MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
With the nation's economy in the tank, is now really the right moment to become an entrepreneur? In Dallas, the answer seems to be yes - at least in one case. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.
WADE GOODWYN: Open the door to Unleashed Indoor Dog Park, and it feels a little like you stepped into the lobby of a Hyatt, or maybe an upscale health spa. But just beyond the waterfall wall that curtains the front desk is a sight for dogs' eyes. It's the size of a jet airplane hangar, but instead of 737s and an endless expanse of concrete, it's green, green, green.
NORRIS: Ready? Whoa. All right, catch it. That's a good one. Yes. That a boy, Jack. Come on, buddy. Oh, such a good boy.
GOODWYN: Jack is a five-year-old lab who's living the dream. He's chasing his flexible Frisbee in air-conditioned comfort, the natural light spilling across the artificial field of canine grass. Normally, Jack gets out for a daily walk and the occasional romp in the neighborhood park, but running full bore in wide open space is a whole other country.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOG PANTING)
GOODWYN: Jack's designated Frisbee thrower and owner is Nancy Perry.
NORRIS: I like that it's clean. I like that it's safe. I like that it's monitored. I think it's a great concept.
GOODWYN: It's 33-year-old Kelly Acree's concept. In her previous life, Acree had no connection with the pet industry. She got the idea for an indoor dog park because she regularly took her Lab mix to Dallas's very popular municipal outdoor dog park.
NORRIS: People didn't clean up after themselves and so it smelled bad. There's just no amenities, no restrooms, nothing to drink. Half the time the water spigots weren't even on for the dog. So, you couldn't even water the dogs in the heat of the summer. And so, we said, you know, if you took it inside and it was air conditioned and it was really clean, and you had some handlers on staff to help break up fights and monitor things so that the dogs are really safe and everything was comfortable for the owner as well as the dog, would people be willing to pay for it?
GOODWYN: Using mostly their own money plus some from investors, the Acrees raised $10 million in start-up capital. In addition to the 50,000 square feet of indoor play area, the facility has two and a half acres outdoors and a canine water park under construction, which will come in handy in Dallas. Inside, there's a supply store, grooming and doggy day care. For owners, there's Wi-Fi, and soon a cafe and restaurant upstairs with seating overlooking the park. Kelly Acree says the plan is to use all the revenue sources and rent parts of the facility for adoption events and parties.
NORRIS: We've got enough capital to keep it going. It's part of our start-up cost, and we're - and right now we're - we're covering our costs.
GOODWYN: There's a bit of labor. In addition to the groomers, sales clerks and front desk, four dog handlers patrol the expansive green, including dog whisperer Russ Ottmer.
NORRIS: Talk to me, you want to talk to me?
GOODWYN: No pit bulls are allowed. Ottmer says that if you know dog body language, which he says he does, you can nip dog fights in the bud.
NORRIS: Since we have a people out here to assist, we'll be able to stop a lot of the things before they even happen.
U: (unintelligible) Billy. Hi, Miles. Billy (unintelligible).
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
GOODWYN: An all-day pass is $7.50 for one dog and $10 for two. In Texas, the economy is doing well compared to the East and West coasts. So, the Acrees are hoping there's still a robust customer base for this kind of thing. Dog owners can give the park their credit card number and their pet gets a little toll tag for his or her collar that will bill automatically - no need to stop at the front desk. One year old Rosy(ph), an Irish Setter mix, is making her first visit and after playing for an hour, she hits the spa to have her nails clipped.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAIL CLIPPING)
GOODWYN: Then a little filling.
(SOUNDBITE OF NAIL FILLING)
GOODWYN: A nice hair trim.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAIR TRIMMING)
GOODWYN: Finally a bath.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)
GOODWYN: Unleashed Dog Park launched last week and more than 300 dogs brought their owners to opening day.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)
GOODWYN: The Dallas operation is a prototype. If successful, number two will be in Plano, just north of Dallas, then perhaps Phoenix and Minneapolis.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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