Prince of Puppies

Canines get the royal treatment.

By Marene Gustin
Photo by Yvonne Feece

Don Puryear at his Happy Tails Dog Spa.

“It’s like having 100, 200 dogs!” he says happily. “And I get to play with them all day.”

The 42-year-old Puryear, who grew up with miniature schnauzers, may have been thinking play date, but the two-year-old business had a mind of its own. Today, the “spa” center for grooming, the two large-sized rooms (one for big dogs and one for small dogs), the outdoor playground with pool, and the charming lobby, which resembles a children’s boutique for dogs with puppy birthday treats and too-cute doggie clothes, attract the canine clientele of River Oaks millionaires, Midtown yuppies with puppies, and even star athletes. And, just like a Houston prep school, Happy Tails also has a waiting list. Currently, it’s about 100 names long, which is why Puryear is opening a second location in the Heights early next year.

But besides just being cute, the dog spa also takes advantage of technology.

“It’s exciting for someone to be able to log on at work and watch their dog playing,” Puryear says of the Internet cam that catches the frolicking of the four-legged kids. Happy Tails employs 16 people, and there are generally two employees in the playrooms, tossing balls, handing out pats and ear rubs. You just can’t help but smile watching the animals bouncing around the rooms, leaping on kiddie slides and sofas. Noisy, yes, but for dog lovers, it’s like dropping your pet off at an indoor dog park for the day.

Puryear lives just across the street from Happy Tails, in a townhouse with his partner of 16 years, Angel Valdez. Valdez does the accounting for the dog spa, as well as the cooking at home. They share their abode, of course, with dogs—two charmingly well-fed Yorkies, Spike and his sis Daisy—and yes, they enjoy playing at Happy Tails, too. But it isn’t just pampered pooches that benefit from Puryear’s passion for pups.

“Don is truly a person who inspires,” says Laura Hanley Carlock, a board member of Scout’s Honor Rescue, Inc. “He demonstrates that one can work hard, be highly successful, and still have time to give back to the community in a big way. Without all of the time, resources, and financial support Don has dedicated to Scout’s Honor, we would not have been able to help near the number of animals we have helped in the past two years. He is a good friend with a huge heart.”

In fact, Puryear is underwriting the nonprofit’s November 6 fundraiser, the First Annual Movie Night & Silent Auction at the River Oaks Theatre and Epicure Café.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the ASPCA and rescue groups,” Puryear says, “but I’m very impressed with Scout’s Honor because of their foster model. They take all dogs they find and place them in foster homes so they are with people while waiting for adoption. I did a Dog Bath fundraiser for them last year that raised $26,000, and this year I thought we would do something more fun for the owners, so we went with the movie and silent auction. I wanted to underwrite all the costs so that every dollar that was donated went directly to Scout’s Honor.”

Little Spike and Daisy may be two pampered pups, but they are also part of a family that is making a difference for abandoned dogs and cats in the Houston area. We’re sure, if they could, they would give a big paws-up to Papa Puryear and his support of Scout’s Honor.

Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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