If you regularly walk along Castro Street, you've doubtless noticed the cute canines hanging out inside Mudpuppy's Tub & Scrub (536 Castro St.), the neighborhood's dog-bathing and grooming center.
We recently caught up with business partners Daniel Bergerac and Todd Ahlberg to learn more about how Mudpuppy's came to be, how they've evolved over four years in the Castro, and what they've got planned for the future.
Business partners Todd Ahlberg (left), Daniel Bergerac (right), and "Miss Moo."
While Mudpuppy's is approaching four years in the Castro next month, its history goes back more that 15 years, starting in the East Bay. Bergerac first dreamed up the idea of a dog wash when he and his partner took their dogs to the capacious Point Isabel dog park in Richmond. Seeking a convenient way to clean them after they played, Mudpuppy's was born.
"We started with a 12'x28' trailer with four tubs in it," Bergerac said. "We then worked with the Parks Department five years later to create a permanent structure. In 2000, we opened our first Mudpuppy's" at Point Isabel.
The location thrived, and Bergerac and Ahlberg decided to look for a space in San Francisco. "We looked in Noe Valley and other spots, but found the Castro to be our goal," Bergerac said. (Since then, Mudpuppy's has expanded again, with a third location at 2414 Chestnut St. in the Marina.)
When the Castro Mudpuppy's opened in 2011, everything was modeled after the East Bay location. Over time, however, the owners realized they needed to make some changes to better adapt to the neighborhood.
"Our Castro clientele had different needs and expectations," Ahlberg told us. "Owners needed to drop off their pups for longer periods of time, wanted easier ways to schedule, and needed grooming services. We quickly changed our services to match these needs."
Ahlberg said that as features like grooming came in, others, like retail, phased out. "While our East Bay location has a ton of retail need, we didn't want to compete with local Castro pet stores, like Best in Show across the street."
So Mudpuppy's scaled back its retail offerings, adding more space for grooming. "We created an open, welcoming environment where people could see our services, rather than taking the pets back into some closed-off room."
To Bergerac, Mudpuppy's mission extends beyond just washing and grooming, to educating and helping owners. "Owners may not fully understand the bathing, grooming, and health needs of their pets, especially those with breeds that they have not had before," he said. "There are optimal soaps for different skins and coats, brushing requirements, and regular things like nail-cutting that owners don't always realize need to happen. Neglecting some of these things can lead to serious pain for the dog."
Occasionally, groomers and washers have helped identify possible health risks that owners may have missed, such as lumps. "These health warnings have actually saved a couple of dogs in the neighborhood," Bergerac said.
While the focus has always been on washing dogs, Ahlberg has seen a few non-canine clients over the years. "We've done rabbits, and on rare occasions, a cat," he said. The shop tried to offer cat grooming for a brief period, but "that ended with a groomer going to the hospital. It's hard for cats to stay calm in a dog-filled space."
Keeping the peace is the shop's "head of security," a brindle French Bulldog named "Miss Moo." "Her real name is 'Maya,'" Ahlberg says of his 10-year-old pup. "She's smart, fearless, and is in the store all day. She has become quite popular in the neighborhood."
Bergerac and Ahlberg support a number of local groups and organizations, including AbFab, Frameline, and AIDS/LifeCycle. "Mudpuppy's has also hosted dog adoption events and fundraisers in the carriage house behind the store," said Bergerac, who is currently the president of Castro Merchants.
The latest addition to Mudpuppy's offerings is a "Mudpuppy's Express" pick-up and drop-off van. "It's a way of helping reduce the chores and time that an owner has on their plate," Ahlberg said. "It should also help out in the wet winter—owners will get their dog delivered clean and dry." The mobile unit will launch at their Marina location for a few weeks, and then expand to the Castro if all goes according to plan.
For those who enjoy taking their dogs to Point Isabel, Mudpuppy's is planning a renovation to its location there in the first quarter of next year. "The renovation will happen in the first quarter of 2016," Bergerac said. "We're increasing our capacity by 50 percent, and installing the newer tub systems that we have at Castro and Chestnut. The Point Isabel customers really need the services, so we'll be working quickly to get everything finished."
Mudpuppy's is on the hunt for a fourth location as well, though Bergerac and Ahlberg haven't yet decided where they'd like to open next.
For now, they encourage dog owners to visit the store and learn more about the services they provide. For first-time visitors, they suggest scheduling services on a Tuesday or Wednesday, as those days are a little quieter and calmer.
Mudpuppy's Tub & Scrub is open Monday through Friday from 10am-6pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 10am-5pm.
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