by Nathan Warner
Nestled at the end of a picturesque winding, wooded driveway in Zimmerman, Just Like Home Canine Bed and Breakfast sits.
The dog-boarding facility rests next door to owner and operator Susan Engelsman’s home, lending it a personal touch of closeness to her everyday life. Engelsman has gone to great lengths to make Just Like Home look and feel like a home.
Years of personal experience with dog boarding facilities prepared Engelsman to open her establishment earlier this year on Memorial Day.
Located near Zimmerman’s Veterans Memorial Park off Highway 169, Just Like Home offers dog boarding, dog day care, a dog bakery, and soon will have dog grooming.
“I’ve worked with dogs all my life, whether in grooming, dog training or puppy-raising for Can Do Canines,” Engelsman says, “and was able to sift out what I liked about boarding and day-care establishments from what I didn’t like.” This unique perspective convinced her to start a boarding and day-care center that truly is Just Like Home.
“I didn’t want a single patch of sterile wall,” she smiled, pointing to the light green paint of the greeting area with dog portraits on the wall painted by her husband, Andy. Fresh décor and plenty of pictures warm the atmosphere of Just Like Home, while a cupboard full of hand-baked dog treats welcomes guests with biscuits, doughnuts, cupcakes and layer cakes that look and smell good enough for human consumption.
Engelsman’s vision for the establishment was partly inspired after an unforgettable experience with a boarding facility in Iowa.
“When my husband and I picked up our dogs, they crawled out of these tiny little kennels shivering and shaking with fear,” she related. “I felt so terrible that I had left them there to be traumatized like that and I cried all the way home. I was determined to never let it happen again, and I wanted to offer a better experience to people who feel the same way about their pets as I do.”
While she searched for a place to accomplish this dream, Engelsman rented for a while before buying a home, to ensure that she found the right location with the right feel where she could live next door. She said it took her nearly a year to find a suitable site to open her facility.
“I wanted to make sure I found the right setting where the animals would feel at home,” she said, “without the anxiety created by many boarding and day-care facilities with their unfriendly sights and sounds that must be upsetting or down-right terrifying to pets who are left there by their owners.”
She said it was very exciting recently to see Lexi, one of her regular day-care customers, jump from her owner’s car, race to the door, and beg to come inside.
“That told me I was doing something right here,” Engelsman laughed.
Just Like Home strives to give visiting dogs as much supervised free rein of the facility as possible, whether playing in the fenced yard with its swimming pool, fire hydrant and trees, or simply wandering around the bakery, kitchen and office. “I want the dogs to spend as little time in their kennels as possible,” Engelsman says, “and I encourage owners to call and check up on their pets as often as they want because that is what I would do.” With each invoice she prepares for her customers, Engelsman adds two photos of the pets doing activities while they were visiting.
The bakery adds another unique feeling to the facility. Before starting Just Like Home, Engelsman baked dog treats for many years and used to take them to craft shows. Now she continues that tradition for her customers.
She bakes traditional treats but in unusual flavors such as cheese and garlic and dipped pumpkin. The frosting on her cakes and doughnuts is made from yogurt and all chocolate is actually dog-safe carob. She says the birthday cakes have a meatloaf consistency and are made with a choice of turkey or beef.
Soft music drifts from the kitchen over the kennel area and Engelsman plays a wide variety of music for the dogs, ranging from classical to country. The main kennel room is bright with warm lilac-painted walls and smells vibrant and clean. Before going to bed each night, the dogs get a home-baked treat and drift off to sleep with the sound of soft music, stories and a prayer. Currently, Just Like Homes has 12 kennels, which is smaller than most facilities, but Engelsman says the size ensures that each pet receives more personal time.
Over the last nine years, Engelsman has been working as a puppy raiser with Can Do Canines, an organization that trains assistance dogs for the disabled, and she says she misses the dog-training aspect of her career, so she’ll often work with the animals under her care if the owners are agreeable to it.
Not all of the dogs she works with have owners. Jasper, one of the four dogs she is currently boarding, is a rescue dog from Midwest Animal Rescue Services (MARS) that Engelsman is fostering until a permanent home can be found for him.
Since opening on Memorial Day, Just Like Home currently has 77 dogs on file, many of whom are repeat customers. “I think we’re off to a great start,” Engelsman said. “The next step is to get a full-time groomer and then we’ll really take off.”
For more information about Just Like Home Canine Bed and Breakfast, visit www.k9justlikehome.com or visit them on Facebook.