Starmark

Hutto company offers a dog paradise

In 1994, Keith Benson and three colleagues started a dog-boarding service with six kennels in a backyard in Tucson, Ariz. They called their business Triple Crown Dog Academy.

Within a year of opening, Triple Crown expanded from six to 22 kennels with a four-month waiting list. As the business grew, Benson and his colleagues began looking for a larger space, and in 1997 they decided to relocate to Hutto.

"We looked everywhere from Florida to California and several places in between," Benson said. "We settled on the piece of property here in Hutto because of the community and the growth opportunities that were in the area."

Nearly 10 years after its founding, Triple Crown has rebranded itself as Starmark, and the business now includes Starmark Animal Behavior Center, Starmark Pet Products and Starmark Academy for Dog Trainers. The Starmark brand is recognized internationally, with dog trainers from throughout the world visiting the Hutto business for its training classes.

Starmark Animal Behavior Center has grown to more than 200 kennels offering boarded dogs outdoor and indoor accommodations. The company also recently added a studio suite, where dogs can enjoy quiet, air-conditioned accommodations.

Boarding services include comfortable sleeping arrangements, play times and activities, baths and grooming services and treats. Owners can even book dogs an appointment in Starmark's spa, which offers services such as blueberry facial scrubs, a spa pedicure with nail polish, airbrushing and color treatments.

"We try to create an environment that's fun for the dogs," said Benson, who now serves as Starmark's president and chief operating officer. "We want the dogs to have fun, and ... to want to come back."

In 2000, the business started offering a school for dog trainers and currently holds four-, eight- and 12-week training classes with approximately 25 students each. Students work with dogs on training objectives that range from basic obedience to tricks to search-and-rescue skills. Though Starmark Academy for Dog Trainers trains some handlers for professional dog showmanship and hosts competitive shows on weekends, its main focus is promoting companionship between dogs and their owners.

"Our philosophy is keeping pets happy in their homes by improving their relationship with their owners," Benson said.

Students in the training programs often bring their personal dogs, but Starmark also works with local shelters to train 30–40 rescue dogs in each class. After the programs are complete, people can adopt the newly trained dogs. Benson said Starmark has a 99 percent adoption rate with its trained dogs.

Starmark's third facet, the Starmark Pet Products line, offers more than 70 products to markets in Europe, Asia and the United States. The line includes mental stimulation toys, interactive play toys, tools for training, and treats and rewards.

"Everything we do here is based on the dogs and the behavior associated with [dogs]," Benson said. "The product development comes from the minds of our animal training and behavioral specialists."

A dog's life

Owners can choose from a variety of boarding packages for their dogs, including:

Basic:

  • $26 per night ($16 per night for second dog in same suite)
  • Indoor suite with patio access
  • Option of a fleece sleeping mat

First class:

  • $33 per night ($23 per night for second dog in same suite)
  • Indoor suite with patio access
  • One playtime activity per day
  • One Frosty Paw (a nondairy, soy-based ice cream for dogs) or Starmark Interactive Chew Ball treat puzzle per day
  • One good night treat
  • Option of a fleece sleeping mat

Platinum:

  • $45 per night ($35 per night for second dog in same suite)
  • Indoor suite with patio access
  • One playtime activity per day
  • One visit to the Beach Club or Discovery Playground, nature walk or canine massage per day
  • One Frosty Paw or treat puzzle per day
  • One night treat
  • Elevated bed

Luxury suites:

  • $55 per night ($45 per night for second dog in same suite)
  • Private room
  • Two playtime activities per day
  • One visit to the Beach Club, Discovery Playground, nature walk or canine massage per day
  • One Frosty Paw or treat puzzle per day
  • One night treat
  • Elevated anti-microbial bed

200 CR 197, Hutto, 877-823-7847, www.starmarkacademy.com

By Korri Kezar
Korri Kezar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 with a degree in journalism. She worked for Community Impact Newspaper's Round Rock-Pflugerville-Hutto edition for two years before moving to Dallas. Five years later, she returned to the company to launch Community Impact Newspaper's Keller-Roanoke-Northeast Fort Worth edition, where she covers local government, development, transportation and a variety of other topics. She has also worked at the San Antonio Express-News, Austin-American Statesman and Dallas Business Journal.