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FERNDALE – Bonnie Burke and Kathryn Watterson sometimes spend up to 12-15 hours a day at their veterinary clinic, Little Friends of Ferndale. So they designed it to be not just a space that houses their business, but a second home.
The soothing aroma of scented candles and the relaxing music instantly greets customers as they walk into the clinic, which is located at 1150 E. Nine Mile Road. The well-appointed waiting room looks less pet doctor and more posh salon. The walls are a warm terracotta, the floors checkerboard tile. The black wicker chairs and wooden benches match perfectly, and only the throw pillows, with quaint sayings such as “My goal in life is to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am,” gives the place away. Completing the decor are framed French posters and lush, live greenery.
When designing the interior, Watterson only had to ask herself WWOD, or “What Would Owen Do?” Owen is Owen Jacob, the couple’s adorable 6-year old Boston Terrier.
“He’s the center of our world,” Burke said.
“And our president and CEO,” Watterson added.
‘Dress for success’
Indeed, a framed photo of Owen greets guests just inside the door, and if you’re lucky, Owen, himself, will do the same, likely wearing one of the more than 30 sweaters in his collection.
“He’s got his own dresser,” Burke admitted.
“Well, he’s got his own business,” Watterson reasoned. “He’s got to dress for success.”
For their wedding five years ago, Owen even wore a tuxedo, as any ring bearer would do.
“He comes everywhere with us, hair appointments, to the accountant,” said Burke. “He’s like a little boy trapped in a dog’s body.”
The goal for the couple was to make sure that every pet who walked in felt just as pampered as their own.
“We’ve been in the veterinary field for a very long time, and we had a lot of time to think about how we would do it differently,” Waterson said. “We asked ourselves, ‘where would we want to take Owen? What would he want?’ The colors, the atmosphere, it just brings a calming presence to our clients.”
‘Love at first sight’
The road to owning their own clinic began for both of them at Michigan State University, though they didn’t actually meet until Burke interned where Watterson was working, Leader Dogs for the Blind.
“I think on the second date you told me that you were going to marry me,” Burke said, looking contentedly at her partner.
“It was love at first sight,” answered Watterson. “That’s the story.
“It was cheesy,” said Watterson, unashamed. “A cheesy fairytale.”
When the two began planning to build their own clinic – or Happily Ever After land, as the sign above their door reads – friends warned them of the effect working together might have on their relationship.
“People said to us, ‘you may want to think about this, it may change your relationship,'” Burke recalled. “But it hasn’t … We’re doing what we love and we called each other 20 times a day before we worked together anyway.”
“We feel like it’s beyond us,” said Watterson. “There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t feel blessed, and we have to give credit to the Ferndale community. They’ve been wonderful. We really, really wanted to be in Ferndale because we live here and we love it.”
Ferndale appears to feel the same about them, as business has really taken off since they opened a year and a half ago. Burke and Watterson have a total of seven employees, “plus my mother,” said Burke. “She comes in twice a week to schmooze the clients.” Currently, Little Friends partners with over 25 rescue groups. But no matter how great the demand becomes, the partners don’t plan to expand beyond one site.
“It will always be just one,” said Burke. “We don’t want to have Little Friends of Berkeley or Little Friends of Royal Oak. We didn’t do this to have a financial windfall. We did it to do what we love.”
“I’m overwhelmed by what we have now,” Watterson said, looking into her wife’s eyes, with Owen nestled next to her.
“It’s more [than we hoped],” said Burke. “If someone would have told us we’d be where were at, I wouldn’t have believed it. We’re blessed.”