Must love dogs: the Camp Bow Wow story

How one woman’s vision for better pet care became a game-changer

Heidi Ganahl didn’t exactly set out to rock the pet franchise world; she just wanted better options for her dogs. She and her husband traveled constantly, and she hated the very idea of leaving her animals in some facility where they would lay around on rough concrete floors or be confined in chain-link boxes and be ignored for hours at a time. That’s what most kennels were like in 2000.

For Ganahl’s two fluffy shelter dogs, that just wasn’t good enough. “I knew there were a lot of other people just like me,” Ganahl said.

She opened her first Camp Bow Wow in the Denver area in 2000, and at the time she had no goals for growing and franchising the business. Ganahl thought her first Camp might end up being more of a traditional retail pet store. “But as I started to see the customers, the furry ones and the human ones, enjoy the business so much and enjoy the experience of Camp Bow Wow, I started to get this light bulb.”

How Camp Bow Wow became a franchise

Camp Bow Wow disrupted the kennel business model. It’s the sort of space that we like to think dogs would have designed for themselves if they could have. Ganahl created a unique outfit with protocols and systems that make it easy for franchise owners to duplicate while setting a bar so high that competitors struggle to match.

In 2014 to VCA (Veterinary Clinics of America), a multi-billion dollar network of over 800 animal hospitals and thousands of veterinary professionals across 43 states and Canada, purchased Camp Bow Wow. Backed by the power of VCA’s tremendous knowledge of pet care and deep resources, Camp Bow Wow is perfectly positioned to continue to grow and sustain its market dominance for the long haul.

“They’ve brought so many resources to the table and so many wonderful people who can help us grow the business, especially on the veterinary care side,” Ganahl said.

We’re already a top company in a highly profitable industry, one that’s growing at twice the pace of the national economy and that is predicted to continue that growth trend for the foreseeable future. Ganahl’s savvy decision to join forces with VCA proves that lightning can strike twice.

“I didn’t want to sell the business to any old private equity. I’d rather play with a great name in the pet industry that I trust,” she said. “I still love waking up every day and taking on the next business challenge.”

Our magnificent obsession

Camp Bow Wow and our franchise owners work hard, play hard… and love hard, too. We love dogs so much we can’t bear the thought of them in pain. Charitable giving has always been an informal part of the company, and it became official in 2007 after founder and CEO Heidi Ganahl traveled to Greece when she learned the plight of street dogs there.

“We ended up bringing back 26 Greek dogs, more to raise awareness about their situation than anything, but we fell in love with the people in Greece who were doing the work and trying to save the dogs,” she said.

“We realized we really should create a 501(c)3 and make it a formal part of our business.”

Thus, Bow Wow Buddies Foundation was born. The foundation provides veterinary care grants to low-income families with dogs as well as to rescue organizations and shelters. Franchise owners get involved in their individual communities, fostering dogs and helping them find forever homes, partnering in adoption events and working with shelters and rescue groups to promote spaying and neutering to curb overpopulation. So far, their work has helped find homes for more than 10,000 animals.

In addition to their ongoing programs, franchise owners, and the Foundation also jump at the chance to help during times of crisis. “When the Sandy Hook shootings happened, we all wanted to figure out how to help,” said Ganahl. “We ended up training 4 dogs to be emotional support dogs to be there for the community and to be mascots for healing.

“Because of our knowledge of the human-dog bond and the incredible healing power of animals, we’ve also created a network of therapy dogs and their parents to be deployed around the country in times of crisis or need,” said Ganahl. “Our plans are to tackle overpopulation around the world in the coming years, and help cure canine cancer along the way!”

Camp Bow Wow is positioned at the top of the pack today because one woman refused to accept that it was okay to cage a dog for 18 hours a day. She took a dream at the turn of the millennium and parlayed it into a vision that has provided successful franchises to hundreds, jobs to thousands and, most importantly, transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs.

“Since that time it’s grown beyond my wildest expectations,” Ganahl said. “We have about 3 million dog visits per year. It’s an exciting time for Camp Bow Wow, and things are really taking off.”