Mary Mac’s Doggie Retreat: Home of the Spoiled Dogs
By Kathy Hosler
Photos provided by "Mary Mac's Doggie Retreat"
If you have ever been to or heard about Mardi Gras, you know it is THE place to have fun and party. The guests of Mary Mac’s Doggie Retreat, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, enjoy luxurious accommodations and specialized activities that make every day a paw-ty.
Owner/operator Courtney McWilliams has developed a unique approach to pet care that has proven to be wildly successful. Each dog she accepts gets individualized care and attention, structured playtime and enrichment activities, and a heaping helping of fun and pampering.
She started with just a handful of clients, but in less than two years, Courtney has grown her business to over 1,000 clients with more on a waiting list. Courtney began her career as a social worker who worked mostly with children. In 2015, a friend asked Courtney to pet sit her six dogs. Soon others asked her to care for their pets, and a seed was planted that would change Courtney’s career path and life.
In 2018, she attended a pet convention in Atlanta and met the Dog Gurus out of Texas. They were speaking about the benefits of smaller group play, enrichment activities and specialized markets.
“As a social worker,” says Courtney, “I understand how traumatic anxiety can be for children and found it to be equally true with dogs. I found that as many as 40% of dogs exhibit symptoms of anxiety, and traditional boarding and large daycare settings do not work well for them.”
Courtney decided to combine her social work expertise and her love of dogs to open a business that specializes in caring for pets with anxiety and provides a relaxing experience for them and their owners. That’s where the idea of Mary Mac’s Doggie Retreat, “Home of the Spoiled Dog,” originated.
“’Home of the spoiled dog’ sounds much better than ‘specializes in anxiety,’” says Courtney with her infectious laugh. And adds, “I do not know any spoiled dog that doesn’t have some form of anxiety, do you?”
“My own dogs are prime examples. My Shih Tzu, Gabbana, was a real challenge. He used to have severe separation anxiety and would try to destroy any crate he was put in. And Bella Rose, who was abandoned on my porch, was fearful and anxiety ridden,” she shares.
Courtney put a lot of thought into how her business would be different from others. “Safety for each pooch was uppermost in importance. And making sure the owners had peace of mind when they left their dogs with me was also on the top of the list. Providing individual, structured care for each pooch was a must. And, of course, having plenty of fun was on everyone’s schedule!”
With her plan in place, Courtney knew she could be successful in this niche business, but she faced a huge hurdle—financing. She was turned down for loans by 21 financial institutions. Undaunted, Courtney forged ahead with her plans. She found a commercial space that would be perfect for what she had in mind.
Fueled by a fierce determination, nothing was going to keep Courtney from making her dream a reality. To fund the build-out of Mary Mac’s, this unshakable dynamo continued her job as a social worker during the day, drove Uber at night and did pet sitting on the weekends.
“I completely renovated the facility. Only the windows and the doors are original,” says Courtney. “I installed dropped ceilings, put in soundproofing and firewalls, and added kennels. Of course, I made sure that there is plenty of comfortable furniture so the pups can feel right at home.”
In October of 2019, Mary Mac’s Doggie Retreat, the first black-owned, doggie daycare and spa boutique in Louisiana, opened its doors. Courtney named her business in memory and honor of her mother, Marilyn McWilliams (known to many as “Mary Mac”) who died when Courtney was just 21 years old.
From day one, Courtney gave it her all. Drawing on her years of experience, she was confident that the dogs and their owners would greatly benefit from her methods. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, Courtney evaluates the needs of each dog and then designs care options specifically for their physical and emotional health. Each guest is assigned a personal “Pet Nanny” to ensure individual attention during the specialized enrichment activities and structured playtime.
The services they provide reflect the vision that Courtney had for Mary Mac’s. Everything revolves around reducing a dog’s anxiety while they are away from home and their family. Low-stress daycare with structured play and rest in small groups keeps the pups from being overwhelmed or stressed. All outdoor play activities are always one-on-one with the Pet Nanny.
Traditional overnight boarding as well as specialized puppy and senior boarding options are available. The luxurious grooming and spa services available to the canine guests provide pampering at its best. All the pups at Mary Mac’s embrace the fun and party atmosphere that New Orleans is known for. Jazz music plays during the day and the dogs enjoy “puppuchinos” during “yappy hour” and many other special amenities offered at the facility.
It wasn’t long after they opened that Courtney’s clients were raving about her and Mary Mac’s. Additionally, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are how many other clients found Mary Mac’s. Courtney stays in contact with her clients as she posts lots of content, adorable videos and cute photos of her canine guests having a ball. Her website, www.marymacsdoggieretreat.com, has been hugely instrumental in the growth of the business. Clients can tour the facility, book reservations, select and pay for services, and much more. In addition, Courtney now has a Google ad team and a marketing team and continues to find new ways to market the Mary Mac’s brand.
There are big plans in the works for this inspiring, resourceful innovator. This year she is going to introduce and sell shampoo, conditioner, dog brushes and other grooming products all under the Mary Mac’s name. She also plans to franchise Mary Mac’s and provide her unique approach of caring for spoiled dogs all over the country.
She has recently been featured in People Magazine, USA Today and Yahoo! Entertainment, and she has become a popular industry speaker on a number of business topics.
Courtney McWilliams has faced many difficulties and hurdles on her extraordinary journey to success, but as she overcame them, they became the steppingstones that helped her reach her goal—providing a stress-free, relaxing experience for her canine guests and their owners.