Dog club is new experience for both mutts and masters

Danny Frost and Alexia Simon Frost, with their dog Leo, are opening a unique new dog daycare and social club on Avenue A. Photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  |    Danny Frost and his wife, Alexia Simon Frost, love toting their bubbly 3-year-old, Leo, around the neighborhood, but they wouldn’t deign to treat him like a baby. And while they’re happy to give him a bath, pat him on the head and offer a few words of endearment, they certainly don’t stoop to coddling him too much.

Why would they? Leo isn’t a toddler; he’s a dog — a Toy Australian Shepherd, to be exact — and he’s growing up just fine without all the superfluous bells and whistles that are often heaped upon his highfalutin counterparts, those pampered pooches of the city.

That’s just one of the reasons why the East Village couple will be unveiling Ruff Club, a members-only dog daycare and human-friendly hangout that they think will be a breath of fresh air for both dogs and their owners.

“The traditional model is basically to place dogs into ‘childcare,’ and the whole atmosphere is very juvenile,” said Frost, 29, who is also a campaign finance attorney. “We want to create an environment in which dogs are treated with individuality and respect, rather than being infantilized.”

Ruff Club, which is currently under construction, is expected to open by early November at 34 Avenue A. Most of the space will go toward a glass-enclosed back area that can hold up to about 40 dogs, all of which will lounge or play under the watchful eyes of animal handlers who will be handpicked and directed by the husband-and-wife team.

But the idea of a different approach to dog daycare also has more human-friendly implications. In addition to all the appropriate canine amenities, the space will feature free Wi-Fi and a social club-like seating area that will cater to local dog owners who want to meet their neighbors, or perhaps just take advantage of the Internet access while relaxing with a complimentary cup of coffee.

“When we were looking at other daycares, we noticed that they didn’t have really any conduits for conversations with other dog people,” said Simon Frost, 29, who was formerly a talent manager in the hospitality industry and is now an East Village dog walker. “This can be a way to create new relationships or share ideas, and it will be the only dog-friendly space we know of in which people can actually get some work done while they wait.”

That tech-centric perspective also includes other unique aspects, like an iPad kiosk at which Ruff Club members will be able to check in if they’re in a hurry while dropping off their dog in the morning. The couple also hope to use a live-streaming Internet feed to host public events that could eventually include practical workshops and lectures from animal experts. And if some owners feel the need to check in on their faithful companions throughout the day, the live stream will also allow them to view the dog daycare area in real time from their computers.

Frost said it took about a year just to find a space suited to realizing their entire business concept, and before signing the lease for 34 Avenue A in June, that address was itself under much community scrutiny.

In keeping with its recent defensive stand against large bars and nightclubs in the East Village, Community Board 3 had in 2011 killed a collaborative attempt — by the owner of Two Boots Pizza and a concert promoter — to turn the then-vacant space into a music venue and restaurant. The lot had been unused since 2010, when its former tenant, the Aces & Eights Saloon, shut down.

Ruff Club’s owners, who have been East Villagers since 2006, have been well aware of current tensions within the neighborhood that have pitted disgruntled longtime residents against high-profile bar owners and the boisterous young crowds that flock to them. But the couple feel confident their business will integrate smoothly into the community.

“We’re proud to be a part of what we consider to be local retail diversity,” Frost said. “We’re going to provide services for people who actually live in the neighborhood, as opposed to people who come just to binge drink on the weekends.”

The community-oriented approach will include a focus on accepting a diverse group of dog owners as members, they explained, to capture the true spirit of the area. In addition to taking what Frost called a “democratic approach” to Ruff Club membership applications, which will be available online within a few weeks, he and his wife will offer a handful of scholarships for low-income families who have rescue or service dogs, as well as those with military, police or fire department backgrounds.

And even though their space is still more than a month away from opening, the couple has already started forming some helpful neighborhood ties. Ruff Club will co-sponsor the 22nd annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade, which will occur Oct. 20 and helps raise funds for maintaining the park’s dog run. The canine club is also partnering with Mighty Mutts, a dog adoption drive based in Union Square Park, and Ollie’s Place, a cat adoption center that will be reopening at its 430 E. Ninth St. location this year.

But as all the business preparations are made, and the couple continue to navigate through East Village politics, they always remember that one of the most enduring ideas behind Ruff Club has been simply to create a more engaging, personal dog daycare experience — one that allows both dogs and people to get the treatment and service they deserve, rather than what’s cutest or least time-consuming.

“A friend of ours once told us that leaving his Jack Russell terrier at a traditional daycare felt like dropping his clothes off at the dry cleaner,” Frost said. “We’re just trying to change that experience.”

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