Tina Sportschuetz has loved dogs since she was a child.

A native of Germany, Sportschuetz remembers just how special her first dog, Deca, was to her.

"I had horses in Germany and when we moved to America, we got a dog," she said.

The dog helped her adjust to her new surroundings and became a huge part of her life. The Rottweiler-lab mix also helped her reach out to others.

"Deca was a certified therapy dog who visited nursing homes with me regularly," she said.

It started a trend for Sportschuetz. After growing up, she added other dogs, Iza and Madison, to her family. Sportschuetz went to law school and worked as an attorney for a while, but she discovered that she was missing her pooches more than she loved practicing law. That's when she decided to try to transform her love of all things canine into a career.

It was a decision that led to her current business, Puppy Paradise at 133 Center St., St Simons Island.

"We do day care, boarding and training. We have a great dog trainer, Roy Scarborough. He's great with the dogs," she said.

Scarborough says he offers a basic training class first and then allows clients the option of continuing on with their pup's education.

"I basically teach people how to teach their dog. We also touch on health, nutrition and doggie proofing their house for puppies," he said.

On a day-to-day basis, dogs at Puppy Paradise are divided up according to temperament and are allowed to play at will. Several staff members monitor their behavior and also play with them.

"All the dogs go home tired," Sportschuetz said with a laugh.

It seems more and more businesses are going to the dogs lately. And that's because the public is investing more in their furry friends.

Tommy Stark, owner of Tailwaggers, 201 Longview Plaza, St. Simons Island, has experienced pet-centric business trends first hand.

"I've been in it for a long time. I showed dogs and bred dogs back in the early 2000s. But the pet industry really seemed to take off when there was a huge recall of food and a few dogs were dropping dead because of it. A lot of people started moving away from traditional dog food and started making their own," he said.

"But that takes about an hour to prepare a meal for several dogs so a company started to make the food. That was one of the first trends."

Other trends that started were the doggie day cares. It's one that continues to grow.

At Tailwaggers, Stark offers day care, boarding in luxury suites and grooming as well as training. Stark feels the reason behind the surge in the pet industry is fairly simple - animals are part of the family and, as such, people want to give their pets the best life possible.

"A lot of people see their dogs as their kids. They want to do the best they can for them. They're willing to spend the money. They budget for it," he said.

Lynn Klimp agrees. The owner of Island Dog, 410 Mallery St., St. Simons Island, relocated a little over a year ago from her former spot in a kiosk in the Pier Village.

Now she has a larger space to stock with a variety of canine (and a few kitty) treats, leashes and toys. The success of Klimp's business, like that of Sportschuetz and Stark's, depends solely on how people feel about their pets. And Klimp feels the industry has changed because people spend more time with their pets.

"Years ago, most dogs were outside and now most are inside. By being inside one is able to bond so close with the companionship and the love the dog gives us.

"So to sum it up, dogs are doing more with their owners which in turn becomes a very special bond. It's hard to explain to someone who has never had that bond with a dog, but those of us who have - and still do - no explanation needed."

SBlt Reporter Lindsey Adkison writes about business and other local topics. Contact her at ladkison@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 346.

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