Tails on Trails Puts Paws Down in West Side
Why should human children have all the fun at camp? With the opening of Tails on Trails Doggy Day Camp on February 3 in Jersey City’s West Side neighborhood, dogs will now have a safe place to socialize and be active during the day while their parents are left with the peace of mind that their babies are enjoying themselves while they’re at work. The 12-year-long trail to opening day hasn’t been the easiest walk in the dog park, however, with plenty of twists and turns that would trip up even the most agile border Collie.
From Dog Walker to Camp Counselor
Founder Judy Nunez, a 15-year resident of Jersey City, held a typical corporate desk job in her 20s until suffering a back injury that left her unable to sit for hours without feeling pain. Recovering and no longer able to hold “traditional” office jobs, Nunez searched for alternative ways to make money. She realized that even though she couldn’t sit still – and never wanted to, it’s just not in her nature – walking her dog, Jake, gave her a pleasant reprieve from physical pain.
“At 28, the idea that I couldn’t function and was always in pain was really hard for me physically and mentally,” said Nunez. “But I found when I was walking, I just felt like a normal person.”
That’s when Nunez, young and motivated, took up dog walking to take back her life and body. Six years later in 2012, with her strength regained and empowered to take her career to the next level, Nunez officially founded Tails on Trails, LLC with 12 clients. A week later, Hurricane Sandy hit, devastating the coast and destroying the homes of many Jersey City residents, including 11 of her 12 clients. However, alongside her community rebuilding from Sandy, she rebuilt her business while working multiple jobs, taking care of her mother, and adjusting to life as a single parent. Eventually, in 2019, Tails on Trails had made a name for itself purely through word of mouth as a trusted in-home pet care sitting, cat boarding, and dog walking business with 18 on-staff walkers and countless happy, furry customers around the city. It was then that after years of walking six to eight hours a day, Nunez decided to take a step back and let her employees run with the business for awhile. But…remember how Nunez isn’t one to sit still?
“One night I laid down in bed, things got quiet and I heard this voice say, ‘Hey, you know what would be a good idea? You should open a doggy day camp.’ You should have heard the cackle that came out of me,” said Nunez. “Sure, leave it to me to think of something else to do … and I heard the voice say, ‘Just think about it. Take one foot in front of the other.’ The moment I heard that, I sat back up and my mind just went ‘woosh.’
The next morning, she called her realtor friend to see what she had available, and 48 hours later in mid-October 2019, she had a space secured.
Welcome to the West Side
Nunez was interested in establishing the business outside Downtown in a more underserved area for boutique pet retail and services; the location at 434 West Side Avenue sounded like the perfect fit. The first drive to check out the space down Communipaw and West Side Ave gave her goosebumps, and after seeing the space and meeting her next-door neighbors at Treehouse Coffee Shop, she had a feeling this was it.
“I find when whether it’s God or the universe talking to you, when it’s your path with all the work you put in, gifts do come. You just have to learn to grab them with gusto,” said Nunez.
With gusto is putting it lightly. The 1,000-square-foot space, which hadn’t been unoccupied since 2017 after being the headquarters for Mayor Fulop’s reelection campaign, took just three months to renovate, including knocking down, reinforcing, and painting walls; building a solid wooden separator; and installing the flooring inside, plus building a fence and installing dog-safe AstroTurf in the 875-square-foot backyard outside. By the end of January 2020, Nunez was ready to open up her petal-pink-colored doggy oasis to the community.
Camp is in Session
With the opening day fast approaching and the space looking perfect, the final step is having the dogs and their parents see for themselves what makes Tails on Trails Doggy Day Camp special and different from other daycares.
“There have been doggy daycares forever, but we wanted to make this more boutique-style,” said Nunez. “Our motto has always been personalized pet care. Daycares get into trouble when they overpack, whether it’s with children, dogs, people, it doesn’t matter: too much energy in one space creates problems.”
All dogs must be pre-screened through a personal in-home meet and greet with Nunez and staff to talk through likes, dislikes, and expectations, then evaluated to make sure they are a match for both the camp and the campers already approved to attend. To solve the problem of overcrowding, the space will be limited to 12-17 dogs per day with plenty of time outside to burn off extra energy in the fenced-in, safe backyard lined with Canine Grass that is to be regularly disinfected to avoid creating or spreading disease. There is also a secure space between the separator and double-locked doors that require visitors to be buzzed in, eliminating surprises and accidental escapes.
Nunez is working with day care specialists and dog behaviorists to develop programs to keep the dogs active, thinking, and happy throughout the day. Right now, she is more concerned with getting to know the dogs within the space before slowly integrating activities, like art projects and adding agility equipment to the backyard, that cater to the clientele with input from parents and the community. Nunez also plans to partner with Liberty Humane Society and other local rescue organizations and leave one or more spaces open during the week for shelter dogs to socialize and interact with dogs, taking pressure off the shelters and letting the dog showcase its personality for adoption.
Nunez’s goal for the future is to make the day camp not only a great place for dogs to spend their days, but also a place for the community to gather and decompress. On weekends, Nunez wants to set up benches for dog parents to hang inside with a Treehouse coffee and make it more of a private dog run experience. For now, never-sitting-still Nunez has a lot in her doggy bowl just getting started and welcoming the dogs into the new space, let alone thinking ahead to the next big thing.
The soft opening begins February 3, then open Monday-Friday 9:00-5:00 with pick-ups and drop-offs included. Meet-and-greets are open now and available on weekends, so schedule an appointment at www.tailsontrails.com.
The first community open house will be held on Saturday, February 1 from noon-2:00 in partnership with Treehouse Coffee Shop, Party Pup Info homemade doggy treats, Build Your Pet Bed prize giveaway, and more. Attendees are welcome to bring their well-behaved pups to join in the fun.