Now every dog has its daycare

Animal Magnetism on Miller caters to canines.

Long work hours, interminable commutes, flex time, half days – What parent hasn’t struggled to juggle daycare requirements against a busy schedule?

And that’s just for the family pet.

Help is at hand. The business is called Animal Magnetism, but owners Gordon Vittig and Jen Owen are more likely to answer “Doggie Daycare” when they pick up the phone.

“It’s probably the most fun a dog can have,” Vittig said.

Like any good daycare center, this facility – a small house with two fenced yards on Miller Road – emphasizes interactive group play in a wholesome environment.

Would-be participants are carefully evaluated. The initial screening is performed by the partners’ Great Dane. Then Vittig and Owen spend a couple hours with the dog, free of charge, to weed out those with overly aggressive or fearful temperaments.

Doggie daycare is a fairly new concept for the island – Animal Magnetism opened last August – but Vittig says there are about a dozen such facilities in the Seattle area, occupying the niche between pet-sitting services and boarding kennels. “I’m told it’s the fastest growing sector in the pet industry,” she said.

Vittig and Owen met at Exotic Animal Training and Management School in Moorepark, Calif.

After years working as a veterinary tech and then managing a facility specializing in exotic animal education for school children, Owen was just finishing the two-year certificate program in exotic animal training.

Vittig had been selling real estate.

“After a while,” he said, “I found the only thing I could remember about the houses I looked at was what kind of pets they had.”

Taking that as an indicator of career burn-out, he headed for the exotic animal training school as well.

“Jen has a real knack for working with so many different kinds of animals,” Vittig said, “but it’s a nice break for her not to deal with the stress of caged exotics. We didn’t want cages or kennels. We wanted to let the animals interact.”

Pooch paradise

That led them to the idea of opening some kind of daycare facility, and they toured a good part of the country before settling on the Pacific Northwest and Bainbridge Island.

“It seemed like the perfect place to do it,” Vittig said. “When I go to the grocery store, it seems like there’s a dog in every third car. And every month we keep finding there’s even more dogs than we thought.”

It took a while to capitalize their venture. Both worked at Doc’s Marina Grill for several years after moving here to save up enough money.

Although they originally envisioned that most of their clients would be commuters, about 60 percent of their customers are doctors, lawyers and other professionals working out of their homes.

“They have a high-energy little dog, maybe, that’s driving them crazy and making it hard to get any work done,” Vittig said, “or they have a lunch or dinner date in Seattle.

“So their dogs come and play, they get all their beans out here, and then they’re ready to go home and relax.”

Visions of cat condos are next on the horizon for this ambitious couple.

Eventually they would like to do something with exotic animals, too, but that will take a lot of space – about 20 acres, Vittig estimates.

Space restrictions at the current facility mean that, for now, it’s a dog’s life only. The center can take about 30 dogs in good weather, but only about 10 in heavy rain.

The most frequent visitors are Golden Retrievers, with eight current regulars, and an additional handful of the popular Bichon Frises, as well as a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Lab/Catahoula Leopard Dog mix and other rarer breeds.

It’s a good mix, confirms a visiting telephone repairman, whose last job in Tacoma took him to neighborhoods full of Pit Bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers.

Vittig agrees. “The island has been such a friendly place to be.

“Nice people, nice dogs.”

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