Owner of Choo Choo Dog Camp Liz Fortanier opened a little more than a year ago and knew she wanted to grow slowly, but after a year of growing her business by word of mouth, she is expanding her services.
“Things are really going well,” she said. “I purposely wanted to grow slow to really figure out things and make sure things are going the way I had in my mind. I’m finally getting to the point where I can start spreading the word a little more.”
She is now offering training, grooming and petsitting, and the new services are tailored to each client’s needs.
The facility has also added an immediately recognizable trademark—a giant Boston bull terrier—to the outside of the business.
“It can get expensive to board,” she said. “So depending on where they live, I will go to their house and check on their dogs. We go three or four times a day, come for an hour, feed, walk and play with them—whatever [the customer needs].”
Choo Choo opened in January 2011 in the Southside’s old fire station at 25 W. 20th St. Initial services included dog day care and boarding.
Fortanier, who is originally from Holland, is a Pat Miller Level 1-certified trainer and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.
She uses a one-on-one, positive reward-based training system, and her primary goal for the business is to provide the “best no-barking, stress-free and secure environment” at her 7,500-square-foot indoor and outdoor facility.
She currently can keep about 15 or 20 dogs and said she doesn’t see her business keeping more than 30 dogs in one day.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for those in Fortanier’s profession is better than average.
“Employment of animal care and service workers is expected to grow 23 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations,” according to the bureau. “High turnover and rapid employment growth should result in excellent job opportunities for candidates for most positions.”
In 2010, there were 234,900 jobs in the industry.
Another local pet business, Ark Pet Spa and Hotel, recently opened their second location on East Brainerd Road. Recently, the pet spa and hotel began offering training courses for dogs.
Click here to see additional pet boarding businesses in the area.
Fortanier said she sees expansion for the future of her business. She currently has four employees but said she will likely add more as the business grows.
Until then, she’s focusing on providing a good experience for each customer.
"I work with clients—if they need to come earlier, I’ll be here earlier. It’s a customer environment. I think I’ve created a beautiful place," she said.
Updated @ 4:01 p.m. on 06/12/12 to clarify that Fortanier is a Level 1-certified trainer.