Former Wall Street lawyer gives in to puppy love

Ever get sick and tired of your job and crave a change? Tania Isenstein did just that.

A lifelong dog lover and career lawyer, she gave up a high-paying job at Goldman Sachs to buy Camp Canine, a doggie daycare center in New York City… sounds crazy right?

“All my friends looked at me and said that. My parents looked at me and said that. Everybody I knew thought I was pretty nuts for doing this,” Isenstein explained.

After spending 17-years on Wall Street, Isenstein says she was burned out and has always had a passion for dogs.

Tania Isenstein

Tania Isenstein

“The one thing that really makes me happy on a consistent basis is dogs,” Isenstein said, “I’m that crazy lady on the street who goes up to people’s dogs and I talk to the dogs rather than the humans.”

She got the idea to take over a doggy daycare center called Camp Canine down the street from her New York City apartment, but the business was more than just a little “ruff” around the edges.

Isenstein was a customer of Camp Canine, but she didn’t realize how much the business was struggling.

“I didn’t read the Yelp reviews of this place before I took it over and when I read them afterwards, I was horrified…absolutely horrified,” Isenstein explained.

To fix the problems, Isenstein’s goal was to offer the best possible customer service by training employees who could learn things like how to recognize when a dog needs medical attention.

Now Isenstein’s staff is certified by places like the American Red Cross, the International Association of Canine Professionals and New York City, which certifies animal handlers. It paid off recently on Thanksgiving Day when one of Isenstein’s employees realized a dog was not right and helped get it to a vet in time for surgery that likely saved its life.

Finding dedicated employees though, is not easy. In the past, Camp Canine’s entry-level staff was paid a legal minimum wage.

“This is not a minimum wage job, you’re caring for living beings, right? It’s a great responsibility and you need to pay someone for taking a great responsibility. One thing I’ve learned, actually both at Goldman and here is that appreciated employees don’t leave. If you care about your employees I find they care back and they will care more about your business as well,” Isenstein said

Isenstein also started offering some higher-end services, from grooming, to one-on-one walks in Central Park. She also put about $250,000 into renovating the 5,000 square foot rental space.

The changes have paid off. Camp Canine now cares for about 100 dogs a day, up from 40. According to Isenstein, revenues have doubled over the past three years to more than a million dollars a year. The staff has grown from eight people to 35.

Doggie daycare has been a path to riches for some people in recent years. Companies like Camp Bow Wow and Dogtopia have built multi-million dollar businesses with hundreds of franchises, but Isenstein says that’s not for her, “Franchising to me, it takes the love out of it. I spent a long time in a career that I did not love, this means a lot to me and I don’t want to sell it out.”

She has considered opening a second location in New York City but, for now, she’s focused on getting the most out of the current spot. Isenstein is eyeing growth – and differentiation – by using a portion of the space to board cats too.

Being on Manhattan’s Upper West side also has its perks. Camp Canine counts entertainers like Bernadette Peters and Steve Martin among its all-star clientele.. but what really tugs at Isenstein’s heart is a “pet” project of sorts. Camp Canine has made a point to help less privileged pooches. So far, it’s offered foster homes to about 75 rescue dogs before they were adopted. She even adopted one herself, Nacho, a mix who made it to New York after he was rescued on a beach in Puerto Rico.

Tania Isenstein with her client Bernadette Peters

Tania Isenstein with her client Bernadette Peters

“When you take a foster, you free up a spot in a shelter and so you’re saving dogs’ lives,” Isenstein said.

Offering foster care has been good for business too. “People have adopted through us and then they come back here with those dogs,” Isenstein said. Who says you can’t mix business and pleasure?

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