This one-stop pooch palace offers everything from canine adventure hikes to winter-appropriate dog gear to pet-adoption services.
Unleashed in the City owner Kate Ferguson describes her business as an “adventure company.” In addition to boarding, daycare, and walking services for dogs, Unleashed in the City offers some uniquely robust options. “The adventure hikes are a lot of fun,” she says. “We go to the beach or forest for those. The dogs are swimming, playing fetch in the water, and running around acres and acres of land. So it’s a lot more stimulating. We’ve told it’s our most energy-draining service—those dogs are coming back pretty tired out!”
How she got started: Ferguson initially took up dog-walking in an effort to avoid the drudgery of office life. “I graduated from university in 2003, and I knew that I wanted to be active and that I didn’t want to sit behind a desk somewhere,” she says. “I just wanted to try it out and I started with three clients. At that time, I was able to go the park for hours and hours, all day. I would see what other dog walkers were doing and I just wanted to give the dogs a much more adventurous activity and really focus on the dog, adjusting my services depending on the dog. I slowly grew it and started getting team members.”
Location, location, location: Ferguson moved Unleashed in the City from its original home in a loft on Sterling Road to its current Queen and Ossington outpost two years ago. “This is where the majority of our clients were and I wanted them to be able to walk to us,” she says. “The community has been amazing and we love our neighbours.”
Ferguson has also turned to the neighbourhood for stocking the retail component of her business. “We like focussing on local people,” she says. “We’ve got a lot of people who make their products around the corner. We’ve got these Mosher coats in, and he makes them right on Crawford. They’re extremely good quality—to be honest, they’re the best coats I’ve seen out there.”
Give your dog the boot: Along with a warm coat—a sweater alone won’t cut it when it’s this cold out—booties are a winter must for your dog, according to Ferguson. “They’re not fun to put on,” she says. “The dogs don’t love them, but they work wonders with the salt. This year, our booties have been flying off the shelf. And there are different options. We have the Ultimate Trail Boot, which are like Sorels for dogs and they’re amazing. That’s from RC Pets, who are a Canadian company. And then we also have the Pawz, which are the balloons everybody uses. And for dogs who really don’t love getting any booties on, we have a cream you can put on to protect them.”
Bigger is actually better, sometimes: Says Fergusion, “Some people assume that, when you’re with a bigger company, all the personalization of care goes out the window, but it’s the opposite with our team. The bigger we get, the better we get, because we keep adding more valuable people to our team. We’ve created a community within our team and our clients.”
Working with a large clientele provides Ferguson with the opportunity to match dogs in packs tailored to their needs and personalities. “[Our staff members] talk every day about every single dog that we have,” says Ferguson. “We meet every morning when we’re creating our packs and discuss, ‘Is this a good fit?’ If a dog requires a little more training, we’re going to match them with [a certain] pack and pack leader. There’s just so much thought that goes into it. We adapt our services every day. With some dogs, we might have to start off with one or two mentor dogs to set a good example of how to walk in a pack. As they grow and learn, then we can introduce more high-energy dogs into that group.”
Not so fast…: Getting started with Unleashed in the City isn’t as simple as dropping by with your dog. “People have gotten mad at us when they just want to bring their dog in but they have to go through the orientation,” says Ferguson. “But it’s just so important to us to get to know every single dog before they enter our packs. And we want [dog owners] to understand that it’s about safety.”
“Those meetings can take over an hour, if not up to two hours,” Ferguson says. “We want to know every little detail about the dog—what its triggers would be, both positively and negatively, how the owner deals with the dog, and their whole school of thought so that we can stay consistent with them. We want to know how socialized it is: Does it go off-leash? Does it go off-leash in non-fenced parks? That would give me a pretty good idea of what their prey-drive and distraction level is like. Have people other than their owners taken them off-leash in non-fenced parks? It’s not just about figuring out the background of the dog, but also figuring out how the owner interacts with their dog.”
Don’t shop, adopt: Last year, Unleashed in the City began hosting adoption events. “We do them with the Moosonee Puppy Rescue,” says Ferguson. “The dogs are from way up north in Attawapiskat and flown down to the rescue organization in Bracebridge. They’re amazing. They’re street dogs and they’re quite mixed—they can be up to seven different breeds. It’s really neat to see how they change everyone’s lives and how their lives are changed, too. It’s a great thing to be part of.”
If you decide to head down to Unleashed in the City, be prepared to add a new member to the family that very day. “If you’re a good fit,” says Ferguson, “it will all happen that day. We have all the dogs loose in the back room, so you can go play with some puppies and watch how they interact together. Then you speak with the volunteers from the rescue, fill out a form and they do a home visit. If you’re a good fit, the dog stays with you that day.”
45 Ossington Ave., 647-345-3306, www.unleashedinthecity.com.