I love the story of how Albion Bark Lodge came into existence. Owner and operator Sarah Macpherson was feeling disenchanted and unhappy in her corporate job. Working as an executive assistant for a CEO  was a job that paid well, but it certainly didn’t make her heart sing. When Covid first hit and she was working from home, she would regularly have up to 8 or 9 of her neighbours dogs, plus 2 of her own to keep her company for the day. Sarah noticed how calm and happy she felt surrounded by the dogs, despite hating the work she was doing.

Trading the corporate grind for every dog’s dream holiday.

Part of Sarah’s routine at this time was to head down to the beach for a coffee to start the day. One morning she had her epiphany while watching a dog walker (with many dogs). The idea to create a haven for canine companions was born, and she simply couldn’t get the concept out of her head.

illawarra dog boarding
illawarra doggy daycare

Reimagining Dog Boarding and the demand for Doggy Daycare in the Illawarra

Within a week, Sarah found a property that was suitable and checked that the zoning was correct for her business model. Within a month, she had sold her house and purchased the place that would bring her dreams to life. In March 2020, Sarah and her incredibly supportive husband, Robert moved in. Although Sarah had envisioned 2 weeks to get the property ready for clients, it took until September that year before they finally opened the doors to their first customers.

The night before Albion Bark Lodge launched, Sarah says she had a panic attack, questioning whether she had made a massive mistake giving up her high paying corporate job to chase her dreams, “I thought, who’s going to use my services?” Fast forward to today and she has over 600 clients on the books, and at the peak of the business she employed 6 staff members to work alongside her and Robert.

The plan was for Albion Bark Lodge to be a holiday stay facility only in the beginning, as Sarah didn’t see the value in daycare from the dog’s perspective. Covid forced a change in plans, when the lockdowns prevented anyone from going away for a while. Robert came up with the idea for daycare, and to say it has been a massive success is an understatement.

Since providing this service, one of Sarah’s favourite things is to see a dog that arrives nervous and unsure, keeping to itself, developing into a dog that’s more than comfortable in this environment, as their confidence grows. Next thing you know, they’re bounding out of the car on arrival, with cuddles and kisses for the staff! Recounting one of her favourite transitions;

“A magical feeling. I cannot describe it. She gives me goosebumps every week without fail, and I see a lot of that.”

doggy daycare in the illawarra

Is Doggy Daycare suitable for all dogs?

Sarah warns that daycare isn’t a perfect fit for all dogs. Some simply don’t thrive in this kind of environment, and if this is the case, Sarah won’t accept these dogs as clients. Because doggy day care is an unregulated industry, there is a big variation in the sort of care available. If you’re looking into doggy daycare or dog boarding in the Illawarra, make sure you do your research to ensure the facility is up to your expectations and provides adequate care for your treasured ‘fur-son’.

For Albion Bark Lodge, it is all about the dogs having a great time. Ratios of 1 staff member for every 8 big dogs, and 1 for every 12 small dogs, ensure that every single guest gets the supervision and attention they need. When I interviewed Sarah for this article, we were in the yard with at least 10 dogs. I cannot tell you how surprised I was at the level of Zen surrounding us. A few dogs sleeping, a few cruising around the yard sniffing, no one barking – total serenity!

Albion Bark Lodge has been so successful that they’ve had to close their books for holiday stays. Robert’s health complications in the last year have also meant that they have had to adjust their business model to get a better work / life balance, and are no longer taking new big dog clients for daycare because of how physically demanding it is.

albion bark lodge
albion bark lodge doggy daycare

What can Illawarra dog owners expect at Albion Bark Lodge?

The property consists of several free range yards for the dogs to explore, which provide the opportunity to separate them if required. A behavioural assessment that is carried out before being accepted as a client means this is rarely necessary. The weather extremes we’ve experienced over the last few years mean that ABL are ready for whatever the conditions might be. A big open shed provides shelter on rainy days, the pool provides respite for those that like to swim (with supervision), and the clam shells allow for the paddlers to cool off on those hot summer scorchers.

Regular updates of how your fur child is enjoying their day are all part of the service. Albion Bark Lodge is very active on the socials, always running a competition or giveaway. They love an excuse to party, always celebrating birthdays with a good time fuss. Valentine’s Day 2023 even featured a doggy Paw-posal!

Sarah is an absolute dog tragic, much preferring their company to that of most humans every day. Not only has she created a fantastic space for dogs to come and share when they visit , she is a voice of reason when it comes to pet ownership. She encourages anyone thinking of getting a dog to consider the long term commitment involved. Can you afford the necessary care? Do you have the time and love to commit to this animal for the next 15 years? Do you know much about the breed and its behaviours and needs?

If you’re after any advice about improving any aspect of your dog’s behaviour, Sarah highly recommends Connor of King K9 Training. Connor has over 7 years experience and loves to share his knowledge with all dogs and their owners. He provides both one on one training and group classes in the Wollongong area.

dog daycare albion park

Giving back to the community by supporting Illawarra pet rescue organisations

A champion of all animals, especially those in need, Sarah supports many animal rescue organisations with regular financial donations. One of her favourites locally is Illawarra Cat Rescue Support. Angela Butler runs an online shop with all proceeds going towards helping save cats and kittens who have an uncertain future. 

If you are looking for a daycare option for your small dog, I cannot recommend Sarah and the crew at Albion Bark Lodge enough. The level of care and attention your fur-child will receive is above and beyond what you’ll pay for.

“I’m not in this for the money, this is my absolute love and passion. It makes me happy every day”. Sarah develops a genuine emotional connection to all the dogs that come as guests. She truly is an authentic dog-whisperer in every sense of the word.