For Carolina Ayala, owner of Furry Paws Dog Day Care in Humboldt Park, small business ownership is a family affair.
“My parents migrated here from Mexico,” Ayala said, “so out of the 50 years they’ve been here, my mother has owned a restaurant for 37 years. There’s multiple businesses myself and my siblings are running — it’s five companies in total. So it’s in our blood to be like, ‘Hey, you gotta boss up and be an entrepreneur and open up your own business.’”
Ayala said her family encouraged her to join the dog day care business when she had her first child. Since then, she’s seen some ups and downs.
“When I first started, the doggy day care industry was very new,” Ayala said. “So skyrocket high and then eventually, throughout the years, it was still high, but then the pandemic hit and we kind of hit rock bottom. People were working from home, people stopped traveling. Day care was more like a luxury, because if I’m at home, why do I need to send my dog to day care?”
Up to that point, Ayala said, she financed Furry Paws on her own — but with the pandemic dip, she began looking for small business support options.
“I was referred to the Verizon Small Digital Grant, and it kind of was one of my first attempts, and I was like, ‘Well, what are the odds of me getting awarded?’” Ayala said. “And long story short, I did get awarded.”
Ayala said the $10,000 grant allowed her to add services like grooming, as well as boost her social media presence. And her clients said those kinds of touches make Furry Paws stand out in a crowded field.
“Being able to see on social media what’s happening at day care and where Freddie is in the picture, the trust has just grown,” said Maggie Donahue, whose dog, Freddie, spends a few days a week in Furry Paws’ care. “Just having a place like this to send him where he loves it and they love him, this is like his family, so I can’t put a price on it. I value this business so much.”
“The reason our neighborhoods survive is because of our small businesses,” said Nicole Smith, who said her dog, Landon, has been at Furry Paws since he was a puppy. “You don’t get the customer service, you don’t get the same love from a big corporation. We wouldn’t be able to have a dog without Furry Paws. We feel so confident in them and just know he’s so loved all day, every day.”
Ayala encourages small business owners to look for outside funding sources to help keep their finances out of the doghouse. The Verizon Small Business Digital Ready grant she received is accepting applications through May 12.
“Small businesses like myself, we don’t really have a lot of resources or platforms and I had to kind of put my pride aside in other words, and start looking for grants,” Ayala said. “That I could work here and run my own business and still be a mother at the same time is, like, my biggest thing — to be able to do what I love and what I’m passionate about and that’s doggy day care.”