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Wags Dog Daycare Salon & Boutique keeps pooches looking, feeling good

Princess, a Pomeranian, is bathed by Larry Boyette, a former Broadway hairstylist. “I’d rather work with animals than with people,” he says.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times\uFEFF

Princess, a Pomeranian, is bathed by Larry Boyette, a former Broadway hairstylist. “I’d rather work with animals than with people,” he says.

ST. PETERSBURG — There's hair on Broadway, and there's the hair on your dog's back. After 17 years of styling the former, and just months of grooming the latter, Larry Boyette has found that they can be much the same.

His supervisor at Wags Dog Daycare Salon & Boutique, Candice Ferris, is a former Realtor and membership sales manager at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club, who observes that canine personalities are often more agreeable than human ones.

And Kevin J. Keogh, who hired both of them, has no regrets after trading careers in the highly public fields of radio station ownership and government to open the business in February.

"It was a business opportunity when it came up, but it happened to be in a business that I liked," said Keogh, whose sultry DJ voice soothes nervous dogs in a former optometrist's office. "Dogs are certainly much less complicated than people."

Keogh is so effusive about the dog business that he chose Valentine's Day to open at 234 Beach Drive NE.

It turns out that in this down economy, this high-end dog care business is doing well. Keogh reports that his first three months have been successful, with appointments for organic flea baths, dematting, massages, facials and "pawdicures" doubling from March to April.

Pinellas County Animal Services says on its Web site that the number of dog licenses dropped from 106,000 in 2004 to 87,000 in 2008. But Keogh says there are enough dogs around town to support his business plans. He has invested $100,000 in renovating the salon, across the street from the Museum of Fine Arts.

Wags sets itself apart by offering natural pet care products, such as organic dog food, fresh baked cookies and aromatherapy sunscreen. The shop's centerpiece offering is dog day care for busy people. It opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m., by appointment, allowing working folks to leave their dog for a day of luxury.

Paula Smith, who lives in Seminole and works downtown, has taken her two dogs, Jazz, a rescued golden retriever, and Angus, a soft-coated wheaten terrier, here for grooming at least once a month since the business opened.

Smith, who works in commercial real estate, said she trimmed her cable and food bills, but not her dog grooming budget.

"If dogs could smile, they'd be grinning ear to ear" after a grooming, Smith said. "The economy may hurt, but pets are pretty special."

At Wags, there are two deep tubs in a spa room, several playrooms with televisions running, and the salon, where Boyette works with a vastly smaller palette of hair products and tools than he used on Broadway. He streams Beethoven or new age music from his iPod during sessions.

"It's not just a haircut. It's just as artistic as what you are doing with people," said Boyette. "I'd rather work with animals than with people."

Boyette was head stylist for the Broadway musical Curtains, starring David Hyde Pierce (perhaps best known as Dr. Niles Crane on NBC's Frasier), when Broadway was struck by the double whammy of the actors' strike and falling ticket sales.

Dismayed, he returned to his native Tampa last year. He met Ferris while both were attending the Academy of Animal Arts in Largo.

"When you deal with these dogs, it makes you feel good," said Ferris. "They are not as demanding as some Vinoy club members."

Reach Luis Perez at lperez@sptimes.com.

Wags Dog Daycare Salon & Boutique keeps pooches looking, feeling good 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 4:30am]
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