December 2008

One Luxurious Kennel

Author: kate hanzalik | Photographer: john brackett

Three Black Dogs on Ulmer Road in Bluffton is what pets and their parents have been waiting for for years. It’s an extended-stay vacation home for animals, offering an array of services from boarding and doggy daycare to training and grooming. With two business-savvy animal enthusiasts as owners and a team of six highly experienced, reputable staff members, it’s certain every single pet will get the attention it deserves.

“The animals need to be clean and safe, and I think that’s the most important thing. Safety comes first,” said co-owner Holly Zusack. “The way we are designed, I really believe the animals are kept safe. Pets are constantly monitored by the staff, and a webcam in the boarding room allows parents and employees to keep tabs at all times.

But a lassiez-faire community is plain to see when you walk in: a tiny black peekapoo puppy (a pet of one of the employees) sits at the front desk, contributing in some way or another; senior pets laze in “executive suites”—single rooms that feature either a comfortable couch, chair or a twin bed, and plush toys; a gaggle of doggie day care dogs spend their days in one of the five spacious fenced-in yards with indoor/outdoor access. Cats reside in the Cat Condo, which has many amenities: an oversized cat tree, a Cleopatra-style couch, a fish tank, and a handful of sparkling clean cages.

Pets need a lot of attention and love and physical contact while they are here away from home,” said Zusack. “Everybody get lots of personal attention, and everybody gets plenty of exercise all the time. There’s always a weekly trainer in house and we have obedience class on the weekends. Sometimes we do boarder training—dogs can be trained while parents are on vacations.” Pets who need some extra TLC can tag along with one of the friendly staff members.

Boarded pets are not socialized for safety reasons, unless requested by the owner. They are each given 4’x10’ kennels and 4’x 8’ outdoor runs. Doggy daycare works a bit differently—pets are commingled in a 20’ x 18’ room, with a spacious outdoor area to run around and live it up.

Three Black Dogs fosters animals from local shelters, and some are ready to take home today. Zusack has spent a lifetime caring for shelter animals, and over the years she developed a strong commitment to caring for pets facing obstacles. In fact, she and Shelly Wine, the co-owner of the business, have taken in their own foster dogs—nine to be exact—all of which rotate from their home to the kennel.

“We like to work with problems because we are small,” said Zusack. “I have experience with biting dogs and dogs who have sicknesses. We had a cat that was boarded in another facility, and they couldn’t manage him anymore; so the owner called me and asked if I would take on this cat who had some special needs. We did take on Charley, and Charley did very well here and lived here for almost two months. He was a very old, very sick cat. We started his treatment and he was seen by the holistic vet and fed certain foods and given certain treatments that made him a little bit better. The pleasure was that he did have a couple great final months.”

The proof is in the poop
Three Black Dogs has been quite successful since it opened in December of 2007, partly because of the approach to managing all of these animals—behavior monitoring is the guiding philosophy, and that includes monitoring just about everything, said Zusack. “If somebody’s barking too much, they’re having a bad day. There are certain things like whether their tails go up, they don’t make eye contact right away. We train our people to look at poop here! We have to look at it. There’s a lot of things that poop tells us!”

But that is not all the staff is trained to do. Danny Capers has spent the past 10 years as a groomer with Groomingdales and PetSmart. Blufftonian Betty Felix, a longtime worker at the Bluffton landfill, makes sure that everybody at Three Black Dogs is clean, safe and happy, and there are several guest trainers with different specialties.

Things every good parent should know
Pick up and delivery of pets is available. A complete shot/medical record must be provided to the kennel. A free day of daycare is offered so the team can monitor pet behaviors and prep the animals for their stay. Educators receive discounts and boarding specials are offered to all rescue animals. Visit, call (843) 706-3456, or stop by the house at 33 Ulmer Road in Bluffton. 

  1. Congrats to “always a winner” and a special lady. Awesome in all ways.

    — DAS    Dec 6, 09:54 am   

  2. A great story about a wonderful, caring place. Three Black Dogs sounds like the place to bring your favorite pet.

    — Bernie DiPasquale    Dec 6, 06:16 pm   

  3. I know these two ladies and know their commitment and concern for the animal are sincere. Three Black Dogs is a great kennel!

    — Johnnie Boyles    Dec 20, 08:09 pm   

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