Bruce Casalis, founder of the multi-award winning Bruce’s Doggy Day Care, talks to Jane McGowan about his state-of-the-art dog care centre
They say that dogs are a man’s best friend and nowhere is that sentiment more in evidence than in a quiet corner of Cobham where an amiable South African and his trusty team of doggy supervisors spend their days feeding, caring, walking and talking to hundreds of precious pooches.
Welcome to Bruce’s Doggy Day Care, an award-winning facility owned by 32-year-old Bruce Casalis that takes dog-sitting to a whole new level. After being collected from their homes, the dogs can enjoy a range of indoor and outdoor activities including trampolining and swimming, before tucking into a home-cooked meal prepared by an on-site chef. They are then washed and returned home, tired but happy.
It would be easy to dismiss this as just another venture serving owners of over-pampered, cashmere-wearing pooches who spend their days in Gucci handbags. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Bruce’s Doggy Day Care is actually a reasonably priced enterprise run by a genuine dog lover who decided he wanted go that extra mile for his two and four-legged customers.
“We are always striving to be the best and I have high expectations of what customer service should be,” explains Bruce. “A customer who comes just one day a week is just as valued and important to us as someone who brings their dog five days a week.”
In many ways, the centre works just like a school. On arrival, the dogs are separated into fields – just as children are split into classrooms – with the same dogs in the same group with the same supervisor each day. This, says Bruce, gives the dogs a sense of familiarity and enables the carers to get to know each animal individually.
“The carers’ sole job is to be with the dogs,” explains Bruce. “They don’t have to answer the phones or write emails or worry about accounts. They are employed because of their love and passion for dogs. I see the guys in the middle of winter out in the fields and they are there because they love their job, and because they love the dogs.”
Bruce’s passion for what he does is obvious, so it’s surprising to hear that far from having a lifelong desire to start his own dogcare business, the idea sprang from a casual conversation with his cousin when he arrived in London nearly 10 years ago.
“She told me people were being paid to walk other people’s dogs,” he recalls. “I just laughed. I thought it sounded unbelievable.”
But a seed had been sewn and Bruce began to think about the idea more seriously. “I thought, instead of taking them to a park, what if you could take them to your own private park where you’re completely in control of what goes on and what’s in it.”
So, armed with a homemade questionnaire, Bruce embarked on some market research. “Basically, I was walking around Clapham Common grabbing dog walkers and asking them what they wanted from a Day Care facility or a dog walker,” he says.
It wasn’t long before he got his first client and as he strolled around the common, Bruce took the opportunity to hand out homemade business cards to any dog owners he came across. In the space of eight years, Bruce has gone from having sole charge of one dog to managing a workforce of 30 people who between them care for more than 600 pets. He now has two centres, in Cobham and Ripley, and his fleet of vans collects dogs from Teddington in the north to Guildford in the south.
Bruce's Doggy Day Care Cobham 2015
As well as the daycare facility, Bruce offers a boarding service which, in true Bruce style, has the dog’s comfort and happiness very much at its heart.
“The boarding is super-popular but is only open to our daycare users,” says Bruce. “The dogs have their usual daycare routine and then go home with one of our team and live there as a family pet. So no kennels or crates; the guys look after them as if they were part of the family,” he adds.
For the dogs, Bruce’s Doggy Day Care really is a home from home. There are toys and assault courses to keep them active, and heated beds when they need a little rest. And just like in school, there’s a nursery where younger dogs can play safely away from the bigger dogs, receiving plenty of cuddles from the team.
But with all this love in the air, saying goodbye to the dogs must be difficult.
“Oh yeah, that’s the worst part,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons I got my own dog. Right at the start of the business, I had two dogs I was really attached to. Then one of them got cancer and died, and the other went back to America with its owner. I was genuinely heartbroken. I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I need my own dog so it can’t leave.’”
With the business now in its ninth year, the team is welcoming a new generation of canine customers, although Bruce is keen to point out that none of them were conceived at the centres.
“We just love that there are now generations of Doggy Day Care customers,” says Bruce with genuine warmth. “We have a mum and a daughter who come along, and it’s great to add to the family atmosphere.”
While Bruce may have stumbled into the pet care profession, his commitment and devotion to his clients couldn’t be more obvious.
“We have had many owners who say to us, ‘We wouldn’t have been able to get a dog if it wasn’t for you’. For me that’s fantastic because having a dog has clearly brought them a degree of happiness they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise and you’ve got to admit, that’s pretty special.” It is indeed.
- For more information visit brucesdoggydaycare.co.uk
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