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New dog day dawns for kennel felled by storm

"Every dog has its day," the saying goes. For Dog Days of Buffalo, that day was definitely not Oct. 12.

The paralyzing storm that hit late that afternoon put down Dog Days, a cage-free dog day care, boarding and training kennel. The weight of the heavy, wet snow caused a portion of the Amherst Street facility's roof to collapse, sparking a smoldering electrical fire.

"My mother-in-law, who lives next door to Dog Days, called to say she thought the building on the other side was on fire. Then she realized it was actually our building," recalled Suzanne Harris, who founded the business, one of the area's first dog day care operations, in 1998.

The business has been closed since the storm, but an outpouring of calls, e-mails and cards from clients, friends and neighbors has been a big help. That support led to a decision to rebuild.

"It's easy sometimes to get down on Buffalo, but this has been reaffirming," Harris said. "We could take the insurance settlement check, sell and go, but we're going to stay right here."

She and her husband and business partner, Blaine, anticipate completing the insurance process in the next week or so, and already have begun planning the rebuild at 632 Amherst.

"I'm looking at kennel catalogs and saying, 'I want this, this and this.' We have crews in cleaning out the building right now, and I'd love to be back in business this spring."

Meanwhile, it has been a busy several weeks.

During the storm, the resident kennel keeper with Dog Days, with help from a neighbor and security guard from the nearby Wegmans supermarket, got all the canine clients safely out of the building and into an adjoining exercise yard.

A shepherd mix, who bolted from the pen when firefighters arrived, turned up safe and sound a few days later after being found by Good Samaritans.

But the smoky fire, combined with water from efforts to put out the blaze, left the business in ruins.

"The immediate issue was where to take the dogs," Harris said. "The place was trashed, so we had no choice but to bring them to our house."

Harris, her husband and the couple's children, ages 3 and 4, and their two dogs, Gluck and Daisy, were suddenly serving as host to 18 dogs.

The four-legged houseguests ranged in size from beagle to a Newfoundland mix, with numerous retrievers and shepherds in between.

"We had no heat, no power, but we had a lot of doggies," Harris said, recalling a kitchen floor covered with newspaper and lined with dog bowls.

"The good thing is, most of them know each other and got along, but there were a few we had to separate in the bathroom or bedroom," she said. "Overall, they were very well-behaved."

Harris, a former advertising executive turned veterinary assistant and dog behaviorist, opened Dog Days of Buffalo in May 1998 in rented space on Elmwood Avenue. She and her husband bought the Amherst Street building and relocated the business in October 2002.

In addition to offering day care and overnight boarding, Dog Days also conducts dog obedience classes and grooming services.

After the initial shock of the fire, and several days of reconnecting dogs with owners, the Harrises got down to the task of detailing the damage, salvaging what they could, and working with their insurance company.

Although the exterior of the building was mostly untouched by the fire, there was extensive water, smoke and electrical service damage, forcing a complete interior demolition.

"The first month or so was a little nutty," Harris said, "but we were never once depressed. We always felt lucky that no humans or animals were hurt."

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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