Animal Care Facility Owner: Informational Interview Report


[Thanks to LJ for sharing her informational interview report on becoming an owner of an animal care facility, and in her case, a doggie daycare facility.]

Since one of my career goals is to open my own animal care facility, I chose to interview a family friend and my mentor on all things dog.

I met her at my previous job. She has a degree in wildlife biology, is a certified dog trainer, and owner of a doggie daycare and boarding facility here in the Bay Area.

My main goal for this interview was to pick her brain about owning her business, and see if she is happy in her decision or regrets not putting her degree to use.

Can you let me know how you got to where you are today?

My interviewee said, “I always wanted to work with animals,” and after high school she pursued a degree in wildlife biology. With this degree came some great opportunities and experiences while in college, like working hands on with birds of prey and tracking the wolf population in Yellowstone.

When she returned back to the Bay Area, she got a job at a humane society working with their exotics department. She also worked a second part time job at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.

While these opportunities allowed her to put her degree to use, my interviewee found that they did not pay enough to afford staying in the expensive Bay Area.

“When I was at the humane society, I discovered my love of dogs. I learned a lot about dog body language and behavior, and eventually decided to become certified in dog training,” said Tracy. While becoming certified she met many other dog trainers and felt like she found her niche. Thanks to networking with this training community, a trainer reached out to her and offered her a job as the Director of Operations at his dog care facility. She worked the job for nearly ten years, and after a bitter breakup with the company, she decided she had enough experience to open her own dog daycare.

If I wanted to start in this career area, how would you recommend that I go about pursuing this career path?

“Well, I know you have a lot of experience working in this industry, and I know personally and professionally that you have the skills to work in and manage a business of your own.

First, “Do a lot of this type of interviewing, especially with other startup companies. Tour competitors, like WAG Hotels, Pooch, etc. Ask lots of questions, get ideas, collaborate with friends and clients, and create a solid business model. I would also consider getting your kennel operator’s license. It’s a relatively easy credential to attain and it allows the option for overnight boarding, if you wanted to do that. Also, do your research on animal zoning laws,” as this was a surprise for for my interviewee.

Location is key when opening your business, and animal zoning laws can play a huge part in determining where you can launch an animal care facility. Tracy also suggested taking some business classes to familiarize yourself with legalities that come with owning a business and being an employer.

She advised, “Don’t let the unknowns get in your way. Don’t know how? Google it, make phone calls, do interviews like these. Where there is a will, there’s a way. Part of the reason I decided to do this is because I witnessed firsthand that my previous boss had no idea what he was doing, and I realized, if he can do this, I can do this. It can be overwhelming at first, but whenever an obstacle would come up my mom would say ‘what’s the worst that can happen – you fail?’ and eventually I adopted that mindset and went for it.

If you had a chance to do it all over again, would you have attempted to attain a career relevant to your wildlife biology degree?

“I have no regrets. I did what I wanted to do then, and I’m doing what I want to do now.”

Before discovering her niche with dogs, my interviewee was deciding how to make her degree work for her. In order to land a career in wildlife biology – or really put it to good use- she felt like she would need to get an even higher education but didn’t know if she wanted to take that on.

She also realized that if she wanted to stay in the Bay Area, opportunities working with wildlife were limited.

Since it’s the place for startup success, she feels like she found the right path, at least for this time in her life, because like my MBTI personality type, my interviewee says her career search might never be over.

She keeps learning new things and continues to educate herself in all sorts of interests and hobbies. “We should always be bettering ourselves and gaining new knowledge and skills.”

What are the greatest challenges of the job?”

“The doggie daycare industry has gotten competitive, and rent is going up.”

My interviewee named almost a dozen daycare or similar facilities that launched within the last ten years, and because of the market, had lost their leases or hd gone out of business. “Lots of people want a piece of the dream, want to start their own business, just like I did, and just like you want to.”

She said that the big difference will be your credentials, like training certification, kennels license, certification in first aid and CPR for pets.

She also said that maintaining a loyal clientele makes all the difference, and that it was important not to get too big too fast, because the business loses that personal touch.

“Do it for the right reasons and have a healthy projection of how long it will take your business to profit. I feel like a lot of people don’t have a realistic approach and end up disappointed or take on too much.”

“What are the best parts?”

“Seeing the numbers go up!” she said as she laughed.

“I love working for myself and having a lot of different things to do. I can get my hands into social media marketing, product research, event planning, employee and dog training, and of course playing with the dogs. As long as you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life!”

She also said the most rewarding feeling is when clients express their appreciation and trust in the business and recommend it to their friends.

Her biggest surprise was the cost of insurance for the animal care industry and the cost of renting a commercial space in the area, which are things I hadn’t thought of.

Another thing that surprised me was a paradox that presents itself when it comes to the success and growth of a business. She explained that “small businesses” have a certain number of employees, allowing them to be exempt to many laws and regulations – and costs. So in some ways, staying a small business is a smart decision, but in other ways, getting bigger is more desirable.

When she listed off the names of other businesses that have closed their doors, it was quite shocking and put some things in perspective as far as cost and competition.

Additionally, she expected it to take 5 years for her business to start profiting, which was very surprising to me, as I thought it would only take 2 or 3 years.

I feel like the interview helped validate what I knew about the industry, as far as my preparedness, the positives and the negatives of the industry. I do feel like at this time my skills, knowledge and personality would allow me to be very successful in opening my own daycare facility.

However, like my interviewee said, it is becoming more competitive in this area, and it is an expensive place to live and work. That said, my interviewee decided to do this because she wanted to live here, and in this area, a daycare thrives because of the busy professionals and also because the cost of living doesn’t afford yards for dogs. I, however, don’t want to live here because of those reasons.

Overall I have a positive feeling about this career, but I need to decide where I want to live and what I’m willing to give up to attain my idea of success.

If I could do it over again, I would ask my interviewee about her wildlife degree, what she learned from her education and what she had planned on doing with it. Other than that, I am happy with how my interview went, and I would only wish that in a few years I can check back in with her and see if she has anything new to report about how her business is going.

My interviewee and I are friends on Facebook, and I did send her a private message thanking her for her time and responses.