Off the Leash and Running

By Beacon Staff

If rapid tail wagging was any indication, Benny approved. And he hadn’t even seen the new playroom filled with chewy toys yet.

The 12-year-old shepherd rottweiler mix recently stopped by the remodeled building on Woodland Park Avenue to sniff around his new home away from home. Michael Taylor greeted Benny with a treat and a back scratch.

Benny has been a regular at Off the Leash, Taylor’s “doggy daycare” business in Kalispell. The business recently expanded into a full-fledged one-stop dog shop, adding grooming, bathing and obedience training to Taylor’s daycare.

The grooming service is a business in itself, called Happy Pooch and owned and operated inside Off the Leash by Leslie Gordon, a certified groomer with 750 hours of training at the Pooch Parlor Grooming Academy in Sandpoint, Idaho.

“She’s an awesome groomer,” Taylor said. “We feel fortunate that we have her.”

Taylor was still remodeling the new location and making it dog proof last week, but the finish line was in sight. There will be three self-bathing stations in the front of the business. Two separate playrooms expand throughout the back of the building, where Taylor has added couches, playground accessories and more than enough toys to chew on.

Taylor opened the business almost two years ago after his career as a carpenter fell through with the recession. While searching for a new way to support his family he began volunteering for the Flathead Spay and Neuter Task Force. Being around packs of tail-wagging canines reignited his passion for the animal. Dogs were a big part of Taylor’s family growing up. He still remembers his first pet – a mischievous mutt named Sam.

“He was a troublemaker but we loved him,” Taylor said.

Off the Leash

The main entrance and waiting room of the new Off the Leash location.

He turned his home into an upstart doggy daycare as a way to make ends meet by looking after small dogs while their owners were at work. But pretty soon Taylor’s property was overcrowded with canines.

“I just got to thinking that I could do so much more,” he said. “I wasn’t in a real visible spot. There was a lot of potential but I wasn’t getting it. And I didn’t feel like there was anything like this in the valley.”

In the last six months, he took the risk and pursued an expansion. He went through the licensing process to be able to officially house dogs and also began searching for a groomer. That’s when he found Gordon.

“I thought this would be a really good thing to get in on and so far it has been,” she said. “I love animals. Every animal has its own personality and it’s just fun working with them.”

With Gordon on board, Taylor just needed a site. The Woodland Park Avenue location across the street from the Conrad Sports Complex was worn down and had not been occupied in almost six years, but Taylor saw right through the surface blemishes. Using his carpentry skills and the help of others, the building has been almost completely refurbished.

Taylor isn’t stepping timidly into his new career. By spring he hopes to have the building completely finished, including a landscaped yard with an agility training course. On Saturdays he would like to add a walking club. He said the two local shelters will begin holding adoption days on Saturdays at Off the Leash in the near future.

“It’s not everyday,” he said, “you have an opportunity to start something cool like this.”

For more information about Off the Leash and Happy Pooch, call 890-5028 or 257-2639.

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