What are you passionate about? What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you up at night?
Some of the best companies in the lower mainland are those built on passionate the labour-of-love shops created just because the owner wanted it to happen, rather than needing it to happen.
When it comes to pets, dogs in particular, there’s nothing else that stirs those emotions more strongly for Sylvia MacDonald, the owner of K9 Brite Barks.
That’s right, I scored some time with the boss! Enjoy!
Kelvin: Describe your background – what led you to opening up a dog grooming and teeth cleaning shop in North Vancouver?
Sylvia: I’ve been working with dogs since I was 8 years old, I’ve loved dogs and animals my entire life. I started showing dogs when I was 8. My parents were presidents at the Alberni Valley Kennel Club. By the time I was 15 I became a professional handler. I was handling dogs in the ring, getting paid and working for people. I loved everything about the dog business. At around 16 I started grooming dogs with my own business in my basement. My next door neighbours would bring their dogs over. By the time I was 17 my dad built me a store, I called it The Barking Lot…
Wait, seriously? A dog grooming business called The Barking Lot? That’s incredible.
(Laughs) Yep! At about 20 I moved to Victoria and that’s when I opened up my business training people all over the world in grooming show dogs. The Barking Lot became a post-secondary trade school teaching people proper dog grooming. Then I opened a doggy day care with 7 groomers working for me. Then a retail store.
So it’s your life’s work then. There’s no other way to cut it.
I suppose so! K9 Brite Bark came about when I was grooming and I started hearing stories from people losing their pets to anesthetic when they were put under. It was horrible, sometimes there’s no avoiding it, but it’s just so sad. I started researching and using new tools because you can’t show a dog with bad teeth. So I went into it in further depth and I started volunteering with veterinarians to learn as much as I could. I ultimately decided to sell the Barking Lot to get into teeth cleaning full time. My manager took over and I started promoting anesthetic-free teeth cleaning in the store. After dogs were groomed by The Barking Lot they got their teeth cleaned. From there I opened up K9 Brite Bark in Victoria and the rest is history!
When did K9 open up officially?
I think it was 2002, time flies, wow. Now it’s a full business in different cities, we have 3 stores just in Victoria, one in North Van and one in Duncan. We’re mobile as well, we go to Gibson’s and to Castle Rock once a month. We have 6 stores in Calgary, too. People line up the dogs and we do education sessions with everybody on good oral health, how to hold your dog and how to brush your dog. That’s the whole thing with dental, people just don’t know how to do it and we educate them along with doing the cleaning and polishing.
Let’s talk more about the philosophy behind the business. Why do you believe in anesthetic-free teeth cleaning?
First, I don’t believe every dog should be put under, but sometimes it’s necessary. What we do is determine when it’s not necessary, when the teeth can be cleaned ultrasonically. Sometimes the tartar, isn’t underneath the gum line. We can treat a dog before there are severe problems. It’s non-invasive. A lot of different breeds, the dogs with the pushed-in faces, they can’t go under anesthetic, it’s too hard on them. To be able to take them somewhere where they can get their teeth cleaned is exactly like a human going to the dentist and having the hygienist do your teeth. If there are issues we can’t deal with we send people to a vet right away.
We’re behaviourists as well, that’s the key. We’re trained to work with difficult dogs in different situations. That’s the skill, getting into a dog’s mouth, being gentle to the point where they’ll actually let you do it. Our ultrasonic girls come and they have to have 6 months of training and then there’s a long process. It’s all about handling that dog in a gentle way where the dog actually enjoys it.
Can I call my house The Barking Lot if I get more dogs?
(Laughs) Whatever you need to do, you go for it.