In 2014 Ralph Bernstein realized that he was happiest in the moments spent at his dog’s daycare. He had recently lost his wife to a stroke and when he found himself questioning the life that he built he decided to do something big about it. “I called Downtown Dogs’ owner and asked if she’d be interested in selling the business,” Bernstein explains, “To my surprise, she said yes…[and I] happy end[ed] my 30-year career as a banking executive.”
The last eight years have been everything Bernstein expected them to be: a thrilling adventure, a huge commitment, and a chance to spend every day doing what he loves. Two years ago he expanded the venture by opening a dog spa (Dog’s Day Out) next door to Downtown Dog. “Honestly, in the eight years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve yet to have a day that wasn’t fun,” says Bernstein. “I’m onsite 50-60 hours a week…and my wife, Abbe, – a woman who is genuinely as nuts about dogs as I am – helps with marketing, community outreach, and reception.”
Downtown Dog is ruled by a “dog-first” philosophy. “We believe in meeting dogs where they are to give them the best possible experience. One way we do that is by understanding that dogs, like people, have unique personalities that need to be considered when they come to stay with us for daycare or boarding.” Staff is responsive to dogs’ moods and social preferences – making sure that quieter dogs get their space and the more energetic ones get their wiggles out.
Downtown Dog has four playrooms and over 13,000 square feet of play space, which means plenty of space for every dog. Eight webcams cover the space, so nervous parents can always check in and see how their dogs are doing. “We are the longest established dog daycare and boarding facility in the Twin Cities. We’ve had, literally, tens of thousands of dogs come through our doors in that time, and we put that experience to work, every single day.”
Downtown Dog is also unique in that they offer a “drop-in” model for daycare. “[D]ogs are welcome to come for as little as one hour or stay the whole day,” Bernstein explains, “No reservations are required for daycare, after an initial evaluation visit. We do require reservations for overnight boarding to ensure that we have a spot for every dog.”
The love that both Ralph and Abbe have for dogs shines through in their business model: “Downtown Dogs is one of the few daycare and boarding facilities in town that happily takes all giant breeds like Great Danes, Mastiffs, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and all” bully “breeds like Pit Bulls, Staffordshire Terriers, Boxers, and French Bulldogs,” Bernstein says, “We always have, and always will, accept all breeds, ages, and sizes of dogs.”
Two years ago, in June of 2020, Bernstein opened Dog’s Day Out in response to Downtown Dog customers’ frequent requests for grooming services. “[C]onstruction was well underway before the shutdowns,” says Bernstein. Although the business was struggling due to the pandemic it made sense to follow through on what they had started. In the last two years, the business has bounced back to a certain extent. “Thankfully our business is back to about 75% of pre-Covid levels and improving,” says Bernstein.
Dog’s Day Out maintains the same “dog first” philosophy that defines its sister company. Applying that philosophy to grooming means addressing every dog’s needs. Sometimes those needs are as simple as a ramp into the tub for older dogs or boosters inside the tub for smaller dogs. The company also offers private rooms for skittish dogs and buffers appointments “so we can give pups breaks during the cut as they need,” Bernstein says.
The spa also offers DIY grooming for people who want to groom their own dogs but do not have the space or the resources to do it at home. “[I]t’s turned out to be a great service for owners,” says Bernstein, “Some couples come in with their pup for a scrub as part of date night. And many people bring their kids to help with DIY baths. We have little stools and child-sized aprons so they can really participate in the process and have fun!”
Bernstein is committed to making a difference for people and pets alike. He has gained a reputation as an LGBT-friendly employer and offers higher than industry-standard wages, bonuses, and benefits in addition to pursuing healthy work lives for his team. Lindsay Bein, who is the General Manager at Downtown Dogs, explains Bernstein as a boss: “Ralph goes above and beyond for his team…He pushes us to find work/life balance, pays for life coaching, and helps us like we’re his family – like buying car seats for an employee’s baby.”
Similarly, Downtown Dogs is committed to supporting pet-friendly charities and non-profits, “Each year, we provide over 100 nights of free or discounted boarding to local rescue and foster organizations…[we also] sponsor events and donate gift certificates and prizes to help non-profits further their mission,” says Bernstein.
Downtown Dog and Dogs Day Out are both local treasures. Whether you are boarding your dog for a weekend or just giving your dog a well-deserved grooming session, you can rest assured that they will get every ounce of care that they deserve – and then some.