About Us

Boston Voyager Interview with Doug Wynne

Doug, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.

Before we were married, Jen and I adopted a rescue dog named Ben while  living in Woodstock, NY. We were in our twenties at the time and I was  working as a recording engineer. When I burned out on the music  business, we moved to Jen’s hometown of Newburyport, where it was almost  impossible to rent an apartment with a dog. There also weren’t any good  leash-free parks in the area back then, and only a couple of dog  daycares. Jen worked for a local vet and I was commuting to a cubicle  job in Newton every day, when we found the perfect building for sale  with a big yard. We decided to make the leap and quit our jobs to work  for our dog.

Ben was a very special pit/lab mix who loved having a party in his  back yard every day. In many ways, we built a life around him. We read a  lot about dog behavior and learned from experience. It’s been a lot of  work establishing a mom-and-pop business while living above the shop,  but it’s also been fun. And it’s been good to us. Sixteen years later,  we’re still going strong, and I try not to take it for granted that my  commute is a flight of stairs.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your  passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not  always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?

Most of the challenges for us have to do with running a small business  downstairs from where we live with our child and our own pets. I also  write novels on the side, so there are very few boundaries between work  and home life. And with a small staff, the office work and landscaping  often ends up happening on the weekends.

Also, it can be hard to find employees who are cut out for the job.  Everyone thinks playing with dogs will be all fun and games, but it can  also be a stressful and dirty job. When we find someone with the right  demeanor, they become almost a member of our family.

We’ve been very fortunate to have had such great customers over the  years. Many have become friends, and their dogs have stayed with us from  puppyhood to old age. The flipside is that it can be bitter sweet to  have done this job for the span of a dog’s life. You do get attached,  and that first generation of dogs we served has now passed away.

Tell us more about the business. What sets Paws 4 Play apart?

I can’t speak to what works for other daycares because we’ve stayed  focused on what works for us. And this may sound counter-intuitive from a  business standpoint, but what Jen and I take pride in that I’ve heard  sets us apart is that we’ve intentionally kept it small, even though we  have a big enough facility and yard to probably double our intake of  dogs. Instead, we limit the pack to a maximum of 20 dogs per day and  only offer overnight boarding to dogs who attend daycare. We screen  every new dog and get them on a regular schedule to acclimate them to a  familiar pack. All of that is to put safety first. We want dogs to have  the freedom to be dogs at our place. So aside from the occasional  timeout to reset an overstimulated dog, there’s no mandatory crate time.  We want our dogs to get a lot of socialization and exercise with real  dirt and grass in a big open space. Keeping it safe means keeping it  small. Our guiding principle has always been to favor lower stress (for  the people and the dogs) over higher profit.

And did I mention we have a 16-foot long, filtered, bone-shaped swimming pool?

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?

I think it’s true that location and timing go a long way for the success of a business.

So maybe we were lucky in that we were young and naive enough to try  our idea in what turned out to be the right time and place for it.

Massachusetts has a strong economy compared to a lot of places in the  country where I don’t think a “luxury” service like dog daycare could  thrive. In the Boston area, I find that most people treat their dogs  like children and are very conscientious about providing the best care  and lifestyle they can. Paws 4 Play is on Route 1, which also gives us  good visibility. We’ve weathered two recessions on the strength of  word-of-mouth with basically no advertising. Maybe the Tibetan prayer  flags we hang over the yard have brought some good fortune our way.