Photo: Meredith Galante/Business Insider
Most pet owners think of their dogs as another member of the family.And some New Yorkers will go to any length to make sure that their furry friends are well cared for while they’re whiling away at their desk jobs.
Mitch Marrow, owner of Spot: The First Luxury Experience For Your Dog, worked as a junior partner at a hedge fund for 12 years and had a stint playing defensive end for the Panthers in the NFL.
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He was a busy professional and could never find appropriate care for his two dogs Reggie, a St. Bernard, and Hank, a Bullmastif.
One place wouldn’t let his St. Bernard have the amount of water he needed per day because the workers were afraid he’d pee too much.
Disgraced by the current doggie daycare options in Manhattan, he convinced his wife to let him reverse his professional course and open Spot.
The dog spa now has two locations, one in Chelsea and the other in TriBeca. A third opens Wednesday on the Upper West Side.
Already the place is attracting celebrities: Spot has catered to the pooches of Mariah Carey, Glenn Close, James Gandolfini, Gerard Butler, Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, Kristin Chenoweth, Donna Karan, Howard Stern and Beth Ostrosky, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, Bernadette Peters, Lorne Michaels, and former New York Giants players Jim Finn and Todd Pollack.
There’s a pool and an outdoor dog park with special turf that is good for the dogs’ joints, and an antibacterial mesh lining to prevent diseases from spreading.
If your schedule doesn’t permit dropping your dog off at Spot, don’t worry: a van will pick and drop off your pooch. Grooming services are also available.
There’s one rule at Spot: No barking. It’s strictly enforced by Brewster Smith, the head of canine protocol (yes, there is a head of canine protocol) through energy and breathing techniques with the dogs.
Giving your dogs the best care will cost you though. It’s an $850 membership fee and $600 a month for a platinum membership.
While Marrow played for the North Carolina Panthers, he supported spay-and-neuter programs and raised money for pet owners who couldn't afford veterinary care.
When he moved to Wall Street, he was working from 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. some days with the foreign markets and had little time to spend with his dogs.
At first he tried dog walkers, but they'd have to come in five times a day or were no-shows.
While searching for a doggie daycare, he found places where workers were being paid minimum wage and had ear-plugs in to not hear the barking.
'I would have paid anything to know my dogs were safe,' Marrow said.
Marrow's hedge fund had worked with several animal activist groups, so after surveying them and having marketing done about what people want from day care for their dogs, he decided it was time to expand the service with substantial capital behind it.
'We want to do this right. From the business side of things, I've seen companies come and go and with finances you can do it right,' Marrow said.
'At the other places, I didn't want to leave my dog, so in good faith I had to make this a place other people wanted to leave their pets.'
Spot's third location opens Wednesday, but there will be as many as 40 locations in the next 18 months
Spot first opened in January 2011 downtown.
In the next year, due to partnerships, Marrow said an extensive roll-out of Spots will be coming to New York and New Jersey.
Depending on the construction and staff they can train, Marrow said to expect anywhere from 10 to 40 new spots in the next 18 months.
Marrow put his dreams of luxury dog care in action by tracking down Brewster Smith, who is now the head of canine protocol at Spot.
Smith trains all of the employees and supervisors, most of whom come from a veterinarian tech background. Each employee goes through 50 to 60 hours of training before being scheduled to work.
To make sure that Spot is a peaceful environment for the workers and the dogs, Smith enforces a strict 'no barking rule' with the dogs.
It sounds absurd, but Smith catches the dogs attention by snapping, then he takes a fingers and waves it around the dogs face for about three to four seconds. He then takes a big breathe in and lets it out, so the dogs mirror him. By that time, their attention has been diverted and they have stopped barking.
This outdoor 5,000 sq-feet dog park is the first of its kind in Manhattan.
The cushioned artificial turf with an antibacterial layer to ensure no diseases are spread among the dogs. The turf is also good for the dogs joints, with tiny balls that give back like a gymnasts' mat.
The turf is also hypoallergenic.
There are no stairs in the park because some dogs have difficulty going up stairs.
While the legal limit for the Upper West Side spot is 185 dogs, Marrow enforces a 20-square-feet per dog ratio (the entire location is 10,000 square feet).
The park is constantly supervised by the trainers and 16-web cams. There are 'no blind spots' at Spot, Marrow said.
The web cams also allow the owners to log on at work via the Internet or even on their smart phones to make sure their dog is doing ok.
'It's scary opening yourself up like this with so many views,' Marrow said. 'But we want to ensure quality care and its how our costumers know we're doing a good job and its how we hold ourselves accountable.'
Marrow said the team even watches the tape back -- kind of like in the NFL -- to see what they could be doing better.
Smith, the head of canine protocols at Spot, has 15 years experience working as a canine behavioralist.
One of the first days Smith and Marrow worked together at Spot, Smith entered the room and started making noises to rile the dogs up. Marrow questioned 'Why would you do that?' And Smith said 'to calm them back down.'
The exercise allows the dogs to realise who is the alpha dog and that at any time Spot employees can tell them to stop and they must listen.
Smith says that dogs, like people, have different personalities around different people.
'Dogs have one behaviour with their owner, but once the owner leaves, they don't know what to do,' Smith said. 'Dogs can re-boot like a computer. So I can give them a whole new set of rules. One is no-barking.'
Smith said that if you yell at a dog, you've lost control. It's all about the energy between you and your dog.
Like people, no one likes to feel stressed, you feel a tightness inside, Smith said. The same with dogs. So Smith uses hand signals and breathing to keep the dogs relaxed and therefore healthy.
Smith puts every perspective member of Spot through a behavioural screening to ensure its a good fit for the dog and spot.
About 95 per cent of the time the dog is a fine fit for Spot, but if there's a case where it wouldn't work, Spot offers its dog walking services to that client to ensure that every pup has an opportunity to be cared for.
The dogs can be cared for rain or shine at Spot.
As long as its not thundering, the dogs can still be taken outside to go to the bathroom and play.
Marrow took an idea from his wife for micro-fibre towels (that she used for her hair) that absorb the wetness quickly.
If your dog is out in the rain, Marrow promises he or she will return clean and dry.
The doggie pool hasn't opened yet, but it sits in the 5,000 square feet dog park in the back.
The pool has special tiles so dogs don't slip
The dogs are not caged over-night--instead they are encouraged to roam free.
If you do choose to leave your dog while your out of town, there's a trained supervisor present from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. to make sure there are no incidents over night.
Dogs such as Sophie receive paper collars.
The colours indicate special diet, medicine or behavioural issues.
Inside the puppy play rooms, the dogs roam free.
It takes a lot for the environment to be safe, managed and calm, Marrow said.
Marrow compared the other doggie day cares to 'Riker's Island.'
'If you drop your dog off in the morning, and at night he comes home at night and is tired you're thinking, 'this is great, I socialized him.'' Marrow said.
'But if I dropped you off at Riker's Island all day then picked you up, would you be tired too?'
Inside the large room, dogs are free to play or relax as they please.
As long as they obey the no-barking rule.
Includes unlimited day care Monday-Friday, bi-weekly baths, and preferred member discounts on cage-less boarding and transportation. Membership fee: $850 and monthly investment of $600.
Unlimited day care three days per week, two individual 30-minute leisure walks per week and a monthly bath. Membership fee: $600 and monthly investment of $525.
There are also daily membership options and a range of transportation services.
There's plenty of retail space in Spot's new Upper West Side location.
Inside the 5,000 square-foot store, you can purchase New York City subway map place-mats, collars, leashes, food, bowls, carriers and little outfits for your dog.
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