This is a dog-loving neighborhood.
Take a walk at pretty much any time of day, and you’ll run into neighbors out with their pups, and, on just about every block, you’ll meet one or more dogs ‘guarding’ their homes.
It makes sense, then, that there are a lot of dog-related services in the neighborhood, including individuals who are active in dog rescue, the non-profit Cannoli Fund, and — over on Laredo Street, just off South Alamo — Lucy’s Doggy Daycare and Spa.
Lucy's staff and their furry friends
How it all started
A Dallas native, Max graduated from the University of Arizona and worked in the liquor industry, in sales and distribution. He did that for twenty years, with transfers putting him in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Austin and San Antonio.
He began thinking about some kind of dog services business because of his own dog, Lucy, an Australian Shepherd mix. He says he thought about it a lot, and, while he was based in New Orleans, he even looked at a possible location for a dog-bathing service near a popular — but muddy — dog park.
But it all came together for him in San Antonio, where, in a shopping center owned by a relative, he saw space once occupied by a furniture store that was right next to a big grassy area. He realized he could have his own dog park, and combine it with all the other services that dog owners like himself needed and wanted.
That became the first Lucy’s location. He remembers boarding eighteen dogs with a total of eight employees over the first Thanksgiving that he was in operation, in 2005. To continue to invest in Lucy’s growth, Max maintained his corporate job in the liquor industry through 2018. According to Max, he is now “living my dream and working with the pups at Lucy’s full time.”
Like for most businesses, the pandemic has made things challenging. Max tells us that Lucy’s temporarily closed their doors in April 2020 for one month while they evaluated and implemented safety protocols for both their staff and clients. And they made some changes.
First of all, they switched to ‘curb-side’ drop-off and pick-up service, where a Lucy’s staffer comes to your car to pick up your dog. Many clients have told Max that they prefer this new ‘concierge’ service.
This has had some side effects that Max says are really beneficial. Most importantly, he says, they’ve really automated their check-in and check-out processes, moving to a system that relies on texting.
It took a while for that system to get where it is today, but now, when you pull up and text your parking spot to the Lucy’s number, the system recognizes your phone number and connects it to your dog’s record in their database. Immediately, all the right staff people get notified.
So, for example, if you’re picking up your dog at the end of the day, the system automatically informs the park attendants and the kennel attendants. There’s no more need for the desk staff to radio everyone and tell them ‘Micky in number 62 is going home.”
In general, people like the concierge service, Max believes. Nonetheless, once it’s safe to re-open the lobby, Max says he plans to let customers choose whether they prefer to come inside or to continue using the concierge service.
The recent surge of the Omicron virus has hit people all across Texas, and it’s making staffing hard for everyone. Lucy’s is no exception.
“But we saw it coming,” Max says. “When we saw what was happening in New York, we immediately started making adjustments.”
Max says that they quickly reduced the number of reservations they would accept, and, since this was so close to the holidays with a lot of reservations already made, they simply didn’t re-fill reservations that got cancelled. During the holidays they are always at full capacity, but this year they only accepted reservations that brought them to less than two-thirds of that capacity — “We just won’t take more than we can handle responsibly,” Max says.
'Lucy's Lends a Paw'
Max’s dog Lucy was a rescue, and Max says he’s committed to helping other dogs like her. He’s established a formal program for that, which he calls ‘Lucy's Lends a Paw’. The program has several major components.
First, all Lucy’s staffers are paid for spending up to eight hours each year as volunteers for various dog rescue organizations. One of Lucy’s customer families, the Seldners, has partnered with Lucy's in this program, in memory of their own pups, Clemson and Lulu.
Second, if you are fostering a dog and you’re bringing your own dog into Lucy’s for daycare or boarding, you can bring the foster along at no charge.
Third, Lucy’s takes in individual dogs from shelters and rescues, boards them and nurses them back to health if needed, in preparation for finding them the right home. Right now, they are taking care of Matilda, a sweet girl who was in dire need and on the euthanasia list at ACS. Lucy’s has partnered with Traveling Tails Veterinary Clinic to nurse her back to health, and is working with Gods Dog Rescue to find her a new family. Max tells me “she has absolutely stolen our hearts.”
Lucy’s regularly bathes and pampers foster pups from local rescues as they are getting ready to join their new families.
And Lucy’s sponsors an annual campaign to raise money for the San Antonio Humane Society. Max tells us that since 2011 that campaign has raised over $95,000.
And last year, Lucy's “paid forward” 100% of the dollars clients donated to the Employee Covid Relief Fund that was established to assist Lucy's staffers who were temporarily out of work. Lucy’s has since donated an equal amount of those total donations -- over $7,000 -- to six local animal rescue organizations.
You can feel good about doing business with Lucy’s because you’ll know that part of what you are spending is going to help pups in need.
937 S Laredo St.
San Antonio TX, 78204
Monday - Friday 6:30am - 8pm
Saturday - Sunday 8am - 5pm
The pups have fun
Lucy’s is a big facility with a boarding capacity of hundreds of dogs. In addition to boarding, it also offers daycare programs and grooming services.
I’ve been taking my pup, Micky, to Lucy’s since the downtown location opened. Originally, I dropped him off at daycare for a few mornings each month, just to give him a chance to interact with other dogs. I also wanted to get him comfortable with the facility and the staff, so I could board him when my travel made it necessary. And that worked — he was very comfortable there and made it clear he enjoyed it. He would get excited as we approached Lucy’s, he’d be eager to jump out of the car, and he greeted all his human friends there with lots of tail wags.
Later, for a period of several years, I worked on a project that required me to spend five days a week in the client’s office, so Micky spent every weekday in daycare at Lucy’s.
Lucy’s Doggy Daycare has become a pretty big operation.
The location on Laredo Street is one of three in the city. It was the second to open, back in 2011. The first was out on Thousand Oaks, and the latest is a really big facility out on 1604 between Vance Jackson and Lockhilll Selma. The first two facilities re-purposed existing, unused buildings. The new one was purpose-built.
Today according to owner Max Golman, Lucy's employs about 160 people and has a boarding capacity of more than 500 pups between all locations.
Over the years, what has impressed me most about Lucy’s is the staff, and there are two things about them that, to me, really stand out: First, how they genuinely seem to care about dogs, and second, the longevity of the staff I’ve dealt with.
I asked Max about that. He told me that it’s a demanding job and people don’t stay with it if they don’t like it. “People last either two weeks or ten years,” he quipped. “Our people really love dogs, and that’s not something you can ‘train’ someone to do.”
Newly-hired staff goes through a ten-day training period, where they learn how to handle the tasks in each area of the operation. They also learn CPR and dog first aid. Most importantly, he says, they learn Lucy’s ‘core values’. The core values are important, Max said, because they help people make decisions. They tell people what to prioritize.
The top priority, he says, is safety.
“We have these dogs' lives in our hands, and we take it very seriously. Our team has a 'not on my watch' mentality. If something happens with a dog, it hurts us. We don’t want to see Micky hurt. We don’t want to see Micky struggle.”
Knowing that’s the top priority makes it easier to deal with some situations, Max says, for example, when a dog comes in with an injury and a customer requests that their dog be out in the play area. Customer experience is the second priority, Max says; the dog’s safety comes first, so that request would be turned down.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.