Any dog owner knows it can be scary to find people you can trust to look after your furry friend, but after stepping inside the inviting entrance to Urban Hound and being greeted with a warm smile from Rebecca Willson, any doubts melt away. Willson founded Urban Hound to create a space where dogs are treated as well as their owners – what started as just a big idea has evolved into two locations (Urban Hound @ Ink just opened in November,) offering boarding, training, day care, walking, and even a “spa” for all your grooming needs. Read further to see how Willson went from a career in graphic design to running her own canine empire.
For college, I went to Northeastern, where I was a Division I athlete. I played field hockey and I was studying english and early childhood education. After graduating, I decided to go into graphic design and got a job at Timbaland first, and later at Clark’s.
To be a graphic designer, you kind of have to go out on your own a little bit, so I decided to do that while I started a dog walking business. I had two dogs of my own while I was working at Clark’s, and I just couldn’t find someone who would show up to my house to walk my dogs reliably. It was so crazy.
I was living in the South End at the time, which is where I started my business, The Urban Hound. For a while, it was just myself walking dogs 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I started with just one dog, and I was quickly walking up to 25 dogs a day
About three years in, I knew I had to hire additional people. I was also doing some dog sitting and in-house boarding, which meant that I was bringing dogs into my house to watch them. It got a little crazy, and the great thing was, my business was all word-of-mouth. I was out on the streets walking dogs every day, which meant I got to meet the mailman, and the restaurant owners, and the shopkeepers all in person. I really grew some roots and it was really special to have those relationships with the neighborhood.
Eight years ago, I got to a point where I decided I wanted to open a luxury dog hotel because I couldn’t keep boarding dogs in my house. The demand was just so incredible from people who wanted the overnight service plus the training, grooming, and daycare. So, I went out to Ohio to dog training school at National Canine and got my direct dog-training certification about a year before the hotel opened. Since we opened the hotel, it’s just been full steam ahead. We’re completely booked every day of the week, be it for training or overnight daycare.
For the future, we’re looking to open at least one other facility within the South End to be able to keep providing our clients with the luxury care their dogs deserve.
In recent years, I’ve kind of had a new inspiration to continue to grow the business. When the hotel first opened, it was a lot of just trying to get through the day-to-day. My whole staff works really hard to get to know every single dog that comes through the door, and that was our real focus in the first few years. Each dog and its owner are completely different, and we spend a lot of time figuring out what each client’s needs are. Now, the past few years have been more focused on taking a breath. I start my day at 3:30 in the morning––I’m an early riser. I typically try to leave the office by 3:30 too, which allows me to get home and reset and be able to dream again. In the beginning it was “dream, dream, dream”, and then we opened the hotel, and it became “work, work, work” non-stop. We’ve reached a place in the business now that I can think about the future and dream again. I’m really excited to think about what’s next.
My big dream is to open a non-profit arm of Urban Hound and to build a sanctuary for senior hounds. That’s really the next step. I lost my senior dog a year ago, and I want to be able to incorporate that and have a branch that focuses on senior dogs. We work really hard in our hotel to make sure senior dogs are extra loved and extra cared for, and we’d love to have a space outside of the city, maybe a farm, where we can really cater to those animals.
—As told to Oset Babur for The Thirty-One Percent