After leaving their corporate jobs behind, the owners of the boutique-style doggy daycare Barkhouse in Bellevue are getting to live their retirement dream a little early.
As long-term fosters with stray animal adoption for over nine years, Nicole Ladnow and her husband, Doug Ladnow, knew they wanted to retire from corporate life and do something with dogs. Their retirement plans were accelerated when Doug Ladnow was injured on his job as a semi-truck driver and was unable to work. Around the same time, Nicole Ladnow was let go from her job at Kroger in downtown Cincinnati.
Around the year 2000, Doug Ladnow purchased one of the oldest buildings in Bellevue, known as the Bellevue Icehouse, with his father. Little did he know back that the building would one day house Barkhouse.
The building, found at 339 Union Street, was used for storage until they bought out Doug’s father’s half of the ownership and started to make their vision a reality by transforming the space into a boutique-style doggy daycare.
The building was constructed in the 1800s, and horse-drawn carriages would stop by, pick up ice and deliver it to the community, which is how the name Bellevue Icehouse was coined. In the 1980s, the building served as a corner store, where people could stop in to quickly pick up bread or eggs on the way home from work.
The corner store closed and the building became a storage space for the Ladnows, and building required a lot of work to get it in shape for a doggy daycare center.
Nicole Ladnow estimates that she and her husband have put about $180,000 into the building so far. They got all new HVAC systems, electric, and plumbing and are now working on rehabbing the second floor.
Barkhouse officially opened in December 2021. The city of Bellevue took quite a bit of time to approve their business, Ladnow said. Because they are listed as a kennel, the public imagined dogs running around outside and barking throughout the day. That, combined with construction delays, pushed Barkhouse’s opening from the beginning of 2021 to the end.
“Our philosophy has always been that we wanted your dog to feel just like our dogs,” Nicole Ladnow said. “We visited probably 20 to 40 different daycare centers, boarding centers, etc., and we just never found something that we would have been comfortable leaving our dogs.”
She said they want every dog in their care to feel as if they’re at home. To do this, they created a boutique-style daycare, meaning they only accept up to 12 dogs at a time and all of the dogs are in a free roam room to play as they wish; they aren’t stuck in a cage all day.
“We have couches in the back, we have elevated dog beds in the back, we have ramps, we have toys, and then one unique thing that we do have is an indoor facility,” Nicole Ladnow said. “So attached to the playroom is a room that has dog grass, and it has a drain directly into the septic system. And the dogs don’t ever play in there. It’s literally a dog potty room.”
Nicole Ladnow said they believe dogs also need mental stimulation, not just physical stimulation. They have dog puzzles and a full wall projector that plays dog TV.
“We don’t allow the dogs really to sleep,” Nicole Ladnow said. “We keep them stimulated all day long, whether it be through mental stimulation or physical play so that when you do get home with your dog, you have a nice, relaxed, calm pup that either chills with you or naps with you or cuddles with you for the rest of the day.”
She said that constant stimulation sets them apart from other kennels.
The front of Barkhouse is a retail space that sells things they make, like dog leashes, dog collars, and epoxy tumbler cups.
They also acquired their malt beverage license and hope to start selling beer and seltzers in their retail space within the next few weeks for what they are coining “yappy hour.” They have a garage door that they plan to open so that people can stop by as they’re out walking their dog, or if they want to grab a bite to eat and need someone to watch their dog for an hour, they can use that service as well.
Nicole Ladnow also said Barkhouse has a meeting with the city of Bellevue on June 6 to get permission to do overnight boarding.
“We’re not going to be doing overnight boarding with a large number of dogs. Probably no more than five dogs at a time,” Nicole Ladnow said. “But one of the biggest things that we heard from the community was they desperately needed overnight boarding. A lot of facilities in the area are just bursting at the seams with boarding and daycare.”
Overall, the couple is more than happy that their careers — and lives — have veered away from corporate life.
“Every day, my husband and I giggle and laugh and say we’re going to quote-unquote “work” because it doesn’t feel like work,” Nicole Ladnow said. “There’s nothing better than being able to say what do you do for a living? I pet dogs all day.”