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What started as an occasional pet-sitting service blossomed into a full-service doggie daycare, all because of the love of a shih tzu.
In 2015, Courtney McWilliams, a New Orleans native, was pursuing her master's degree in social work, but her hobby was dog sitting. She related to pet parents' reliance on responsible sitters because her shih tzu, Gabbana, now 14, used to experience separation anxiety, social anxiety, and couldn't be around other dogs.
As a social worker, McWilliams often counseled children with anxiety and depression and wondered if the same techniques could work on dogs. So, taking a leap of faith, she left her master's program to open MaryMac's Doggie Retreat as a full-time venture to cater to other pet parents who needed a trusted guardian for their pups, especially those lovable furballs who needed a little extra attention because of anxiety.
McWilliams uses enrichment activities, individualized attention, and small group settings in a fear-free environment to help doggies adapt not only to the daycare atmosphere but also a new way of life. It's a successful technique she started teaching other doggie daycare and pet owners.
"Dog owners are going back to work and feeling guilty because they have to leave their dog home alone for an extended amount of time. This causes a lot of stress for both the owner and the dog," McWilliams told Nola.com in an entrepreneurial profile. "'Pawrent' guilt and dog separation anxiety is real."
McWilliams started MaryMac's flagship storefront in 2019 with just three clients—now she has more than 700 and an extensive waiting list! Even during the pandemic, her grooming, boarding, and daycare services proved essential to hard-working families. As Louisiana's first Black-owned doggie daycare and spa, McWilliams is grateful for the opportunity to expand her business, too—not only in New Orleans but also throughout the southern U.S.
"MaryMac's Doggie Retreat prides itself on caring for dogs as if they were their own," McWilliams said in her Nola interview.
Also during the pandemic, a homeless dog appeared on her doorstep, and McWilliams' great canine love meant she couldn't turn her away. Now little Bella Rose, a Morkie (which is a Yorkshire terrier and Maltese mix), trots alongside Gabbana and is up for whatever McWilliams has on tap! Because no matter how high her star rises, this active businesswoman is first and foremost a proud dog mama.