Going To The Dogs | Taj Ma Dog
When her youngest daughter went off to college, Renee Stevens decided to finally do something just for herself. Stevens dreamed of retiring and starting a new hobby: English bulldog breeding and showcasing. So, she bought four English bulldog puppies, and that is when it all began.
The Stevens household already had two Australian Shepherds, and with the addition of four English bulldogs, the home quickly felt overrun by the family pets. Stevens’ husband, Dave, decided the dogs needed a doghouse where they could live, but Renee was not very excited about the idea.
“I didn’t want to commercialize these dogs and be an irresponsible breeder. I wanted them to feel like they were at home,” Stevens said. “So the agreement I had with my husband was that as long as our dogs could live the same lifestyle in the doghouse as they did at our home, it would be a go, and he agreed.”
Her husband did build her a beautiful doghouse. That 2,700 square foot doghouse included a nursery for her puppies, dog suites, television lounge, and a grooming and training area. When Stevens’ friends saw the size of the doghouse, they quickly encouraged her to generate income by starting a doggy day care facility with dog training and boarding services.
“It took three days to get up the nerve to see what my husband thought of the idea because I had just retired, and now I was thinking of starting up a business,” Stevens said.
Stevens’ husband agreed to turn their new doghouse into a doggy day care business, so the Stevens began reconstructing the building. That is when they came up with the name for their new business.
“My husband and I both agreed the dogs would live the same lifestyle as we did in our home, so I was ordering little chandeliers and little medallions. My husband would joke and say that he was going to go work on the Taj Ma Hall!” Stevens said. “As we were trying to figure out what to name this business, I said, ‘well you keep saying its Taj Ma Hall, why don’t we just call it Taj Ma Dog,’ and the name stuck.”
Taj Ma Dog quickly acquired regular clients. But it turned out that their neighbors were not as excited about the new doggy day care business as they were. After many complaints, the Stevens decided to shut down Taj Ma Dog.
“It was really sad for me because this was my retirement gig,” Stevens said. “This was me closing my eyes and opening them up and saying I just want to play with dogs for the rest of my life!”
Stevens did not want to give up on that dream, so they decided to open Taj Ma Dog in another location that would be better suited for the dog business—across from Washburn Rural High School on Wanamaker Road.
This new Taj Ma Dog is not just a little doghouse for Stevens’ English bulldogs. It is a 7,500 square foot building that sits on 24 private acres. Fifty thousand square feet of outside fencing encloses three private exercise yards. A 1,600 square foot potty pavilion allows the dogs to do their business without having to get their feet wet if it is raining outside. Taj Ma Dog has its own groomer, training arena, television lounge and 42 luxury boarding suites.
“We wanted to create a safe environment for the dogs,” Stevens said. “We have 16 ventilation fans in our boarding suites, so we do not have return air ducts. Air goes out through the ventilation and does not cycle back in. Additionally, we have an ultraviolet system that filters the air and kills the bacteria.”
Not only is the air safe to breathe but their floors are clean as well.
“We have the most extensive drain system ever. We are steel from the ceilings down, and then we have sealed stained concrete on the ground. We have floor drains everywhere in this facility and we clean, sanitize and hose several times a day,” Stevens said.
While the Stevens made sure the new Taj Ma Dog was safe and clean, they also instigated an enrichment program where the dogs are trained to learn good behavior through integrated socializing methods.
“At Taj Ma Dog, we don’t just have babies play with babies because puppies only teach other puppies bad behavior, Stevens said. “We acclimate the puppies with the adolescents so they will learn some manners, and then we take those puppies, and acclimate them with the seniors, where they learn some very valuable lessons.” Taj Ma Dog also integrates dogs of various ages and sizes, separating play groups by personality rather than size.
Stevens says they often have more handlers than dogs, and their philosophy is to keep dogs occupied through a structured enrichment program.
“Our training arena also serves as a play arena where we turn on sprinklers for the dogs to run through and we have swimming pools. So, in the dead of winter, when it is way too cold to play outside, they can play with water inside anywhere in the building. We also have indoor play equipment, tunnels and ramps for the dogs to play with as well,” Stevens said.
From backyard doghouse to Taj Ma Dog, the Stevens have turned a new hobby after retirement into a huge success.
“Taj Ma Dog was never supposed to be a business,” Stevens said. “It was just me closing my eyes and saying this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
The Stevens plan on adding an agility course and sanctioned dock diving to their facility in the near future. They will also soon be living on site when the construction of their new home directly behind Taj Ma Dog is completed.
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