The term “doggie daycare” might sound cute, but daycare for canines actually encompasses much more than simply pampering pooches. According to Ken Weadick, owner of Dogtopia of Greenwood, dogs experience multiple benefits by engaging in a daycare environment including socialization, increased confidence, exercise, and fewer incidents of doggie mischief, not to mention assuagement of the owner’s guilt for having to be away from home.
Dogtopia is a national chain of which Weadick is a local franchise owner. For 12 years Weadick served as the Chief Clinical Officer at Cornerstone Autism Center in Greenwood. In December of 2021 he decided to switch gears and open Dogtopia of Greenwood, a move that enabled him to continue applying the science of behavior in his career, since he’s a behavior analyst.
Clients come from a variety of situations to include health care workers and first responders who log 12-hour shifts. Some are older and simply don’t have the mobility or stamina to play with their pets as much as they want, and Dogtopia enables their pooch to burn off energy. Plus, during the pandemic many people got puppies and then weren’t able to take them out to meet other people or dogs, so Dogtopia provides that socialization.
“Dogs thrive in a structured environment where they can socialize with others and that’s what we offer here,” Weadick says.
The pandemic was a wild card in many ways, not least of which was confusing canines when it came to humans participating in a typical work day. During COVID lockdowns, a large portion of the population began working from home. As a result, many pets got used to having their owners hang around the house 24/7. Now that some of those folks have returned to the office, their pets feel lonely and bored. Even some people who have continued to work from home have chosen to put their pets in day care, because their canines think “home time” equals “play time” and don’t really understand or appreciate the concept of “work time.”
“Some people who are working at home have found that having a dog at home can be a bit of a challenge to being productive, so they elect to drop their pet here so they can work while their dog plays all day long,” Weadick says. “It’s a win-win.”
At Dogtopia of Greenwood, dogs enjoy an open-play environment in a room that best suits them based on their size, temperament and play style. In addition, all dogs are fully vaccinated and have passed an evaluation indicating their readiness to participate in an open play.
Each member of the staff goes through more than 40 hours of training, during which they learn how to read a dog’s body language to determine if a canine is feeling anxious or stressed, or if another dog is about to instigate a scuffle of some sort.
“Being able to intervene in those precursors to potential problems is a key part of the training,” Weadick says. He notes that they not only train, but also regularly retrain to practice engagement and enrichment activities as well asredirectionand early intervention to avoid potential conflict.”
An evaluation of a potential dog, the meet-and-greet, involves having the dog interact with a staff member, assessing their tolerance of a crate, and then bringing in dogs, one at a time, including an opposite-sex canine, same-sex canine, lower-energy dog and higher-energy dog. If there are no concerns, they are taken into the open playroom and observed. Each playroom includes an outside space, which they utilize even through the winter months.
“Dogs are fine to be out there mucking around in the snow,” Weadick says. “Let’s face it, people are less tolerant of the snow than dogs are.”
In nice weather they bring out hoses, doggie pools and play equipment.
Not only are playrooms fully supervised by trained canine coaches, but they also have available for consultation anenvironmental biologist, veterinarian and Weadick (a behavioral analyst) working in unison to ensure the health and safety of every dog on-site. In addition, owners appreciate that any time dogs are in open play in either inside or outside areas, they can view their pets on camera via a smartphone application.
“There is total transparency so people can see their pets playing,” Weadick says. “A lot of folks pull it up on their personal computer next to their work computer so they can check in on their dog throughout the day.”
The Dogtopia location formerly served as a day care for kiddos. When Weadick bought it he hired Duke Construction, who used all local vendors and contractors, to do a complete remodel of the 10,000-square-foot facility.
“It’s been a positive response from the community,” says Weadick, who notes that generally the staff sees many of the same dogs regularly. “They get used to each other, used to us, and used to this type of environment.”
The primary reason Weadick purchased Dogtopia of Greenwood is because of the Dogtopia Foundation, which operates under the tagline “Fetch it forward.”
The foundation funds programs focused on three causes including service dogs for veterans, youth literacy programs, and employment initiatives for adults with autism. According to Weadick, the greatest financial focus is on raising money to purchase and train service dogs for local veterans. Fundraising is critical as each service dog, and training for that dog, costs approximately $6,000. Besides being a lifelong dog lover, Weadick is also a combat veteran, having served in the Army in Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We’re committed to funding service-dog training for veterans returning home with physical and as well as less visible challenges,” Weadick says.
The second mission of the Dogtopia Foundation is employing adults with autism.
“Working at Cornerstone Autism Center, I’ve seen the real challenge for adults with autism to find gainful employment, there is a big drop-off in services once they hit age 21,” says Weadick, who is happy that the first employee hired at Dogtopia of Greenwood was an individual with autism.
“We didn’t seek him out, but he had heard about the opportunity on social media and was actively interested,” Weadick says. Dogs are a passion of his, Dogtopia represented his dream job and as a result he is a great asset to the organization.
The third mission of the foundation is the innovative youth literacy program. Studies have shown that children will read longer to dogs than they will to peers or other people, so foundation staff members take dogs into different environments to encourage literacy.
Weadick and his staff engage in various events, fundraisers and raffles to raise money for the Dogtopia Foundation. For the next Veterans Day, Weadick hopes to host a race to benefit the foundation.
First, Weadick’s initial goal is to hit the $6,000 mark by Memorial Day to obtain their first service dog and begin training.
“We are excited to let the community know that we’re here and eager to serve them,” he says. “We also can’t wait to start making a difference in the community with the Dogtopia Foundation.”
Dogtopia of Greenwood is located at 1709 South State Road 135 in Greenwood. For more information, call 317-886-3100 or visit dogtopia.com/greenwood.