For the Love of Dogs

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The owners of Taurus Training and Doggy Play Day discuss their dynamic dog-training methods, the future of their business and why they feel it’s critical to support gay-related causes.

They say dogs are man’s best friend. But what does that really mean? What makes someone a friend? Is it that they care for you, are always at your side, support your choices, advocate for your rights and go out of their way to champion you at every turn? If this is what it means to be a friend, then dogs certainly are earning their place in man’s heart.

But unfortunately, dogs don’t always receive reciprocal undying attention and adoration from man. Indeed, it is rare to find someone who is fully dedicated to the canine set so much so that it becomes the foundation for their life’s work.

But these dedicated souls do exist in our own community, and William and Melanie McLeroy are proof of it. The owners of Taurus Training and Doggy Play – a boarding, training and day- care facility for pooches – the McLeroys are zealous about the care and well-being of dogs. This fervor manifests itself in no clearer manner than the way in which they operate their business.

“We have thorough play group guidelines and an extensive development program for our technicians. And all the staff gets training in canine body language and communication,” Melanie says. “Our whole business is based on understanding canine behavior better. And we’re very serious about protecting canine health.”

William says as Taurus has grown, the company’s dog-training services have continued to gain popularity. Taurus trainers have worked with thousands of dogs and their humans since the company’s beginning in 1994. And more four-legged pups are nosing their way through the Taurus doors every day.

1-17Perhaps that’s because, at Taurus, dog training is approached more holistically. The company offers several types of training techniques and programs (board-and-train, puppy consultations, private consultations, private behavior consultations, and soon, group training) so that, no matter the lifestyle or personality, Austin dogs and humans benefit from the Taurus Way.

“We’re trying to assess what the human needs out of the relationship with their dog while also making sure we’re doing what is best for the dog,” William maintains. “We want to make sure that both the dog’s and the human’s needs are seen and respected, and that there’s a connection between the two.”

Taurus’ approach – combined with the staff’s friendly and enthusiastic attitude, the wildly successful Doggy Play Day services and the overall sense that Fido really likes it there – has enabled the business to blossom. To date, there are four Taurus locations: South Lamar Boulevard near Barton Springs Road, McNeil Drive near Highway 183, Metric Boulevard at Parmer Lane, and the newest location on Highway 620 North between Steiner Ranch and Lakeway.

This growth is right in line with William’s plan to open five Taurus kennels in five years, a goal he set after opening the second location in 2004. Once the McLeroys reach that objective, they say they’ll think arduously about their next business move.

“We’ve been approached by people in Houston and Dallas who are interested in opening Taurus franchises there,” Melanie says.

But William adds that several conditions would have to be met before he’d be willing to franchise the business. Among them, a potential franchisee would need to embody the same dedication to dogs that is at the heart of Taurus.

“We would only be able to work with a franchisee who operated from a high-value system, someone who isn’t in it just for themselves but because they want to change the old-fashioned ideas people have about dogs and dog behavior,” William says.

Taurus’ growth is essentially in William’s hands, as Melanie has officially retired from her daily job at the company. Though she still co-owns and consults for Taurus, Melanie is spending much of her time on philanthropic causes. She’s the board chair of EmanciPet, a nonprofit group that works to prevent animal homelessness and provides low-cost spay and neuter services; she volunteers for Meals on Wheels and More; and she recently became a “queen bee” for B Club (a Breast Cancer Services affiliated group), a new nonprofit founded by Jan Hill and Marion Cimbala. The group is structured similarly to the Octopus Club, and hosts fundraisers and events for breast cancer survivors in need of emergency funds.

Melanie and William also support a variety of animal welfare organizations, environmental nonprofits, conservation groups and many gay-related causes. They’ve participated in the Pride Festival for a number of years, and Taurus purchases a table at Project Transitions’ Holiday Swing fundraiser every year. They’ve sponsored an OctoTea Dance for the Octopus Club, were involved with AIDS Services of Austin’s Red Ribbon Dinners, and several Taurus managers always contribute their self-made artwork to the ArtErotica event.

“Supporting gay-related causes is important to us on a personal level because we have many friends and family members in the gay community,” Melanie says.

William grew up with a best friend who was gay, and, sadly, saw the trials his friend went through growing up in East Texas. And, as Melanie’s sister is a lesbian, she says equality has long been an important social issue to her.

“Growing up in the bellybutton of the Bible Belt, there are all sorts of social justice issues that are important to me,” Melanie says. “I would feel this way whether or not my sister was gay. I don’t have a black brother but I still support racial equality. It’s just the right thing to do.”

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