Couple open a place to leave the dog for a while

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After a hard day of play, Izzy ran to greet her "dad," David Visser, when he arrived to pick her up from day care.

Izzy, 9 months old, wagged her tail and looked longingly over the counter separating her from Mr. Visser.

"She loves it," said Mr. Visser, of Brownsville. Izzy, his girlfriend's yellow Labrador, had spent the better part of a day at Pavlov's Place in Washington Mall

"She recuperates after this," Mr. Visser said of Izzy's busy day, spent doing what dogs do best: playing, barking and sniffing out the competition for pats on the head.

Washington Mall, down on its heels of late with fewer tenants, has gone to the dogs, or, rather, dogs are coming to the mall.

Bill and DeDe MacTaggart own and operate Pavlov's Place, a boarding and training facility that opened in April in the shopping center.

Amid the 5,000-square-foot Pavlov's Place, dogs are free to romp with others by day or overnight at a cost of $20 a day or $10 for under four hours and $25 for a sleep-over. Pavlov's Place is licensed as a boarding kennel.

"Most of our day care kids come in two or three times a week. You're never going to see a dog [in here] who's tied to a tree. This is for the guy who buys roast beef for his dog and looks for the quality of things," said Mr. MacTaggart, who regularly calls his charges "kids" and their owners "moms and dads."

Six- by eight-foot stalls provide space to stretch out for that much-needed nap after playtime. All the pens are designed, Mr. MacTaggart said, so that he or his wife can reach a hand in to calm a barking or nervous dog. That way, the dog stays socialized, he said.

For playtime, dogs of similar size and behavior are allowed to interact in an open environment.

There's even a 10-foot by 10-foot doggie litter box filled with pine and cedar shavings that is cleaned daily. With puppies unskilled in the finer points of house training, there's the occasional accident, which the MacTaggarts quickly clean up.

"Day care isn't just a place to park your dog. Day care is a place to improve behavior," said Mr. MacTaggart, who, with his wife, raises English mastiffs. It was through their breeding business in North Strabane that they have operated for 13 years that the MacTaggarts conceived the idea of opening a day-care facility.

Mastiff owners suggested the MacTaggarts, who are retired, open a facility to train and board dogs. The MacTaggarts took them up on the idea and began looking for a place. They found the mall best fit their requirements. He approached mall management, which was receptive.

"We more or less went with the idea. It was unique and we thought it would work," said Deb Schumacher, mall property manager. She said there had been no complaints from fellow tenants.

It seems there's more demand for that sort of thing and they treat the dogs very well, Ms. Schumacher said. The MacTaggarts also offer dog training classes, which works out well, she said.

Although the mall clearly has more vacant than occupied space these days, Mr. MacTaggart sees that as a plus for the businessperson looking to lease at an affordable price.

"Since I was little, they told me, 'Give me lemons, I'll make lemonade.' We see it as a business incubator and not as a dying building. I don't see why entrepreneurs aren't willing to take advantage of a lease [at the mall]," said Mr. MacTaggart, a former global account manager for AT&T.

He added that the building has 24-hour security and a sprinkler system. To construct a building with similar amenities would have cost a lot more than leasing at the mall.

The space Pavlov's Place now occupies was last home to Mason's School of Baseball and, before that, the D&K store.

The couple has built up a dedicated clientele of about 50 dog owners who are repeat customers, most of whom heard about the place by word of mouth. There are two things customers say they like best, Mr. MacTaggart said: The 24-hour supervision by a MacTaggart family member -- their two sons also help out -- and private training.

The biggest request, however, is: "I can't make my dog walk on a leash," he said. That's where the couple's training skills come into play.

When it comes to incessant barking, Mr. MacTaggart, said, it's usually because the dog is bored.

"You can get angry about it or you can get creative," said Mr. MacTaggart, who deals with the problem by bringing the dog out for playtime and keeping it busy.

If the MacTaggarts see a dog being dangerous or aggressive, it is separated from the rest of the dogs until they can determine the problem. Then, too, there are those dogs who don't get along with anyone, so they are let out to play by themselves.

Everything at Pavlov's Place is visible to people passing by who view the operation through the large glass front. There are no hidden areas or dark corners.

In addition to the day care operation, the MacTaggarts lease an adjacent space, formerly the Giggles arcade, where they hold shows for prospective owners to check out specific breeds, and seminars to educate people about licensing laws. They conduct seminars on inoculations and obtaining microchip IDs for dogs. There also are plans to offer grooming.

"We try to do things as thoughtfully as we can," he said.

For more information about Pavlov's Place, call 724-222-3647.


Lynda Guydon Taylor can be reached at ltaylor@post-gazette.com or 724-746-8813.


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