Lisa Colcord is a self-professed “lazy dog walker.”
You may disagree when you hear what she walks: a Great Dane, a pit bull and a Maltese poodle — all at the same time.
On one of her walks a few years ago she came up with an idea. Why not have an indoor play yard where dogs can run free, chase toys and make friends with other dogs?
Sure, Fort Wayne has a couple of outdoor dog parks, but her concept was a little different. A staff member would be in the area at all times to bust up any fights, or preferably, look for signs of aggression and defuse it before it starts. And of course, an indoor park would be much more comfortable for the dogs and their humans when it’s 5 degrees outside and the wind is howling or when it’s blistering hot and nary a leaf is moving.
Those initial thoughts are turning into reality as Colcord prepares to open Ruff House, hopefully in late August. The indoor dog play yard is under construction now at 3232 Hillegas Road.
Colcard has never opened a business before, but the idea was gnawing away at her and finally she got serious about it, with the support of her husband and grown children.
She searched the internet and found a similar business in Portland, Oregon, that was doing what she wanted to do. Colcord called the owner, who shared information on how to get started. “That was the seedling,” Colcord said.
To write a business plan, she went online, where she found a wealth of resources. “The internet can be a magical place,” she said.
She also sought advice from SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) and the Northeast Indiana Small Business Development Center. Both helped her fine-tune her business plan.
Colcord ran into her first obstacle when she tried to rent a building. She discovered people didn’t want to rent her a building due to renovations she would need to do.
So she decided to construct a building from the ground up. That 12,000-square-foot building happens to be just across Butler Road from Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control.
That location is no accident or coincidence. She’s been volunteering for the shelter on Wednesday nights since 2010. “I have a rapport with them,” she said. Over the years, she’s learned a lot from shelter employees.
Aside from the indoor play area, Ruff House will offer boarding and doggie day care. It also will have a self-service dog washing area.
But most of the area will be devoted to the dog park. A small area will be set aside for small dogs only.
You may wonder how an indoor area where dogs relieve themselves stays clean, or more importantly, how the malodorous smell is minimized.
Colcord has a plan for that. The artificial turf has sloping and special grading, she said. They will spray an antimicrobial on the turf every night. As for solid waste, she hopes responsible dog owners will pick up their dog’s waste.
To make it as pleasant as possible, Colcord refused to waver on: a top-notch ventilation system, good quality turf and a sprinkler system.
Water stations will be set up for the dogs, and they can bring their own toys from home.
For the humans, WiFi and benches will make their stay more pleasant.
She has not set prices on any of the services yet. Of course all dogs will require paperwork showing they’re up-to-date on their shots.
Aggressive dogs that are a threat to canine and human safety will not be allowed.
But what about the skirmishes? Surely there will be some drama with all those dogs and their personalities interacting with each other.
Colcord says first of all, she hopes the dog owners will be responsible if they see trouble brewing with their dog. An employee will be on the turf at all times. “We definitely want to de-escalate anything that could be heated,” she said. There are ways to redirect behavior and ways to introduce dogs to each other. And if a human is tense, she said, the dogs can sense that and could become tense, too.
She believes having the dogs inside with an employer on the premises will be safer than an outdoor dog park, where people may be afraid to go.
The hours will be 6 a.m.-8 p.m. — early enough for people wanting to drop their dogs off at daycare on their way to work and late enough for people to bring their dogs to the dog park for fun in the evenings.
She expects to start with 5-6 employees and add them as needed. And she anticipates spending a lot of time there at first.
“I expect to have a rollaway cot someplace,” she said.