For the Love of Pets


Twice a week, Valerie Whitney’s dog Bella is told to “get dressed for school.”

Those are the only words needed to put Bella, a border collie/Labrador mix into hyper drive. She wags her tail as her collar is put on and she makes her way to the car, knowing she’s in for a full day of fun at DogBoy’s Dog Ranch.

Whitney and her partner Liz started taking Bella to DogBoy’s, an expansive dog boarding and daycare facility in Pflugerville, when they first rescued her two years ago. They wanted to teach her some manners with other dogs and also burn off some of her excess energy.

“They were so sweet to Bella and to me and we just learned so much from them, we kept going back,” says Whitney. “I just can’t say enough about them.”

DogBoy’s Dog Ranch has been around since 1995 (roughly 98 years old in dog years). Courtney and Bart Emken launched the business with 10 outdoor runs, hikes for exercise and sleeping crates in their garage. By 1997, DogBoy’s client list had grown to about 200 dogs, and the Emken’s built the first indoor/outdoor kennel with 24 runs. Over the next two years their list grew to more than 2,000 dogs.

“So we took a deep breath and built our second kennel, with 40 additional runs, and our office in 2000,” says Courtney Emken. Through the years, DogBoy’s has cared for some 11,000 dogs.

Emken says it was her husband’s idea to start DogBoy’s to help change the way boarding was done in Central Texas. Instead of caging dogs, DogBoy’s offers all-day playtime and socialization. That approach has become popular across the region and nationwide in recent years.

To stay competitive, DogBoy’s has introduced training classes and plans are in the works to soon include wellness services, such as canine massage and acupuncture, and begin swimming classes and dock diving lessons next year. DogBoy’s is just one of many pet-centric businesses in the Central Texas region. Just a quick look at the number of dog parks and veterinary clinics in the area provides ample evidence that locals are in love with their pets.

“Austin is a very pet-centric community,” says Emken. “Austinites not only own more dogs than people in average cities, but they do more with them. Dog’s don’t just stay home on the porch anymore. They go to dog parks, puppy parties, grooming appointments and training classes.”

Liz Parker, owner of the Austin Pets Directory, agrees. “Austin is an amazing market for pet-related services,” she says. “People here don’t mind spending money on their pets, but they also want value.”

Parker founded the directory, a catalog of services for pets across Central Texas, nearly eight years ago.

“I have seen a tremendous amount of growth in Austin’s pet-related businesses,” says Parker, who estimates the figure has doubled in the last decade. “When I started… there were only two pet boutiques. Presently we have more than 10. Luxury boarding facilities are all over the city, and most locations offer additional services like daycare, grooming and retail sections with premium food, treats and designer products.”

Emken says competition in the industry is growing by leaps and bounds. “We are constantly approached by people who want us to help them start a business just like DogBoy’s. We’ve consulted with a couple kennels that are doing great today. We don’t really worry too much about the competition, because the size of our property, our level of pet care and our fun atmosphere keep us full almost year round.”

Parker says many of the owners of pet-oriented business- es are former corporate types who had an idea, saw a need in the marketplace and decided to trade their 9-to-5 desk for entrepreneurship. She predicts that the current recession and its effect on Corporate America may prompt more people to pursue their passion for pets.

So what’s the next hot area in pet merchandise and care? Parker is noticing significant growth in higher-end pet prod- ucts. “I think it started at the beginning of the decade with bedazzled collars and sundresses for Chihuahuas,” she says. “Luckily, what we see a lot more of now are beautiful, well- crafted, creative products that are still practical and make sense for pets and their owners.”

From dog sitters to grooming parlors. Check out the Austin Pets Directory for a rundown of the best local services. You can find them online at:

Time to Turn Tail On Breeding

Both Parker and Emken say the one thing that needs to change in the pet industry is overbreeding.

According to figures from the Humane Society of the United States, roughly 70,000 dogs and cats are born in the United States every day, and more than half of them are from unplanned litters. But despite the number of animals in shelters, the ber one source of dogs for most owners continues to be breeders.

In 2000, DogBoy’s took a big step, requiring that all dogs over six months of age admitted to the facility be spayed or neutered. An unheard of mandate nine years ago, today many facilities require it in an attempt to bring awareness to overpopulation.

Parker says even though Austin is such a socially aware city, sales of puppies and kittens from pet mills and backyard breeders still goes on in the area. “There are so many pros to rescuing pets and virtually no cons. I can’t say the same for purchasing them.”