You’ve probably heard of the term “godfather” before but what about “dogfather”? That’s the unofficial title of Brian Taylor, the mastermind behind New York City dog grooming business Harlem Doggie Day Spa, who’s loved and respected by pets and people alike, both in Harlem and beyond. And there’s more to this “Dogfather of Harlem” than dog baths and nail trims. Taylor is using his community’s love of pets to make the world a better place, helping struggling pet parents while encouraging Black animal lovers to follow their dreams and launch their own pet companies.
After the pandemic struck, Taylor knew that many pet parents were struggling. He’d also been noticing a lack of diversity in the pet industry. “I don’t know a lot of African Americans who own a pet business,” he says. “We need to inspire more [Black people] to come into the industry.”
That’s why Taylor reached out to the Black Groomers Association and recruited more than 50 groomers to participate in the Pandemic Pup Relief Tour, which kicked off in late July and made stops in New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles and Wilmington, North Carolina.
Providing services while many retail groomers were shut down due to Covid-19, the team groomed hundreds of dogs pro bono. Taylor drove across the country in a rented minivan with the groomers on his team. In each city, the groomers set up for two long days of grooming, working from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. and grooming around 60 pups per day. Then, when it was all over, Taylor and his fellow groomers packed up and set off for the next stop on the tour.
The goal was to spread joy to pet parents who needed it most, Taylor says—but he never expected that life would return the favor.
“I realized that, when you give back, the universe repays you,” he says. “We have a lot of new clients that want to support my business because of all the good work we’ve been doing.”
Taylor, 37, was born in the West African country of Sierra Leone, attended college in Ohio, and moved to New York in 2003 for a banking job with Morgan Chase. For several years, he helped small business owners in his neighborhood set up accounts and manage their finances.
“Whenever I walked down the street, people always had banking questions,” he says.
Though he enjoyed helping people in his community, banking wasn’t his calling. Taylor had always loved dogs, and he often chatted with his neighbors who had pets. To his surprise, he learned that they often had to travel outside Harlem for grooming services, because few businesses offered them locally. His business savvy told him this was an opportunity—both to improve the lives of people and pets in his community, as well as to express his love of pets. So he went to dog-grooming school and discovered he had a knack for it.
“I think grooming is the first service people trust you with when it comes to their animal,” he says. “If they like the look and feel of their dog after they’ve been groomed, they start asking you for other services—and that’s what happened. People started asking, ‘Hey Brian, I’m going on vacation; mind watching my dog for me?’ ‘Hey Brian, I’m at work all day; can you walk my dog?’”
Following his passion for animals and applying his knowledge as a small-business banker, he opened Harlem Doggie Day Spa in 2010. The business gradually evolved into a “full-service pet care provider,” he says, physically expanding to the second level of his commercial space and incorporating an outdoor area.
But Taylor was having trouble retaining employees. Caring for dogs is labor-intensive and turnover was high. So he started working with at-risk youth, showing them the basics of how to bathe, groom and handle dogs in return for “a really good pool of potential employees,” he says.
“We’re a very niche service,” he says. “We were probably the first dog-grooming business in the neighborhood, and we’re the biggest facility and service the most dogs; we service 300 to 400 dogs a month. And I’ve always thought, ‘How can I improve the lives of the community through pets?’ That’s my main thing.”
In 2013, he raised $2,000 for his “No Poop Left Behind” campaign, which allowed for the installation of animal waste disposal stations throughout the neighborhood. The next year, he hosted a doggie Halloween fashion show in which prizes were awarded for the costume that best matched the dog.
Over the years, he’s become a pillar of his community. Taylor lives in the same building as his business and frequents the neighborhood’s shops, bars and restaurants. Now, instead of questions about loans, people ask him about dog-grooming appointments and pick-up services.
The dogs know who he is, too. “They’ll come up to me, lick me, be happy to see me,” he says.
Though his business has grown, Taylor remains a hands-on entrepreneur who has personally groomed some 10,000 dogs over the past decade. Now, he’s planning on hitting the road again in December for a holiday-themed relief tour, stopping in Lafayette, Louisiana, December 4 and 5. (You can follow the Pup Relief Tour on Facebook for info on future cities and dates.) It’s the least he can do, he says, for pet parents who, like him, might need a pick-me-up as 2020 draws to a close.
“Honestly, during the pandemic, this is what saved me,” he says. “The fact that I can come in here and work with the dogs and don’t have to worry about my personal problems, that’s been very helpful to me. And I bet it was helpful to a lot of pet parents.”
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