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Making a Paws-itive Change

Nicky Busetti and her dog Chad - Making a Paws-itive Change | BDmag April 2023

As a busy professional with young children, Nicky Busetti’s love of dogs, coupled with a strong sense of guilt, led her to create a family business that provided a fun and enriching environment for the dogs and made her feel good as a pet parent.

Dogtopia Retreat launched in 2016, with just four dogs in attendance in one facility, with all five members of the family working in the business initially. It has now evolved into two centres with an average of over 70 dogs per day, plus a multi-service vet clinic with over 40 team members. Nicky’s son, Colby, works full-time in the business as a manager while her husband and two other children are still intrinsically involved.

“For me, having a young family, I always felt like when I dropped the kids off to day-care, I knew they were safe, and I’d get updates during the day. As a full-time working mum, that was quite comforting,” Nicky says.

“Whereas with the dogs, I always felt guilty about leaving the dogs at home. I’m in the animal industry, I’m in it because I love animals, but my dogs are stuck at home.

“I would get home at six o’clock at night after picking the kids up from day-care, bath them, feed them, it’s now nine o’clock, I’m exhausted, I’ve got to walk the dogs, but I don’t do it.”

Nicky Busetti, founder of Dogtopia Retreat with one of her dogs, Chad.
Dogtopia Retreat’s Founder Nicky Busetti with her dog Chad

With a background in accounting, it was during Nicky’s time working for Greencross Vets founder, Glen Richards, that she became involved in the animal industry. During her time as an Operations Manager for Greencross, she saw an opportunity for a doggie day-care.

“When Greencross moved their Hyde Park clinic to its current location in the Woolcock Centre, there was a space behind there that I felt we needed to utilise,” Nicky recalls.

“I went to Greencross with the idea of a doggie daycare, and they said they weren’t interested. I then proposed to them that I, personally, would lease that space off them and we would run the day-care independently.”

While not a new concept, Nicky wanted to take the doggie day-care model and elevate it to the next level to create an enriching experience for the dogs, not too dissimilar to human childcare. The business was a huge risk, especially for something Nicky admits is a luxury experience and not a necessity for pet parents.

“It probably took us about two years to break even and there were so many learnings to be had in those initial stages,” she says.

“I thought I knew about animal behaviour, and I thought I knew about what we needed to do to cater for pet parents, but I didn’t. For example, doggie day-care is not for every dog. In those early stages, it was about learning how to create an experience for the dog where the dog is happy, not because the owners want it to be there, and they feel bad for leaving it at home.

“It’s about the safety and welfare of the dogs and the safety of our staff. We’re dealing with pack animals, and we must respect that we can’t humanise these dogs, we have to let them be dogs and cater to their needs.”

Fast-forward three years and Dogtopia Retreat is thriving; pup-tronage is consistently full, paving the way for a second facility at My Pet Hub in Kirwan. The one-stop veterinary and doggie day-care facility was built from the ground up by Nicky in partnership with VetPartners.

Dogtopia Retreat, Townsville - image shows staff playing with dogs.
Dogtopia Retreat staff with their canine clientele

There are no signs of business slowing down for Nicky either, with the original Dogtopia Retreat in Hyde Park moving into a new premises, just 1100 metres up the road to 337 Woolcock Street and joining with business partners, Roy Walker and Dr Gina Walker. Moving to a new facility has not only provided a chance for Nicky to apply all the lessons once again, but also an opportunity to shake up the industry.

“Roy, one of the original Operations Managers at Greencross, and I had a conversation about how we see just how in-demand doggie day care is. It’s an industry that doesn’t have a lot of governance and regulation behind it,” Nicky explains.

“Together, we started another company called Petcare Agency. With that, we see the opportunity to open doggie day-care centres nationally. Moreover, what we’re really hoping for is to be able to work with the industry to get some guidelines on how they should be run, how we make them safe, and most importantly keep them enriching and enjoyable for the dogs attending.

“Part of bringing in those standards is also getting training and courses for dog handlers. We’ve established a three-level doggie day-care specific dog-handling course, with levels one and two being taught online and providing the foundations to doghandling.

“Level three, which is currently under construction, will be having placement at Dogtopia Retreat in the new facility on Woolcock Street and we’re working on getting these courses nationally accredited.”

Nicky says that she wants to see Petcare Agency as part of the conversation in making the industry safer for all parties involved. It is after all, she says, one of the most challenging but rewarding jobs you can have.

“Pet parents love bringing their dogs to day-care. These people will do anything for their animals. As a pet parent, it’s so much more comforting knowing that your dog is excited to go to day-care, knowing they’ll have a beautiful and enriching experience than if they were stuck at home.”

Dogtopia Retreat dogs Lenny and Chad
Litter brothers and Dogtopia Retreat clients – Lenny and Chad.

Main image: Nicky Busetti and ‘Chad’.

Image credits: Phil Copp, Phil Copp Photos

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Luke Lum

Luke Lum

Luke is a former radio announcer with over 10 years broadcasting experience. His interests include anything health, fitness, food and travel related. He's an avid runner and a mental health advocate.
Luke Lum

Luke Lum

Luke is a former radio announcer with over 10 years broadcasting experience. His interests include anything health, fitness, food and travel related. He's an avid runner and a mental health advocate.