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As animals become beloved family members, F-M sees rise in businesses catering to dogs, cats

Jill Guttormson gives a snack to Rottweiler Salem in the main kennel of Home Away From Home pet boarding and daycare center Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 4
Home Away From Home pet boarding and daycare center is seen Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 4
The cat room of Home Away From Home pet boarding and daycare center is seen Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 4
One of the outside runs of Home Away From Home pet boarding and daycare center is seen Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, in south Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 4

FARGO—Jill Guttormson is willing to work with the problem children other day cares might not accept.

Perhaps it's a young girl with diabetes needing extra medical attention or an anxious loner that requires one-on-one interaction to get over her fears.

Guttormson's new facility in south Fargo meets the needs of all, serving as something like a day care for youngsters, prison for troublemakers and clinic for the ill. That might not sound unique, but it is—her business works with dogs and cats, not humans.

Home Away From Home opened Sept. 1 at 5390 51st Ave. S. It's the lifelong dream of Guttormson, a self-described animal lover and "picky mom" of nine farm pets who said she wanted to open the kind of facility where she'd like to bring her own furry friends.

She said business has been steady so far, a sign that she's not the only one looking for top-notch care for four-legged creatures.

"It's not like before, years ago, when it was just a dog or just a cat," she said. "Now, these are people's kids."

'Part of the family'

The American Pet Products Association estimated Americans would spend $69.36 billion in 2017, with much of the spending on basics like $30 billion on food, $15 billion on supplies and $16.6 billion on veterinary care.

Spending is up from $66.75 billion last year, which was a record after increasing $6 billion from 2015. That means while pet owners still spend more on basic or necessary things, luxury items and optional services are becoming a bigger piece of the industry.

That includes things like pet photography, a niche that Fargo photographer Christina Leigh says makes up about half of her business in addition to taking pictures of homes in the area for real estate listings.

Whether it's a family who wants to make their beloved dog part of the Christmas card photo or an owner of a service animal who never leaves home without their pooch, she said there are many reasons people want their pets in the picture.

Leigh said dogs tend to behave better for photos than young children. Her apron full of treats helps, though she also uses squeak toys and other props to get a pup's attention.

She said she likes to talk with owners before a session to find out about the dog—its nickname, a favorite toy, its preferred treat or kibble.

There are obvious differences between photographing dogs and children, including the futility of saying "cheese" to get a canine's attention. Instead, Leigh switches on her "really girly voice" to ask, "Who wants a treat?" or some other trigger.

"Or I ask the owner what's their favorite word, and one time, this dog's owner said, 'Grandma. You've got to say go to grandma's house,' and then the dog's ears perked up," she said.

Many of Leigh's clients are like her—they don't have children, so pets are their kids.

"They're part of the family," she said.

Looking for more

Rhiana Dawn Gallagher operates one of the newest pet businesses in Fargo, All Fur Paws LLC. The dog grooming shop, 12 Broadway N., opened about a month ago.

Her time in the industry goes back more than a decade to when she was a 16-year-old girl who was a new resident in Fosston, Minn. She always loved animals, so she went to a local vet and asked for a job.

She started as an assistant and eventually was tapped to fill in after a groomer quit. She said she continues to enjoy learning new techniques years later.

She opened All Fur Paws in Fosston eight years ago and relocated it to downtown Fargo when she moved to Moorhead this summer. It's the same work, but Gallagher said urban pooches seem to need different services than her former farm dog clients.

In the country, she said, most humans wanted their dogs shaved down for low-maintenance style, even if it looked odd.

People here tend to be more consistent with bringing their dog in for a regular grooming, she said. Gallagher also gets more requests for "cutesy" cuts in Fargo than she ever did in Fosston.

She likened her one-woman shop to an upscale salon rather than a high-volume, quick-service chain, and said her goal is to make clients—and their humans—relaxed and confident.

"I don't know if they themselves like the haircuts," she said about the dogs. "I hope they do. They prance around pretty happy."

Guttormson, too, said there's an obvious desire here for pet businesses beyond the basic. That's why she installed high-end finishes and products at her facility.

Rather than chain link fences, kennels at Home Away From Home are made with scratch-proof plastic walls, tempered glass doors and epoxy floors.

She said her business is also unique because it offers cat boarding, a relatively rare service. The facility has room for about 100 dogs in a variety of kennel sizes, including 10 VIP kennels that are larger and have their own doggy door leading to a private dog run outside.

Inside the lobby of Home Away From Home, Danica VanDerwerff operates the separately owned Fancy Paws grooming salon, while Prairie Winds Veterinary Center is just across the parking lot.

Guttormson said she's also willing to take on just about any dog or cat, not just the "happy-go-lucky lab puppy." She was a vet tech at Prairie Winds in the past, and said she has the experience and ability to watch and care for a cat that needs asthma medication or a dog recovering from knee surgery. She also can work with anxious dogs or pooches that can't play in groups, she said.

The goal, according to Guttormson, is to make her clients as happy to be with her and the staff as they would be at home.

"It's not just a facility they came into and got put into a kennel and nobody knew their name," she said.

Pet economy

Here are three of the many businesses in Fargo that cater to pets and the humans who love them.

• Home Away From Home, 5390 51st Ave. S.; open 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to noon Sunday; (701) 532-1618 or www.hafhfacility.com.

• Christina Leigh Photography; available by appointment; (701) 425-9304 or www.facebook.com/christinaleighoutdoors.

• All Fur Paws LLC, 12 Broadway N.; available by appointment; (218) 280-8053 or www.facebook.com/allfurpawsfargo.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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