For as long as she can remember, Leslie Rosella has loved animals. Pursuing a bright career in the restaurant industry, it never occurred to her that she could turn her childhood love into a profession. That was the case, at least, until she got Brixx: a purebred Rottweiler that Leslie and her boyfriend, Chris Cooley, got soon after the couple arrived in Portland, Oregon in 2001. While Brixx proved to be the perfect companion, she struggled with “insane health problems,” as Leslie put it, from chronic ear infections to gastrointestinal issues to an array of orthopedic conditions. Leslie began to have to take Brixx to see the veterinarian on a weekly basis, and because of the rottweiler’s health issues, Leslie had a difficult time finding a doggy daycare center that was equipped to provide the level of care and attention that Brixx required.
Hoping to learn more about rescues and in an effort to educate pet owners, Leslie became a volunteer with the Oregon Humane Society’s behavior unit. She learned that the reasons most families surrender their pets are due to simple behavior-related problems that could have been solved with simple training. Leslie became passionate about educating prospective pet owners about adoption awareness; as well as keeping pets in their homes. She soon received her certification in dog training.
Around the same time, Leslie and Chris began talking about moving back to Jackson, Mississippi to be closer to family. Leslie felt confident enough in her training to take a leap of faith and step away from the restaurant industry to actually pursue working with dogs as a career. Leslie knew a doggie daycare was a service Jackson desperately needed.
After 11 years in Portland, the couple moved back to Mississippi, and Leslie poured everything she had into creating a business plan. She received mentoring from a local Small Business Administration community college professor, who tweaked her business plan and helped her with her financial modeling. Meanwhile, she built her client base through in-home pet sitting, dog training, and volunteering with local, non-profit rescues. Pippa Jackson, the director for one of these nonprofits, who happened to be a realtor, took a particular interest in Leslie’s dream and set out on a mission to help Leslie find the perfect property where she could open Dog Day Afternoon Canine Social Club, an off-leash dog facility focused on group enrichment.
Six No’s, One Yes
First, however, Leslie had to secure capital in order to purchase the building. She started to visit banks in the area to share her business plan and to apply for a loan. Although each bank showed interest, she got turned down each time because she didn’t have enough collateral to qualify for a loan. Eventually, in 2017, after being shot down by five different banks, the sixth (while also turning her down) suggested she contact Renaissance Community Loan Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that offers tailored lending services for mortgages, home improvement, and commercial loans across Mississippi.
“They weren’t just looking at facts and figures,” Leslie said. “Renaissance actually took the time to get to know me. They were just incredible to work with: very personable and encouraging. Everybody else said ‘No,’ but they said ‘Yes.’ They took the time to realize my vision, and I owe them everything.”
In November 2017, Leslie’s loan — to purchase the building, do renovations, and have the working capital to get her business off the ground — was approved, and despite some rezoning challenges, Leslie was able to move into her new facility on September 1, 2018. A little over one month later, she did her first trial day with clients that she had long-standing relationships with from pet sitting and dog training. By the beginning of 2019, Dog Day Afternoon Canine Social Club was officially up and running.
At the beginning of 2020, she saw a significant increase in new clients, and Leslie and her team were confident that it was going to be their year. That’s when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Spring Break was Leslie’s most profitable week to date. The next week, her facility was practically empty. As her business is considered essential, Dog Day Afternoon remained open during the pandemic lockdown. It was a tough couple of months, but Leslie considers herself very fortunate to have received grants to supplement the loss in income. Although the pandemic put a strain on her business, Leslie says that since Memorial Day 2021, Dog Day Afternoon is hitting new records every weekend — and that’s through word-of-mouth advertising alone. “The pandemic hit us hard,” Leslie said, “but business is picking up, and this is the best that we’ve ever done. I feel very lucky.”
Leslie credits her Mom, Pam Rosella, for always being there for her. “Every step of the way, she’s held my hand. Every successful moment, every heartache, every impossible hurdle, she’s been my rock. I truly could not have done this without her encouragement.”
A Fur-ever Home
Looking toward the future of Dog Day Afternoon Canine Social Club, Leslie would be interested in opening more facilities but is more focused on making her current location flourish. Currently, she and her team offer doggie daycare and overnight stays (also known as doggie slumber parties) and dog grooming services. In phase two of renovations on the building, she intends to have a full-service grooming salon, overnight suites equipped with TVs and interactive cameras, and a small retail store.
Despite the uncertainties of the next few years, one thing that Leslie is certain about is her commitment to deepening her relationships with local nonprofit animal shelters and her community. Part of her mission is to educate dog owners and promote adoption awareness. Currently, Dog Day Afternoon welcomes some rescue dogs into its doggie daycare to receive enrichment and lots of one on one attention that they wouldn’t get at the shelter. Leslie says this increases their chances of getting adopted as well as success transitioning into their forever homes.
Those efforts don’t just include nonprofits in Jackson — Leslie has partnered with Animal Rescue Fund of MS (ARF) and their animal rescue partners in Maine, 3 Dogs Rescue and Lairbear Transport, which helps to find shelter dogs in Mississippi wonderful homes in the Northeast. Additionally, Leslie and her team have office dogs, which is essentially a hospice/ foster program for shelter dogs nearing the end of their lives. According to Leslie, the dogs get to live at Dog Day Afternoon. They roam freely around the facility and “are spoiled rotten in their final days.”
Leslie’s above-and-beyond approach to caring for the dogs in — and away — from her community is similar to the above-and-beyond approach that Renaissance Community Loan Fund takes to support Mississippians who’re deemed unbankable by traditional lenders. Not only did the CDFI pave the way for Leslie to get Dog Day Afternoon up and running, but Renaissance also loaned Leslie and Chris the money they needed to purchase a home. Because Chris was furloughed during the pandemic and Leslie only pays herself a small salary, the two couldn’t get a loan from a bank. Thanks to Renaissance, the two closed on a house in July. “I hate to be cheesy and say that they make dreams come true,” Leslie said, “but they really do. Renaissance made our dreams come true.”