The idea to create a unique pet care facility came to Heidi when she was going to law school in Atlanta. While she attended classes, she would leave her basset hound, Charlotte, at a doggy day care center. She met her future husband Craig McAra at school, and when they relocated to Genesee County where Craig was from, Heidi saw that pet care facilities in the area were limited. The couple had a law practice, but Heidi was eventually bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and decided that she could meet an underserved need for doggy day care in the Flint area.
Her concept was to offer “more than just a kennel” and as their motto suggests, Paw Palace “gives furry companions the royal treatment they deserve.” The facilities have individual kennels, and play areas both indoors and outdoors. The outdoor area is equipped with sprinklers and pools so the pups can get some fresh air and keep cool in warm weather. Private boarding suites – The Library and The Parlor – are equipped with cameras that allow pet owners to check up on their furry loved ones via webcam. The facility’s resident cat, Fenway, was a stray that now has free run of the area designated for feline guests, the Kitty Condo, when there are no boarders. “The cats love all the sunny window space,” says Heidi.
The spacious private kenneling system was built right here in Genesee County, and the kennels are used for naps, meals and quiet time. “Just like kids, dogs get cranky after a lot of activity,” Heidi laughs. “At nap time, some dogs sleep and others just enjoy some quiet time, a reprieve from their play sessions.” As a full-service facility, Paw Palace also offers grooming by a groomer who has 30 years of experience and a large clientele, Heidi boasts. “All of your pet care needs can be met in one place,” she says, adding that the community has embraced the business right from the start.
During My City’s visit, about 40 dogs were there enjoying group play. The larger dogs romped about in one area and smaller dogs played in another area. Melissa Swoape, one of the managers, loves working with the dogs. “This is the best job I’ve ever had!” she exclaimed. General Manager Liz Geib helps run both the Grand Blanc and Fenton facilities and says it’s the staff that helps make the place so successful. “They sincerely love all the animals,” she says. If everyone is busy playing with or caring for the dogs when an owner comes to pick up their pet, a bell rings to notify the staff. “When they hear that bell, the dogs stop what they’re doing,” laughs Melissa. “They know it means that someone’s mom or dad is here.”
Heidi describes the atmosphere at Paw Palace as one big, happy family. “We love to watch puppies grow into adults,” she smiles. “But we’ve also had to say goodbye to some dogs who have gone over the Rainbow Bridge; that’s the worst part of this job.” She says that the best part is providing safe group play and socialization for dogs, though she cautions, “Group play is not for every dog.” Before enrolling a dog in day care, there is an evaluation and a meet-and-greet with the dog and its owners. The staff cares for every dog as if it was one of their own family members. Heidi’s dog, Bean, a cute, little brown dachshund, has grown up at the day care and romps with the other “mini” pooches during group play.
Paw Palace has grown to meet the needs of its clientele. They now offer au pair services and in-home care, and have even chauffeured dogs to Starbucks for a “Puppuccino.” And for those that come to play or stay, the rules are simple: Bark less and wag more. Play safely and take naps. Go potty outside. Know you are loved. ♦