Alissa Bert and Cindy Lang came from two disparate professional backgrounds, but their shared entrepreneurial spirit and love for pups have led them to open Dogtopia, a doggie daycare and boarding service, in Maplewood.
Bert, who previously worked in early childhood special education, approached Lang with the idea of opening a local branch of the Dogtopia franchise in the Twin Cities area. “I was a senior IT director at Travelers Insurance,” Lang says. “And although I’d had really great experiences there, after a long time in corporate America I was ready for a change.”
When she was young, Lang’s father had started his own business. Since then, Lang says that she has been inspired to start her own business too one day. “Alissa and her husband presented me and my husband with this franchise, and we took it from there,” Lang says.
The Woodbury residents opened their Maplewood Dogtopia location in December 2020, despite the COVID pandemic. “We’ve definitely made the best of it,” Bert says. “We have a lot of fun COVID puppies whose pet parents are in the same situation that we’re in; they’re at home doing distance learning, their husbands are at home working and then they have this puppy that’s been eating everything.”
Lang agrees that opening during COVID-19 has had its ups and downs. “We have some people who say, ‘Maybe not daycare because I’m not going to the office,’ and then people who are saying, ‘Oh my gosh I really need daycare because I’m not going to the office,’” Lang says. “And I think so many people did get puppies and are realizing the benefits of the socialization and dogs being with other dogs.”
At Dogtopia, pups spend up to 10 hours a day in open play with other pooches, monitored by trained canine coaches. “We definitely work on a lot of behaviors within the playroom and open play,” Lang says. “So pet parents do see progress and an improvement in behaviors.”
Pet parents can also watch this playtime in real time, thanks to the webcams installed throughout the Dogtopia play area. “Pet parents absolutely love it,” Lang says. “I would say every morning or evening pet parents will say, ‘Oh I saw my dog doing this and it was so funny.’ It’s fun to see your dog enjoying themselves and having fun with other dogs.”
Another element that is unique to Dogtopia is the franchise’s affiliation with the Dogtopia Foundation’s Fetch it Forward program. There are three primary areas that the Dogtopia Foundation supports under this program: youth literacy, employment initiatives for individuals with autism and sponsoring service dogs for veterans.
“Having a service dog can really change veterans’ lives,” Lang explains. “But it does cost a lot of money to train a service dog. So what we’re doing right now is raising money.” Bert and Lang have gotten creative with their fundraising efforts with programs like Makin’ Bacon, a monthly bacon bake with proceeds going to the foundation.
“We’re always trying to do fun things that benefit the dog but then also benefit our foundation,” Bert says. “We’re hoping that in our first year we can raise enough money to sponsor a service dog for a vet.”