Queen City’s Bark City
Welcomes Playful Pooches
Story and photos by Ami B. Cadugan / Fiddlehead Contributing Writer
Wildly wagging tails. Exuberant barking and stampeding paws. Just another day at Bark City in downtown Manchester.
The upscale doggy day care, salon and boutique is the brainchild of John Phaneuf, who opened the facility on Hanover Street earlier this year. Pampered pooch patrons enjoy more than 2,000 square feet of cage-free indoor and outdoor play space for fun and napping with their friends.
There are also daily report cards and webcams so owners can make sure their pups are always having a good time.
Daphne, Phaneuf’s friendly French bulldog, not only serves as official greeter but also inspiration for this business venture. She came into Phaneuf’s life almost three years ago while he was attending George Washington University. During that time, they bonded by hanging out in dog parks throughout Washington, D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood.
They were particularly fond of the wide-open spaces, where dogs of all sizes and breeds freely mixed, mingled and played. Not a cage in sight.
When he got back to New Hampshire, Phaneuf looked for an indoor play space for Daphne that would have the same feel as an outdoor dog park. His search led him to pet day cares in Hooksett, Merrimack and close to the airport. But the facility of his dreams did not exist in downtown Manchester.
With a mix of young urbanites and older residents, the city seemed ripe for such a space, he said.
“I was an economics major in college. So, I did some research and found that there was definitely a demand for a doggy day care center in downtown Manchester,” he said. “I determined that the supply part of the equation was going to come from me.”
With some help from his dad, Phaneuf came up with a business plan and remodeled the building to his unique specs. People used to “Sweat to the Oldies” in this former aerobics studio. Now, dogs are getting all the exercise.
“Daphne is the reason behind our cage-free concept,” Phaneuf said. “She’d been boarded before and was miserable being confined inside a cage. She’s much happier roaming around and mixing, mingling and napping with other dogs.
“I figured if a cage-free space would make her happy, it would make other dogs happy, too.” Bark City guests are constantly running back and forth across a wide expanse of bright green Astroturf and darting in and out of a doggy tree house where a sign makes it clear: “No Cats Allowed.”
A large-scale mural of a small-town dog park spans the back wall. Clearly, that outside feeling has been invited in.
It took more than a year to bring his idea to life. During that time, Phaneuf got certified by the International Boarding and Pet Services Association, took pet CPR classes and observed countless dogs at play and rest.
He also found a trove of New Hampshire-made products he thought his canine clients would enjoy, including Lupine Pet collars and Wholistic Pet Organics supplements.
Prior to entering the huge open-concept playroom, potential clients need to pass the “Daphne test,” kicking off the Initial Temperament Consultation. Each dog begins by playing with Phaneuf’s dog to make sure that they have the right ‘tude to get along with others.
According to Phaneuf, “She’s so friendly. If a dog can’t get along with Daphne, they’ll have a hard time getting along with other dogs, too.”
Once staff welcomes the dog, owners can drop off personal items (excluding toys and beds) into their pet’s cubby and then the dogs can join the fray.
On premises is also a French-style bakery, aptly named The Barkery. It features fancy treats as well as classic bones and looks – and smells – like a Parisian boulangerie. Colorful tins of biscuits, a variety of holistic supplements and fashionable dog bowls line the shelves. And it’s easy to mistake the “fur-iendly”macaroons, pup-cakes and cannoli for human snacks.
Currently sourced from the Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, Phaneuf hopes to bake his own treats in the future.
There’s also a full-service grooming facility.
“Our groomer loves to work with dogs toward the end of the day,” he said. “They’re more relaxed then. When their owners come to pick them up, they’re clean, tired and happy. A win-win for all.”
Phaneuf has plans to expand Bark City’s services to include boarding and is also looking forward to participating in community events.
“We’re excited to partner with the Manchester Animal Shelter for the 8th Annual Mutt Strut in September,” he said.
Bark City is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. They offer flexible daily, weekly or monthly “play passes.” Visit online at barkcitynh.com.