💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

Philly’s oldest doggie daycare is in trouble.

Founded in 1998, Philly Dog School was on an upswing last year. There were waiting lists at three of the shop’s five locations, said co-owner Gary Dawson.

That changed in mid-March. When office workers no longer leave their homes every day, they don’t need much dog-sitting. Demand plummeted, and with it the school’s fortunes. Over the past five months, Dawson said revenue dropped 75%.

Even with a modest PPP loan and some donations from regulars, the longstanding pup-sitting biz already had to close their Northern Liberties and South Street locations. If things don’t pick up soon, owners say the Fairmount spot might be up next.

“It’s just a mess,” Dawson told Billy Penn. “It’s kind of like each day, are we going to have enough to cover the operating costs for that day?”

Sadly, the dog school isn’t alone. More than 250 Philly small businesses shut down permanently between March and July, according to the Inquirer. That’s the case for more than 100k small businesses across the nation, per the Washington Post.

Dawson has been in the pet-sitting game since 2010, when he and two friends bought the Philly Dog School from its previous owner.

Their services span a range, from a 30-minute walk for $20 to a weekend of boarding for $100. It costs $570 for a full month of daycare services for your pooch.

Before the pandemic, the school averaged 120 dogs per day. Now a great day is 50 dogs. Half the staff got laid off, and each of the three owners took a pay cut. One temporarily gave up her salary altogether.

“We’re a skeleton crew, with all the owners working at the daycares now,” Dawson said. “And then we might have to close one more location. We’re at like a week by week thing, trying to make payroll and rent.”

The PPP loan is spent. The neighborhood fundraiser brought in $4k, which covered less than half a week of salaries. Donations are now being accepted donations via Venmo and PayPal and trying to negotiate lower rents with their landlords.

Business is so bad that Dawson is planning to leave the shop in his partners’ hands next month, and look for some kind of construction or other trade work, where he has experience. He had his first son last year, he said and it’s too risky for his family to be without financial security or health insurance right now.

What would help the school survive? The partners are seeking rental assistance or another payroll loan. And there’s the potential for more business when colleges open, since a bunch of regular customers are students and faculty.

Right now, everyone’s going on hope.

“It’s kind of like a family,” Dawson said. “We were doing well and loving what we did. It’s still kind of like a punch in the gut — and it’s out of our control.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...