Twice a week Jan Boyd loads her 65-pound Golden Retriever, Daisy, into her SUV for the short drive from Cevallos Lofts to Lucy's Doggy Daycare and Spa on South Laredo Street. Boyd works long hours in digital media and attends the University of Texas Executive MBA program in Austin on weekends. Like many of us, she often finds there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done--including walking Daisy.
Boyd says dog daycare was a lifesaver for her when she moved here from San Francisco three years ago. "We had 11 weeks to get a new website together. I threw my computer, some clothes, and the dog in the car, drove here, and went to work," says the California transplant.
At first, Boyd lived in the Deerfield neighborhood on San Antonio's Northside. She was relieved to find the Thousand Oaks location for Lucy's Doggy Daycare not far from her house. But after months of commuting on U.S. 281 and leaving Daisy at 12-hour daycare shifts, Boyd decided earlier this year to move downtown. A big snag, though, was what to do with Lucy during her long work days. "I never thought I'd be 'one of those women' who drop their dog off at daycare, for cryin' out loud," says Boyd. "But she's like my kid."
New businesses seem to be opening up weekly in the Southtown area. In December, Lucy's brought high-end "interactive" doggy daycare to 937 S. Laredo St. While numerous dog spas and classy kennels exist in San Antonio, the luxury dog facility is a first for downtown. The business is earning "high paws" from neighborhood dog owners and visitors alike.
The facility is spotlessly clean and surprisingly extravagant. Want to watch Daisy while you're at work? Click on the 24-hour webcam that oversees the pooch play area. Heading out of town? Book a luxury kennel with extra space and cushy, elevated dog mattresses. Looking for a service that will come to your River Walk hotel? Lucy's will send a climate-controlled shuttle to pick up your pooch for play while "parents are busy." Lucy's claims to be the only "interactive'' dog care that provides structured, supervised play at no extra charge throughout the day, resulting in a healthy canine exhaustion that Boyd calls "a doggy daycare hangover."
Some will scoff at treating four-legged creatures as if they were first-born children, but check out the numbers. Pet owners spent almost $51 billion on pet products and services in 2011, according to the American Pet Industry Association. A day of doggy daycare costs about $20 (about half of what a day of good child daycare costs in San Antonio). Extra services like dogfood, shampoo and a self-service dogwash pad the tab.
Demographic trends are also going to the dogs. As young people wait or choose not to have children, and active empty nesters and others treat pets like family members, businesses that cater to people and their pets will prosper. That's why new developments like La Vistana, Cevallos Lofts and 1221 Broadway have welcoming dog policies--in some cases, private on site dog parks. Pets mean extra maintenance, but they also mean extra deposits, fees, and a loyal dog-loving fan base.
Lucy's owner Max Golman and his business partner, commercial real estate developer Dennis Stein, say they are part of a national trend. "Most major cities have doggy daycare downtown because there's so much urban living," says Golman. "You can see San Antonio going in that direction. We're not there yet, but we're going there. "
Golman opened the first Lucy's Doggie Daycare at 2250 Thousand Oaks back in 2005. In 2011, he and Stein opened Lucy's downtown--16,500 square feet of kennels, playground and self-service dog wash, with grooming facilities and retail. A 2,500 square foot addition is underway for a future veterinary clinic to be run by Stein's daughter, Tracy Stein Tommack, DVS.
So far, the dog-loving entrepreneurs have spent more than $1 million converting the oddly shaped lot and warehouse that hugs IH-10 into an elaborate dog retreat. Golman proudly shows off the playground, covered with $14,000 of bacteria-resistant pet turf, designed to take serious dog traffic. "We disinfect it every day," he says. Coming this summer: a dog swimming pool. Plans for a "dog bar" and membership-only dog park are in process for later this year at the funky 1930s Humble gas station that occupies one corner of the property. Architect James Staub designed the charming tile-and-stucco building, which closely resembles a sibling structure on South Presa that was recently renovated and expanded to become foodie destination Bliss.
So, is downtown San Antonio getting more dog friendly?
"While San Antonio is not a forerunner in terms of dog friendly policies, we think as a city, we are definitely jumping on the bandwagon and joining the dog friendly movement," says Cathy McCoy, director of communications for the Humane Society in San Antonio.
The city seems to make headlines more often for its high kill rate at shelters, irresponsible dog owners and inconsistent policies that allow smoking but not dogs on restaurant patios. A recent Wall Street Journal story called San Antonio "unique" for Municipal Court Judge Daniel Guerrero's special "pet court," which applies the law to various canine transgressions, including dog bites, running around unleashed, and failure to get vaccinated. The court summons dog owners to appear in court to defend themselves and their dogs. It's generated $250,000 in fees for the City so far. (For a good time, read the comments on that story.)
A 2010 city ordinance allows diners to bring their dogs with them to restaurant patios under certain circumstances IF certain conditions are met: the patio must have an outside exit, hand sanitizers available for use, and a special City permit, among other things. The San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau touts the fact that San Antonio's entire River Walk is friendly to dogs on leashes, and lists directions to each of San Antonio's five leash-free dog parks.
Dog travel resource website Bringfido.com lists 68 restaurants in San Antonio that are dog-friendly. Yet personal experience taking our dog Cocoa out and about town suggests its best to contact each restaurant individually to ascertain their dog tolerance. Some downtown restaurants (Friendly Spot, La Frite, La Gloria, Cappy's, MadHatter's, Feast) welcome pooches on the patio, often serving up cool water bowls and allowing well-behaved dogs to hang out tableside. Others (Boudro's) have a small set of tables set aside for dogs only. And many don't allow dogs at all, even on the patio.
Mike Sutter, who blogs about food at FedManWalking, believes dogs don't belong in restaurants unless they're on the menu. "I get it, dog people," writes Sutter in a February 27 review of Il Sogno. "You simply must have your best friend with you in the car, at the bar, in the bath and at the nice osteria downtown. But can you keep Mr. Belvedere out of my crotch in the middle of my $200 dinner?"
Chad Carey, co-owner of The Monterey in Southtown, the cool gastropub with almost all its seating outside, says that having dogs on the patio is a distraction and "takes away from what we're trying to do with food." Uninvited sniffing aside, dining with dogs surely presents a quandary for restaurant owners, as hygiene issues, noise, even dogfights can spell extra hassles.
And yet, the Monterey allows smoking on their patios, a proven health hazard for those inhaling second-hand smoke and a deterrent to enjoying the Monty's singular food offerings. "I guess it's probably hard to justify smoking when you don't allow dogs," says Carey, hinting that the Monty might reconsider its policy.
For dog owners, polite agitation is the best way to change dog policies. Let restaurant owners and establishments know of your preferences so that community values can prevail. And if you have a favorite dog friendly destination or San Antonio canine story to share, send an email to our canine correspondent and spokesdog Cocoa@therivardreport.com. You can follow Cocoa on Twitter, @quepawdre. We'll share results in periodic reports.