A New Leash on Life

Local Entrepreneur Caters to Canines With a Business Plan That Has Legs
It’s A Dog’s Life

It’s A Dog’s Life

There is quite a motley crew of clients milling around inside Springfield’s newest hotel and spa. There’s Rocky, who likes to run with the big boys despite his small stature. There’s Connie, the grandma of the group, who likes her quiet time but will still tussle with the younger set every now and then. And then there’s Wilson, the lookout, Frankie, the wise guy, and Tiffy, the new kid with wacky hair and a great personality.

After less than a month in operation, the facility is bustling with activity and its guests are vocal with their approval. They even greet visitors at the door themselves, with jubilant barks and howls of hello.

It’s A Dog’s Life, a canine daycare, hotel and spa located on Verge Street in Springfield, is the brainchild of Laura Pozzuto of East Longmeadow. Pozzuto said she first started to muse about the idea of a facility for dogs that would offer a comprehensive suite of services while living in New Jersey and traveling on the fast track in corporate America, and has brought a good deal of that business-sense to her new endeavor.

While playing with Rizzo and Otis, her two Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs, Pozzuto envisioned a unique resource for her four-legged friends that would include grooming, training, boarding, and home-based services such as transportation to and from veterinarian appointments, regular walks, and playtime in the backyard.

It’s A Dog’s Life remained just an idea for eight years, until Pozzuto’s own life followed a bend in the road; an executive at Qwest Diagnostics, she had worked her way up to the position of senior vice president of Human Resources, reporting directly to the CEO. It was at that point that Pozzuto made the decision to adopt an infant ‚ a Russian boy named Alek.

"I loved my job, but I loved my baby, and I knew he needed a family around him," she said. So, the Western Mass. native packed up and moved home, and soon her idea for a ’doggie daycare’ started moving off the drawing board.

With Dogged Determination

Armed with the business savvy she acquired in the corporate world, the support of her friends and family, and an extensive business plan that she still keeps close at hand, Pozzuto soon secured a space large enough to accommodate all of the services she hoped to offer in Indian Orchard, in a warehouse-sized building large enough to accommodate a few tractor-trailers.

But Pozzuto had smaller cargo in mind for the space.

"I’ve seen a lot of businesses that offer some services for dogs, like grooming, walking, or day care, but I hadn’t seen any place that offered all of it," she said. "I wanted to take the best aspects of dog care I had seen and offer them all out of one place."

Pozzuto designed the facility to allow the most open space possible, while still maintaining safety. Both the play area and adjoining training arena are lined with padded flooring, and a two-door gate system keeps dogs from exiting the play area without a handler.

Dogs can visit It’s A Dog’s Life for a matter of hours, an entire day, or for a few days as an overnight guest. Dogs in day care are able to romp with other dogs both outdoors in an enclosed yard, and indoors in an open space, framed by a massive mural of New York’s Central Park that spans two walls. They are fed and given comfy dog beds to nap on, and are constantly supervised by a trainer that serves as ’top dog,’ said Pozzuto, making sure that they are always interacting with each other safely.

Overnight boarders are given their own private room, with a dog bed, water, food dish, and a favorite toy, and any special needs are clearly written on a sign outside their door, such as ’clip my nails before I go home,’ and ’give me lots of attention, because I’m a little nervous my mom left me.’

A Dog-eared Plan

Pozzuto said she’s on target with her business plan, now tattered from months of flipping pages to ensure every objective she set out to complete is being addressed.

"I feel like I’m right where I should be," she said. "I’m happy and I’m proud to be able to get there. I have received a lot of support from the vets in the area ‚ some of them are telling me this is something they wish they had done, and they want to be part of it and do anything they can to help."

And Pozzuto has made some substantial investments herself to meet her business goals. It’s A Dog’s Life employs a full-time trainer, a full-time handler and three part-time handlers, and a full-time groomer. In order to create a state-of-the-art grooming salon, she purchased all brand-new equipment including a professional grooming tub for several thousand dollars. She also installed a surveillance system, located in her second-floor office, to monitor both visiting dogs and her staff.

"We have a very safe, fun environment here and I wanted to make sure that the handlers are safe and happy as well as the dogs," she said. "If they’re outside, and a handler slips and falls, he needs to be helped right away, and the dogs need to be taken care of, too."

The safe, fun environment of It’s A Dog’s Life is also its greatest marketing strength. Pozzuto has also spent a lot of time and resources ‚ close to $20,000 ‚ on some aggressive marketing, including enlisting the help of two marketing firms to create full-page newspaper ads, four-color brochures, and a Web site.

"Word-of-mouth is great," she said, "But I want the buzz to start right away so the word-of-mouth will be an added bonus, not the only thing that is making people talk. Putting together some professional materials will get the idea across that we are a professional, well-run day care for people’s dogs."

And even though Pozzuto said she and her staff don’t take themselves too seriously ‚ "It’s nice to wear jeans to work and be a little goofy," said the former V.P. ‚ one of the primary services she wants to offer is support for dog owners, and putting a professional foot forward in the Western Mass. market is the best way, she said, to accomplish that.

"I want dog parents to have a great relationship with their dogs, and know what they can do to make them happy. We offer them another option to do that ‚ a place to bring their dogs so they can socialize and play, and go home happy and tired."

Furever Grateful

"This place is crazy and fun," she said over the din of a new round of barking, as a staff member arrived at work. "And the most important thing is the dogs know it."

That includes Rocky, Connie, Wilson, Frankie, and Tiffy, a labradoodle and It’s A Dog’s Life’s newest client, who wagged his tail in appreciation as Pozzuto walked by.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Fast Facts:

Company: It’s A Dog’s Life
Address: 100 Verge Street, Springfield, MA
Phone: (413) 543-7900
Services: Canine Daycare and Spa; boarding, grooming, and training.
Web site: www.dogslifedogcare.com