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Waltham business cares for furry friends

WALTHAM — When Tonya Beer drove through Addison County last year, it occurred to her that it would be a great place to start a kennel.
“I started coming to this area, and everywhere I went I saw dogs,” she said.
Beer, who had co-owned a kennel in the Northeast Kingdom, moved to Addison County in November. She and Matt LaValley, the groomer at her kennel, had already discussed the possibility of opening a business together, and after the move LaValley came down to help look for a space.
Soon enough, the two had found their spot: an empty storefront on Route 7 in Waltham. The space would soon become Wag On Inn, a grooming, boarding and daycare business for dogs and cats.
Late last year, LaValley — not having seen the inside of the Route 7 space — took a leap of faith and moved down to Middlebury. Beer and LaValley spent the next months applying for permits, laying new flooring and preparing the space for their official opening day on April 6. Neither one had set up a business from scratch before, but in the process of trial and error, they also discovered that they worked well together as business partners.
“Our goals are the same, which made it a very easy process for both of us,” said LaValley. “We want to provide good service for people, to provide a safe environment for the animals that are coming in and to get to know them.”
The business is still a work in progress — Beer and LaValley are still hoping to find a loveseat to round out the space, and they are waiting for the delivery of a structure that will allow them to board cats, in addition to the ten dog runs they already have. But already more customers are coming in as the summer season kicks into gear, and they are starting to get repeat customers as well.
At first the two were worried, since starting a business in a completely new community can be difficult. But the co-owners have found people in the area to be receptive to the Wag On Inn, with many passersby stopping in to investigate the changed storefront and introduce themselves.
“It’s nice to see people really support local (business) and take an interest,” said LaValley.
He said the area compared favorably to his native Connecticut, where he spent nine years working as a veterinary technician. After deciding on a career change and finishing grooming school, he realized that the market in his area was saturated with highly priced groomers and chain pet stores, and that it was time for a change.
That realization led to his move to the Northeast Kingdom, where he found the market less competitive. There he began to work for Beer, and they tossed around the idea of starting a business together.
Beer and LaValley kept their prices the same as at Beer’s old kennel when they opened the Wag On Inn in Waltham, and they have discovered that this provides an additional draw for their business — prices for pet services in this area, they said, tend to be significantly higher.
“We want people to be able to come in and not spend a paycheck,” said Beer. “Our goal is to keep (prices) low.”
And though the two could also begin thinking of expanding their capacity with the busy summer approaching, it’s also not one of their priorities right now.
“I think the important part is the intimacy — knowing the families and the animals coming in and out,” said Beer.
Right now, the animals have about 900 square feet fenced outside in which to wander, plus more room inside. Beer and LaValley also take the dogs for walks on the trails behind the kennel to allow them more time to explore.
And there’s really nothing the two would rather be doing.
“We get to do what we love to do,” said Beer. “We’re socializers and we love animals.”
“It’s been a good start,” said LaValley.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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