While their owners are away, these pets will play. Meet 5 local businesses with a passion for pets.
Written by Jessica J. Savage
As anyone with a beloved cat or dog can attest, pets are a part of the family. So whether you’re clocking in long hours at the office or looking to get away from it all with well-deserved vacation, it’s important to leave Fido and Fluffy in good hands.
Las Cruces offers a variety of choices for pet owners ranging from boarding facilities to in-home care. But how do you determine the best option for the animal of the houses pet staycation.
Long-time dog lover and owner, Christa Slaton, is a frequent traveler. She says the most important question for her is: “Do the staff really love animals and demonstrate that by how they greet them? I have been to facilities where it is clear that a business is being run to make money. Places I frequent love animals and the owner or staff get pleasure from working with animals,” she explains.
The owners and staff at these five pet-centered businesses share a love for all things furry, feathered, and even slithery. See how their passion for pets is benefitting the local pet population.
Pet Planet Hotel and Day Camp
With brightly colored playground equipment, tires, wading pools, and a trampoline, it’s easy to mistake Pet Planet Hotel and Day Camp for a children’s pre-school but it is a great pet staycation spot. That’s all in line with owners David and Juliana Garcia’s vision of borrowing concepts from schools and applying them to a dog day camp.
The couple first combined their skills—his working with animals and hers in psychology and counseling—when they opened a mobile pet grooming business. Client interest in a boarding facility resulted in the unique, highly-researched Dog Hotel that includes features such as glass windows, drains in each room, flat screen TVs, and web cams clients use to check up on their dog while away.
“Pets are a part of the family, a special relationship,” Juliana says. “We want to show clients that we recognize and acknowledge that their pet is not just another number or animal.” At Pet Planet, they also recognize that, while pets provide emotional benefits to their owners, they are also in need of socialization themselves. “Not until your dog goes to day camp do you realize that your dog needed it,” David notes. “We use the same concepts that kids are learning in school, such as behavior rewarding. If dogs misbehave, such as barking and snapping at other dogs, we put them in time out, which actually works for dogs.”
“The same goes for good behaviors,” adds Juliana. “We tell the owner if their dog didn’t bark at anyone through the fence today.”
Day camp provides an outlet for high-energy dogs; they generally go home just as tired as their owners are after a long day at work. Spending all day with other dogs also leads to dogs developing close friendships and even the occasional romance. “It’s the most opposite breeds, a big dog and a small dog, is the most common one,” says David, who is quick to add that all day campers have to be spayed or neutered.
“The first time a dog comes to day camp they get a report card and we let clients know how their first day went,” Juliana explains. “We let them know who they played with and who their friends are.”
Pet Planet Hotel & Day Camp
971 Sand Castle Ave.
Pet Hotel (Dogs and Cats) Dog Day Care
Blue Ribbon Pet Sitting
A life-long animal lover, Lisa Westbrook decided to leave behind her career in retail and turn her passion for animals into a full-time pet sitting enterprise. “There’s a lot of long hours, and some days are harder than others, but I love what I do,” she says.
Her unique service allows pets to stay in a familiar environment and maintain their normal routines, and offers the added bonus of having someone checking up on the house while homeowners are away. Mail and newspapers are brought inside and people see lights going on and off, so the home looks lived in.
“It’s a crime deterrent,” notes Lisa’s husband, Paul, who assists with the business in addition to his full-time job.
When considering a pet sitter, Lisa says it’s important to verify that the business is insured and bonded. She also recommends checking references and researching the sitter by consulting veterinarians and staff at pet and feed stores. Lisa is a member of Pet Sitters International, a resource that provides training, networking, business advice, and insurance.
Prior to accepting a client, Lisa conducts a thorough interview and insists on meeting the client and pets in person. Dogs receive at least two pet sit visits a day, whereas healthy cats can generally get by with just one. All home visits last at least a half hour.
With clients that have been with her since she started Blue Ribbon 12 years ago, Lisa she says she feels lucky to be a part of these families as pets age and new ones come into the home. “It’s so rewarding,” she says. “It’s those faces when you walk through the door. They’re so happy to see you while their owners are away. I feel like the best thing they see all day.”
Blue Ribbon Pet Sitting
In-home Pet Care (Dogs, Cats, Birds, Exotics)
Overnight Sitting Dog Walking
Animal Haven Lodge & Salon
A love of animals and family motivated Steve and Margaret Smelser to create the Animal Haven Lodge & Salon. Margaret had 10 years experience working with animals, first as an assistant in a veterinary clinic and later as a dog trainer. Steve worked in the construction industry for almost 20 years, but having grown up on a ranch, he was no stranger to caring for animals. Signs of the impending 2008 housing market crash and a desire to bring their kids to work with them, convinced the couple to transform their home into a pet-focused business.
“One of the things we focused on was being affordable. We’re not out to get rich,” says Margaret. “Our goal is to provide affordable, quality care for animals, and a place for people to feel safe and happy to come to.”
They started out with a grooming service in the garage and now offer pet boarding and sitting services, training, grooming, and canine massage and light therapies.
With a fireplace, animal pictures on the walls, and a fish tank, the reception area at Animal Haven has a distinct lodge-like feel. Outside, Steve’s
ranching sensibilities came into play when the couple designed the kennels and dog day care area of the facility, which has a whopping 19 yards.
“It’s built like a stockyard,” Steve explains. Each morning, boarded dogs follow their runs into alleyways where employees sort them into designated play areas where they will spend the day socializing with other dogs of similar size, age, and personality. Steve says this method is comforting to dogs because employees manage them without leashes or picking them up, and it mimics the home environment. “It’s a different way of handling them that’s more positive and hands off,” Steve says. “It encourages them to move rather than forcing them.”
When looking for staff to hire—they now have 10 employees including one who lives full-time on the premises—the Smelsers say they look for a passion for animals first and foremost. After undergoing an extensive interview process to determine personality and a love for animals, employees are selected based on being hard working and trustworthy, having a positive attitude, and being a team player.
Steve and Margaret’s daughter Amber, 12, and son Jarret, 6, both have duties in the office and with the pets. Steve says the joy of doing what they love and working together has strengthened their marriage and family life: “As a family, it’s been a wonderful adventure.”
Animal Haven Lodge & Salon
3027 N. Valley Drive
Pet Boarding (Dogs, Cats, Exotics)
Dog Day Care Obedience Training Grooming
Canine Massage Therapy Canine Light Therapy
Mesilla Valley Pet Resort
Being able to relate to animals more than humans is a common refrain amongst the staff at Mesilla Valley Pet Resort. “It’s easier to connect with some dogs than people,” admits Logen Reed, a pet specialist at the boarding, day care, and training facility.
Manager Shawna Adams was the child always bringing home strays. “I’ve always loved animals,” she says, “and they can love you better than most people can.”
In addition to dog kennels for boarding and a large indoor play area (divided in half to separate large and small dogs), the Pet Resort also offers private areas for cats and birds making it a great pet staycation spot. Cats are released from their three-tier condos in family groups so they can spend time exploring the towers and carpeted windowsills in the Cat Room. The self-contained bird room is climate controlled with humidifiers that mimic a warm, tropical environment.
Birds also enjoy radio music. “If birds are hand-tamed, we will play with them,” Shawna says. “If not, we will keep them company as long as it isn’t stressful for them.”
In the on-site kitchen, staff prepare fresh fruits and vegetables for the birds and the other caged pets that are also welcome at the Pet Resort. Shawna specially trains staff on handling exotic animals and how to be watchful of their health and safety. “The health of pets is very important to us,” she notes.
Shawna is also happy to share her animal expertise with local pet owners. She has earned a large binder full of certificates from Animal Behavior College, an online instruction program that arranges internships with previous graduates. She studies dog training extensively and keeps up with the latest techniques through the college’s continuing education. She offers dog behavior training at the facility including puppy manners class, agility, and obedience classes at various levels. Classes include one free private lesson in the pet owner’s home to troubleshoot behavior issues.
Tori Stewart, another pet specialist, says she’s had a lot of jobs over the years but her current job at MV Pet Resort has been the most rewarding. “People pay me to play with their animals,” she notes. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Mesilla Valley Pet Resort, LLC
2500 W. Amador Avenue 575-523-8853
Pet Boarding (Dogs, Cats, Birds, Exotics) Dog Day Care
Dog Training: Puppy Manners, Obedience, Agility, Advanced Obedience Dog and Bird Grooming
Self Dog Wash
Pet boarding exclusively for cats is available at Better Life Natural Pet Foods. Affectionately dubbed Kat’s Kondos, after owner Kat Lacy, this boarding facility includes three suite-size options, each with a climbing tree or set of steps and a litter box.
Better Life is also an excellent place to buy healthy eats for pets. All the food sold in the store is natural and free of dyes and fillers. They also purchase items exclusively from American manufacturers as often as possible.
“Kat researches all the items sold in the store,” says Amy Gonzales who has worked at Better Life for the past seven years. “She’s a great boss and an all-around animal person. She even lets us bring our own pets to work with us.”
Better Life Natural Pet Foods
365 Avenida de Mesilla
Dog and Cat Grooming
Do-It-Yourself Dog Wash
People pay me to play with their animals. It doesn’t get any better than that.
– Tori Stewart, Mesilla Valley Pet Resort