Dog Days at Coastal Canines
For Stephanie Skiba, what started out as a fun side gig turned into a full-blown dog-sitting LLC within six years.
“I had no idea how much it would take off,” she said.
Skiba started dog-sitting in in 2016. Looking for an extra source of income while she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, she stumbled across a dog-sitting app called Rover and signed up to work for the company.
At first, her customer base was mainly visitors.
“Lots of people visit Door County, and they can’t leave their dogs in the hotel during the day, or when they get to their Airbnb, they find out it isn’t dog friendly,” Skiba said. So her list of clients was constantly rotating.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused that business model to change. During that time, more locals started working from home – and many owned dogs who were a bit too happy about this change of routine.
“A lot of dogs were so excited to have their parents home that [the owners] couldn’t get any work done” – which led many to look into doggy daycare, Skiba said.
That increased local demand made her decide to switch from working for Rover to starting her own business in 2020. In 2022, she made Coastal Canines an LLC.
Although the pandemic was what drew many local clients to Coastal Canines, others, such as Bonnie Leick, enrolled their pups for different reasons. She originally had two French bulldogs who were inseparable, but when one passed away last year, the other – a 7-year-old named Harper – “lost her spark.”
“She didn’t have any other dog friends up here, and I can only give her so much as a human,” Leick said. “I really needed her to have companionship and be around other dogs and see if that would make her happy.”
It did. At first, Harper was nervous about the new environment, but now, Leick said, “every time we pull up to Stephanie’s house, she gets so excited and just goes crazy.”
Before Leick could “enroll” Harper in Coastal Canines, she, like all other owners, went through a screening process to make sure it would be a good fit for all. That process involves submitting an application through which owners disclose any allergies or behavioral issues their dog might have, then having a two-hour trial visit before owners can schedule a longer stay. At that point, Skiba negotiates a price with the owners that depends on the dog’s size and its needs.
Then the fun starts. Skiba and her two daughters – Amelia, age 5, and Delaney, 12, both homeschooled – start their day in their van, nicknamed the “Drool Bus.” They drive a three-mile circuit in Sturgeon Bay to pick up their local clients before heading to Shiloh Road Bark Park.
Dogs from farther away, such as Harper, are dropped off by their owners. And now Harper visits with her new “little brother,” Oliver, an almost-2-year-old Frenchie whom Leick adopted after enrolling Harper in Coastal Canines.
After about an hour at the park, the Skibas round up the dogs and head back to their home-turned-doggy-day-care in Sturgeon Bay. There, the dogs play in a large, fenced-in backyard or lounge around inside.
Taking care of four to 12 dogs a day isn’t always easy, but Skiba has help. Her husband, Justin, grooms the yard where many of the dogs spend their time, and Amelia and Delaney help her to wrangle their canine clients during the day.
Doing so has been a huge learning experience for the girls. In addition to learning to care for animals, they’ve learned about customer service, graphic design, social media and even taxes.
“During tax season, we’ll talk about things like deductions and where our money is going,” Skiba said. “Then once they’re 14, we can make them employees so they’ll get to manage their money that way.”
Plus, the girls love the continual stream of new and old furry friends, as does their own mini goldendoodle, Vida.
During any given week, Skiba and her daughters take care of about 12 non-regulars (tourists or locals who are heading out of the county for a day or two) and 10 regulars, most of whom stay for about five hours a day. During the years that they’ve been in business, the Skibas have taken care of hundreds of dogs – which is not as crazy as it sounds, according to Skiba.
“People will hear that we have 12 dogs, and they think it’s just a circus, but it’s not,” she said. “We’ll have two hanging out on the couch, a couple more in the backyard, maybe one on the rug in the living room and one at my ankles. It never feels like as much as it is.”
And even when things do get hectic, Skiba’s love for her job makes it worth it.
“I worked as an EMT for a little bit. I worked in a nursing home. I worked with local restaurants,” she said. “But this is definitely the best.”