend over,” Ms. Gorby said. “It’s all professional-grade grooming equipment.”

The self-service dog wash is an idea she got when she was studying at Indiana University, Bloomington. She used a self-service dog wash while she was there and it made all the difference.

Dog owners can bring their dogs to wash by themselves, Ms. Gorby said, or she can wash the dogs for them.

IN FIVE YEARS

Ms. Gorby’s plans for her business are to focus on the getting the word out more about the kennel and the self-service dog wash. The dog wash, particularly, is something new to the region and should be advertised more, she said.

“People just don’t know what it is,” she said.

Ms. Gorby, though, is also mulling the idea of starting a doggie day care service.

“I don’t know if people would go for that or not,” she said. “In some areas it flies really well.”

Besides having the interest, Ms. Gorby is trying to determine whether she would need to increase the size of her space to accommodate more dogs.

“I could do it, but it’s not going to be one of those big programs with lots of dogs,” she said.

— Karee Magee