by Kera Coyer

On first approach, the Paradise Luxury Pet Estate looks exactly like what it is – a gated, expansive property devoted solely to man’s best friend.  The landscaping and housing are more on par with a country club then a kennel.  On closer inspection, though, one notices that the entire property has been thoughtfully laid out with a dog’s best interests in mind.  Everything, from the fields to the ponds to the rooms, has been set aside as part of the package.

“When we first started Paradise, we wanted to create a safe, loving and sensitive environment for dogs where people could leave them knowing that they would be well-cared for and treated with dignity and respect,” Holly McConnell, founder and owner of Paradise Luxury Pet Estate, says.  “The question we always asked ourselves when making decisions about what to offer, how to set things up, etc. was: ‘What would we want for Ella [our Golden Retriever]?’”

Puppy 101

McConnell and her husband founded Paradise Luxury Pet Estate in July 2006.  She had a background in the pet industry, and had been showing Golden Retrievers for 10 years by the time Paradise opened its doors.  “That first year was rough,” McConnell remembers.  “We started out with our family’s help and only had two additional employees.  In fact, I didn’t even leave the property for the first 165 days – I had to put everything I had into building the business.”

As a result of her dedication, McConnell, with the help of her team, has created a place that specializes in crate-free, cage-free boarding and daycare, and has such a good reputation that it operates primarily on word-of-mouth referrals.  “Our grooming service, for example, is not advertised at all,” McConnell provides.  “Teri does a stellar job and all of the referrals keep her busy.”

In addition to the grooming service, Paradise also offers obedience training classes and “pond parties” – opportunities for owners to play with their pets at ponds without worrying about alligators or any of the other problems normally associated with Florida waterways.

“Like I said before,” McConnell emphasizes, “This whole thing is based around Ella.  We don’t do anything that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing for my own dog.”

Pack Leaders

The business may be Ella-centric, but McConnell must be doing something right. Normal kennel staff turnover rates are around 85 percent, at Paradise, it is 1 percent.

“All of my staff are required to read Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems by Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, before they are allowed to handle the dogs,” She provides.  “They need to know how to be good pack leaders first.”

In a business that caters to up to 60 dogs at any given point in time, dog handling expertise is essential.  As such, the Paradise staff also attends routine training classes and seminars, and tends to work within niches while on duty (large dogs, small dogs, etc.).

“I have the best team and I know I could not do any of it without them,” adds McConnell with a smile.

It has taken her three years to grow her business into what she wants it to be, but McConnell is happy where she is right now, and is looking forward to the future.

Doggie Development

“Other businesses may look at expansion, but in 10 years, I do not think we could offer the same level of service if we added on to the property or started a second location,” she says.  “Personally, I would like to have someone else managing the day-to-day by then, so that I could focus solely on the obedience training seminars, which are my favorite part of what I do right now.”

She takes things day by day, though.  “You have to!” McConnell laughs.  “Working with dogs is like working with small children, you never know what is going to happen.”

Her daily mantra, “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome,” remains true for any entrepreneur, and if followed, it might just lead to what she has…Paradise.