Magazine Feature / People

Alumna’s love for dogs breeds million-dollar business

Studies have shown that pet ownership has numerous health benefits, from relieving stress to lowering cholesterol. But for Heidi Ganahl (MHS ’99), dogged affection from her furry friends not only helped the 42-year-old survive a personal tragedy but also inspired a million-dollar idea.

Ganahl and her husband, Bion Flammang, started developing a business plan for Camp Bow Wow — a dog day care and boarding franchise — in 1994. But before the couple could enact their plan, Flammang died in a plane crash.

“My dogs helped remind me that I still had a life to live,” Ganahl says.

Ganahl’s unhappiness was palpable to those around her. Conscious of her suffering, her brother, Patrick Haight, offered to help turn the dream she and Flammang had shared into a reality.

In 2000, using money from a life-insurance settlement following her husband’s death, Ganahl and Haight opened the first Camp Bow Wow location in Denver.

With clean facilitiesreminiscent of a mountain lodge, plenty of room for dogs to play, and live Web-cams for owners to check on their “campers,” Camp Bow Wow has been a hit among animal lovers.

It’s grown into the largest dog day care in the nation. To date, Ganahl has sold more than 200 franchises, doing $30 million in system sales last year alone. Ganahl’s corporation, D.O.G. Development LLC, also launched a new brand, Home Buddies, an in-home pet care service.

“Starting Camp Bow Wow helped her move on with her life. She’s so much happier now than she was 10 years ago,” Haight says.

Ganahl’s business savvy also has earned her a position on the advisory board for the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

“Marketing and branding are clearly strengths that Heidi brings to her business,” says Dennis Ahlburg, dean of the Leeds School. “She is also passionate about entrepreneurship and one’s ability to change the world through best business practices.”

Not surprisingly, changing the world for Ganahl means helping the canine population through the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation. Every year, the foundation gives $50,000 to the Colorado State University veterinary school to fund canine cancer research and donates money to organizations that spay and neuter pets. Camp Bow Wow facilities also take in foster dogs and have helped 2,500 pooches find permanent homes.

“I chose this business because I love dogs and I wanted to grow a brand around something I loved,” says Ganahl. “But what I find most rewarding is the
fact that I have contributed to creating better care for our pets in this country.”

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