How this retired special agent created a dog paradise from an empty lot

Maurice has always poured tremendous energy into helping those in need.

He chose a career that took on some of the most difficult challenges anywhere as a special agent with Homeland Security investigations. He was supervisory special agent of the child exploitation group for 13 years, after working as a narcotics agent, and serving seven years in the military. Over time the difficult investigations really weighed on him. A series of serendipitous events brought Maurice to his next cause.

“Investigations were getting to me a little bit and I was just getting a little burnt out,” Maurice explained. “I was talking to some people and they were like, you know, you need a dog!” 

Still, Maurice wasn’t convinced, until he heard about a local animal abuse case that he couldn’t get out of his head. After telling his daughter about it, she asked if they could rescue the dog, to which Maurice agreed under one major stipulation: that she contact those involved and find out what it would take to bring the dog home. To his surprise, she did just that, and a short time later Maurice met June, now Junebug, who he fell in love with at first sight.

When you know something’s meant to be

From there, a string of unfolding events occurred, including finding a dream location, and hearing about Sniffspot, which connects him with potential visitors. While looking for a home to share together with enough room for their daughters and three dogs, Maurice and his girlfriend were amazed to visit a property with a pleasant surprise in store for them. “I find this place. And the part of my property which is the dog part wasn't even in the advertisement for the house,” Maurice said. “There was this whole other quarter acre behind the house – it was an open area just covered in weeds and dog crap from the former owner. And you know, I loved it, I just saw all the potential in it.” 

The pair put in an offer but after being outbid began to move on, assuming it just wasn’t meant to be. A short time later Maurice got a call saying that the other offer fell through, and the house was theirs if they still wanted it. They confirmed immediately!

Providing an alternative option to dog parks

Meanwhile, Maurice was adding to his dog family and was having non-ideal experiences at a nearby dog park. “We have a bunch of dogs now and I want to socialize them, so I was taking them to dog parks,” Maurice said. “But Junebug got attacked a couple of times, and I thought, wait, I have a big enough yard, we have other dogs, I really don’t need to take her to dog parks anymore.” This realization, and the access to newfound, wide open space, came early on into the pandemic, which limited socializing in all areas of life anyhow. The timing of everything made his future plans crystal clear. “The pandemic was happening, and we saw Sniffspot, kind of like, within months of each other,” he added. “So we were here and I was like, you know what I can do that? Right? And then it just started.” 

And so, Phuggly’s was born. Clearing was done a little at a time, trash was hauled out by the truck load, and fencing around the perimeter of the property was put up. His updates to the space include a small cabin, a gym, and two gazebos with seating in the shade, one of which has lighting to keep the space illuminated. Noticing that some of his neighbors with dogs suddenly didn’t have an open space to run and exercise their dogs amid the pandemic, Maurice and his crew looked into ideas that might make a dog park attractive to people, searching Pinterest and Sniffspot to see what other petcare facilitators offer, and asking those around them what they value in a space, and making those adjustments over time. “It was a huge project,” Maurice explained. “I'm retired so you know for me, every day was a work day. I was probably at Home Depot every day.”

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Creating a Disneyland for dogs   

One thing that Maurice noticed was that dog parks didn’t offer the most comfortable seating for canine guardians to rest in while their dogs played. “I would go to a dog park and it wasn't really comfortable,” he said. “The chairs weren't that comfortable or you know, there just really weren't amenities, and places you could sit were usually out in the sun.” Using his own experience as a dog park patron, Maurice made sure to provide comfortable seating with options in the shade for people to enjoy a number of things, from eating lunch to taking Zoom calls, all while their dogs exercise around them. 

A volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, Maurice also shopped at their Re-Store for a few staple items at affordable prices, including a picnic table, which he refurbished. Stairs enforced with handrails were added to allow for easy commuting up and down the hill on the property, and fun toys for the dogs, like a teeter totter, was built by him to enhance the space. Additionally, entrances marked with signs in both English and Spanish makes the area welcoming and easy for visitors to spot. 

Maurice credits a lot of his success to the fact that he can offer a fairly secluded spot for dog owners to bring their pets, which can look and feel as if they were enjoying an afternoon in their own backyard. “Because it's so secluded and I think they really feel like it’s their place,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll see people in the shade and they have their kids and they have their lunch and it's a place that I would want to be, especially if I had an apartment and didn't have anywhere to go enjoy peace and quiet with my dog.” 

The benefits of Sniffspot 

Before opening up for business, Maurice was caught up on one thing – liability. After considering renting his cleared space for personal trainers to host hourly sessions, which he ultimately decided against. “The thing holding me back really was the insurance,” he explained. “I called my insurance agent and I said hey, I'm thinking about doing this, and then I read more into Sniffspot’s policy and you guys provide $2,000,000 insurance.” The coverage allowed Maurice to rest assured that all visits would be safe and enjoyable for all, offering him the ultimate peace of mind.

Once he opened his doors to visitors, he found the experience to be relatively seamless, collaborative, and mutually beneficial for everyone, canine friends included. “It's a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” he said, of the ease in booking, and general hands-off service most of his visitors seem to prefer. People have been super nice, cleaning up after themselves, you know, and taking care of the place. I'm down here every day to clean, I clean up after my own dog and make sure everything is ready for them to come. And people have been understanding, especially when I first started doing it. You know, I would make mistakes, but I got a lot of the bugs figured out, and little by little, just trying to improve it.” 

Thanks to a few hard rules listed by Sniffspot, Maurice hasn’t had to worry much about keeping his investment, and home, in stellar shape. “I think that it comes back to you guys, I think the way you advertise,” Maurice said, of how he ensures that his space is treated with care and respect. “The rules are right there, it's it's, and it's pretty plain to see. I haven't had any problems with that.” Making things easy for visitors to succeed, like providing a trash can and waste bags, has only made things easier for everyone. 

Plans for the future 

With a lot of changes to his space, and a few solid months of hosting under his belt, Maurice has plans to add amenities, just in time for summer 2021. “I'll make sure I have the little doggie wading pool, you know, available all the time,” he said. Maurice plans to add even more seating and lighting, and also offers Bluetooth speakers for guests to use if they want to enjoy a little music outside. He also aims to continue to offer personal touches for his visitors that set him apart, like displaying welcome signs with the names of his guests, canine visitors included, written clearly, as if to say “you’re home.” 

Maurice will continue to help dogs by providing a safe, secluded space for dogs to play, and for their guardians to rest easy amid peace and quiet. After leaving a career where he had to deal with dark situations, it’s beautiful to be able to be involved the positive energy of Sniffspot. The reward for him, as Maurice puts it: “I'm getting the feedback from people, just seeing the reviews and how happy people are is the best.”

Interested in hosting?

Learn more here about your land can help dogs and you can earn up to $1,000 per month!