NORTH LIBERTY- Just across the city limit line on Mehaffey Bridge Road is a small blue and white farmhouse where area canines congregate daily for fun, exercise and companionship while their humans tend to the demands of their working day. The house is home to Puppy Love Doggie Daycare, a labor of love and the brainchild of Tina Tiainen and her husband, Adam.
The couple opened the canine clubhouse in December.
"I have been working with dogs my whole life," she said. She's been both a dog walker and sitter, and has also worked in a veterinary hospital. But it was time spent working at a dog daycare that made her think about opening her own, and doing it better than any other she'd seen.
"I realized I could do this better!" said Tina.
Trying to start a home-based dog business was very difficult. She discovered residential zoning laws forbid home-based canine daycare operations in North Liberty, Coralville and other cities.
"But, we happen to be the first house outside North Liberty, the first house in the county. So technically, North Liberty laws do not apply to us," she said with a big smile.
County laws are far less restrictive, but the couple still had to apply for a special use permit, which was granted.
The couple, with help from family members, ended up doing a lot of the work themselves- installing fencing above and below ground, gutting and renovating rooms and putting in a new floor.
"They give you six months from when you get your permit to when you have to be open. Otherwise it's cancelled and you have to apply again," Tina explained. "We were literally working up to the last minute."
For Tina, it was an easy choice to go into the doggie daycare business.
"There's a huge demand," she said. "Lots of people need it."
Most people go to work or on vacation and need to find a place for their dog to hang out in their absence, she said, or they work the night shift and just want some peace and quiet during their sleep hours.
"Some dogs just come because they need exercise or everyday care," said Adam.
For Tina, though, it's more about canine companionship.
"Some dogs come here to socialize, to get used to other dogs so when they go out in the community, they're not un-socialized and poorly behaved," she said.
Dog owners, or dog parents, often worry their furry family member will develop bad habits if they hang around other dogs all day. Tina said there is some validity to that concern at other daycares.
Puppy Love staff members are trained in what to look for in a dog's personality, body language and behavior in order to anticipate and ward off potential problems.
"Daycare is not for every dog," Tina cautioned. "It's for dogs who want to be social or can be socialized. We can work with some dogs who aren't very used to it in the beginning, and then they become used to it."
Adam told of a dog who was terrified when she first arrived, but soon after grew to accept her fellow dogs.
"Now she races to get in here," he said.
The heart of Puppy Love, Adam noted, is the outdoor play area, which has a variety of structures for the dogs to climb on or lay under.
"It's a significant change from the typical doggie daycare center," he said. "Other doggie daycares don't have the same outdoor experience, at least not in this area.
Tina pointed out most daycares tend to be in industrial garages.
"If you bring your dog here, not only does your dog have a good experience, but it's less expensive," she said. "They get actual grass and a view, and there's wildlife."
Dogs are generally organized by size: small dogs with other small dogs, larger dogs with other larger dogs and the play structures in their respective yards reflect that. However, some more elderly pups may end up hanging out with the smaller dogs so they aren't injured by large dogs roughhousing, or otherwise knocking into them.
After hearing horror stories about small dogs and puppies being carried away by predator birds, Adam and Tina knocked that risk factor out by ensuring the doggie play areas were protected by netting.
The couple and their staff are trained in not only pet first aid, but pet CPR as well. A bank of security cameras covers the area, entryways are double-gated and full fencing is in place to keep the cuddly critters in, and wildlife out. To thwart dogs that like to dig their way out of a yard, they installed underground fencing.
There's also a storm shelter available in case of severe weather.
In-home boarding is an expansion of the daycare, where Puppy Love staff members return the dogs to their homes for the night. This allows the pet to sleep in its own surroundings versus a kennel. Staff retrieve the dogs in the morning for another day at the daycare.
In a typical boarding facility, the staff goes home at night leaving the dogs in their crates in the dark overnight with dozens of other dogs. The Puppy Love difference means Fido still gets to sleep in his own home, and can even be let out during the night if needed.
"It gives your dog less to worry about, they get the activity during the day so they're tired and worn out and they get a good night's rest," Tina explained.
Puppy Love Doggy Daycare operates a van to pick up and drop off animal clients in safety with a nominal fee for the service, and offers a spa service for nail trimming and tooth brushing.
"We use coconut oil because it is awesome stuff that kills bacteria and removes tartar and improves their breath," Tina said.
Puppy Love also offers the same dog food for sale that they serve at feeding time. The canine chow can also be delivered when the doggie comes home for the day, they said.
They'll even bathe your dog for you.
"If you want your dog smelling fresh we've got some dog shampoo and we'll give him a nice spa experience," said Adam.
The dogs, like in a human daycare, have snack time and yes- even nap time. Sometimes they even listen to lullabies as they drift off to sleep.
"Other times we play animal sounds," Adam said. "That's one thing they like to listen to."
While the dogs don't have individual doggie beds, they do get comfortable blankets when they want them, mostly though they tend to pile up on each other.
Business has been good, actually better than they expected, Tina said. Puppy Love reached half-capacity in just three months. There are spots remaining for pups that meet a few basic criteria.
Doggie parents need to go to the Puppy Love website and fill out a profile for the dog, including emergency contact information, a social history and basic information about the dog. Vaccinations for rabies and distemper must be current, with proof, and if over 6 months of age they must be spayed or neutered.
If the basic criteria are met, an interview is scheduled so they can meet the dog and vice-versa to judge temperament.
"Most dogs do great," Adam said, "Most dogs are friendly little fellas."
If the interview goes well, the new dog gets to meet some fellow canines, typically the "house dogs," including the matriarch, Hug-a-Pug.
"They meet ours first," she noted. New dogs meet a "low-energy dog," then a "medium-energy" dog and finally the "high-energy" dog.
"If they can pass the high-energy dog, they can either go home and come back whenever they want to, or enjoy their free day of day care," she added.
For More Information
Phone: 319-535 FUN1 (3861)
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PuppyLoveNL
On YouTube: Adam & Tina's Puppy Love Doggie Daycare