It’s a cold, rainy day in the city, and your dog is looking at you with those big brown eyes that say, “Play with me . . . or I’ll chew another hole in the carpet.” But it’s getting dark, and the unofficial dog park in your neighborhood doesn’t have a fence—last week, your dog nearly ran out into the street.
If you’re a dog owner in Philadelphia, this scenario may be a familiar one, as it was for local entrepreneurs Katherine Wade and Jameson Gitto. Together, they envisioned a solution: Philly’s first indoor dog park and canine community center.
BarkPark! will be a combination indoor dog park and boarding kennel where they also plan to offer services like grooming, training, and daycare, Wade and Gitto said. The facility will feature a 6,000 square foot park with separate sections for small and large dogs lined with dog-friendly turf grass.
While BarkPark! does not yet have a concrete location, they said that the Fishtown and Point Breeze neighborhoods are promising. They plan to create a realistic facility with affordable services that will help people better integrate owning a dog into city life.
“It’s hard to raise a dog in the city,” Wade said. “More people deserve the unconditional love that a dog has to offer, and we want to make that easier for people. You think you can’t own a dog because you don’t have a yard? Well, come use our yard.”
Wade’s inspiration is a Poodle-mix named Alfie, who she adopted from Philly’s own PAWS in 2011. For Gitto, it’s Kiera, a one year-old German Shepherd Dog. These are their first dogs since moving out on their own. Alfie’s anxiety and Kiera’s energy have proven difficult for the newly-independent dog owners, and BarkPark! will service both of their needs. For Alfie, it’ll be a safe space to learn to make canine friends in a supervised environment. For Kiera, it’ll be somewhere to run and play without the dangers of cars or children.
Wade and Gitto are Temple University graduates who live and work in Philly. A full-time nanny, Wade was interested by an existing concept for childcare: the indoor play space. The Center City location where she’d take her children to play featured an expansive and enriching playground in the basement. She began wondering whether she could create such a space for dogs—the children of the millennial generation, she said.
While they are still fine-tuning the dog park aspect of their business—mainly the fees—they’re considering options from a nominal fee day-pass to tiered plans. For instance, a $5 day of play or a plan that permits owners a certain number of grooms, training sessions, and unlimited dog park access. What they do know for sure is that foster dogs will be able to play for free.
The pair plan to heavily integrate rescue into the business, providing benefits for foster dogs and hosting adoption events. They said 1 percent of their proceeds will benefit the animal shelters of Philadelphia.
“This is something we won’t budge on,” Gitto said. “If an investor came along and offered us all the money we needed but said we had to ditch our donations or adoption events, then we’d just have to ditch that investor.”
They said that investors are a huge part of making the park a reality. To reflect community support and enhance investor interest, Wade and Gitto started a GoFundMe. They urge anyone looking forward to BarkPark! to subscribe to their newsletter or make a donation.
Their efforts are also backed by Blackstone LaunchPad, an entrepreneurial program at their own Temple University, as well as Philly Startup Leaders, a community-based organization for entrepreneurs in the city. Without that sort of community, their project would be, in Gitto’s words, “dead.”
BarkPark! is the result of their love of dogs—and Philly. They said they could easily find the investors to support them in a city like New York, but that they don’t want to be in New York. The two Pocono natives now consider Philly their home.
“You know that phrase, ‘America First?’ Well, we’re ‘Philly First,'” Gitto joked.
Philly dog-owners can anticipate the opening of BarkPark! as early as fall 2017.
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