New Orleans Doggie Daycare Started by Social Worker Helps Anxious Pups Feel At Ease

MaryMac's Doggie Retreat in New Orleans — Louisiana's only Black-owned doggie daycare and spa boutique — has over 700 happy clients and a long waitlist

Courtney McWilliams
Photo: Courtney McWilliams

MaryMac's Doggie Retreat in New Orleans — Louisiana's only Black-owned doggie daycare and spa boutique — started the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with a handful of canine clients and now has over 700 happy recurring customers — plus a waitlist.

The secret to the doggie daycare and spa's success is its owner/founder Courtney McWilliams and her approach to making canine care stress-free for both owner and pooch.

McWilliams, 32, founded MaryMac's Doggie Retreat in 2015 as a pet-sitting service, after always struggling to find a reliable pet sitter for her own dogs.

"Every service I offer is based off of him," McWilliams tells PEOPLE of the Gabbana, her 14-year-old Shih Tzu that used to suffer from severe separation anxiety.

The entrepreneur's other pooch, Bella Rose, who was abandoned on McWilliams's porch at the start of the pandemic, taught her how to handle pets with social anxiety. When the dog first arrived on McWilliams's doorstep, the pup was fearful of all other dogs. Now, with her owner's help, Bella Rose "runs up to any dog and says 'Hi!'"

A trained social worker, McWilliams uses her past experiences assisting anxious and depressed children when crafting her approach to dog care. Instead of opting for a one-size-fits-all model, MaryMac's Doggie Retreat caters to each canine client by taking the time to find what brings each pup peace in a new environment.

Courtney McWilliams
Courtney McWilliams

"If you take an anxious dog into a smaller environment, and you give them hands-on attention, you're going to get a different result," McWilliams says of how her business is catered to calming anxious canines.

McWilliams expanded her offerings in 2020 when she opened her first MaryMac's storefront and started providing grooming services along with doggie daycare and boarding. Initially, business at the new venture was slow, but things picked up due to word of mouth and the essential services McWilliams provided during the pandemic.

"I closed for about a week when we had the pandemic shutdown, but then I realized my business was an essential business because my clients are first responders, essential workers, and professors. They couldn't have their dogs at home while they were working," McWilliams says.

Courtney McWilliams
Courtney McWilliams

Dogs visiting MaryMac's, have access to enrichment activities, large private spaces, small playgroups, individualized attention, confidence-building exercises, and more. McWilliams incorporates all these tools into her business to create a "fear-free" environment that will make pets feel comfortable during their time away from home.

McWilliams human customers have noticed the difference in their dogs, and as a result, have made MaryMac's their go-to destination for pet services. With hundreds of clients and a lengthy waitlist, McWilliams is working on expanding Mary Mac's and offering branded products. She plans to open more MaryMac's Doggie Retreats in cities like Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, Memphis, New York, and Denver.

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"Many of my clients are nervous wrecks too, which might be why their dogs are nervous wrecks," McWilliams says of how her business helps humans and dogs alike. "By the second visit, both the human and their dog are calmer."

Seeing these changes in pooches and people is one of the most rewarding elements of McWilliams's job since her goal with MaryMac's is to inspire people "to be the best dog parents they can be."

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