For many people, their dog or cat is much more than a pet - it is a much-loved part of the family. There are times, however, when circumstances necessitate putting a four-footed family member in the care of a professional boarding facility. That can produce stress for both the humans who must do so and for the dog or cat that faces a separation from its normal world.
A new option is now available in north central Iowa that promises to provide an exceptional boarding environment for dogs or cats. Sept. 10, Michelle Erickson opened 4-Paws Inn in rural Humboldt County between Humboldt and Hardy at 1911 Quebec Ave. The wooded and landscaped area is part of the farm owned by Michelle and Allen Erickson.
Michelle Erickson has created a boarding facility that is unlike anything available in this part of the state. She said she has been developing the game plan for this venture and learning how to run this type of enterprise successfully for the last five years.
Erickson said her goal was to create an environment that recognizes the unique relationship between animals and the humans who share a home with them.
Focus is family pet
"This is all about the family pet," Erickson said. "This all about that family member. That's what this is all about. ... What I'm after is the extended family member. That's exactly what people think of them as and that's how we want to treat them."
The 7,000-square-foot building that houses 4-Paws Inn was designed by Erickson to create an ideal environment for boarding treasured animals. In developing her plans, she traveled widely to learn what the successful boarding operations elsewhere had to offer.
"I went to some of the top facilities in the country and they told me what they didn't like about their facilities," Erickson said. "I avoided those things. They told me more what they didn't like than what they did like. So we kind of learned from that. ... I even spent part of the day in some of them and watched the people work and talked to their employees."
What emerged is an establishment that consists of 12 suites for dogs, 16 bungalows for dogs and four cat lofts. The floors are ceramic tile and are heated. The premises are air-conditioned. Erickson said the ventilation system is absolutely first-rate.
The luxury suites have beds, sliding glass doors and a patio. They even have TVs to provide the pet with familiar background noise in their temporary home. Erickson said each suite is unique. They are large enough that should a family have multiple dogs used to living and playing together, they can be housed in the same suite. The bungalows are smaller and less expensive, but also feature patios for the dogs.
The cat lofts afford the ability for the animal to climb and enjoy the outdoors in a secure cat area. Those already pleasant accommodations are due for further enhancements.
"We're going to be putting in stair steps ... (so they) can sit in the window." Erickson said. "I also want to do a catwalk all the way around."
Loving personal attention to the needs of the dog or cat is the hallmark of the service at 4-Paws Inn.
"They're used to being petted and talked to," Erickson said, reflecting on how she and her team interact with the animal. "There's a lot of contact. .... And we're going to give extra walks if you want."
She emphasized that she and her team spend quality time with the pet and said the relatively small size of her establishment was intentional with that in mind.
"We want to be kind of small and personal so we can give extra to the dogs," Erickson said. "What this place is basically built and designed for is less stress on an animal when people have to go someplace or want to go someplace."
All dog breeds are welcome at 4-Paws Inn. And they need not be perfect canines.
"I can take problem dogs," Erickson said. "I don't have an issue with that."
In addition to boarding dogs and cats, 4-Paws Inn provides grooming services.
"We have a finishing room and a bathing room," Erickson said. "We can trim, we can cut, we can bathe. ... It's a hydro bath. ... It massages. It takes a lot of that dead skin and pushes it out - and a lot of the dead hair as well."
The facility also has a spacious training room, and Erickson said she envisions that some training services will be offered as the business evolves.
"I would like to get 4-H involved, the 4-H kids, to teach them junior handling and a little bit of obedience training," she said noting that she has done this in the past and wants to do so again "now that I have a facility that I can do that with."
Built her job
Erickson said 4-Paws Inn is a passion realized.
I built myself a job," she said. "But it is a job that I love. ... I'm going to be doing this for quite a while. That's a good thing. ... My grandfather always said, 'Do what you do best.' Me working with dogs, that's what I do best. I've always been able to work with animals."
Erickson's message to potential clients is that they should pay her a visit.
"People have to come and see it," she said. "They are welcome anytime. They do not have to make an appointment."
The usual business hours are Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon and Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m.
The business is still in its infancy, but Erickson said the public response has been excellent. She said 300 people attended the grand opening, which she sees as an indication of significant interest in what 4-Paws Inn has to offer. Even though it has only been open for just a bit more than a month, there are already repeat customers.
"I've had one that's been here three times," she said.
The staff at 4-Paws Inn includes Michelle Erickson; Sherry Carlson, who is a full-time groomer; and Erica Erickson, Allen and Michelle Erickson's daughter, who is a part-time member of the team.
Contact Terrence Dwyer at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org