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Jax Daily Record Thursday, May 30, 201905:20 AM EST

After a heart attack, retired Marine finds future at Central Bark

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Mark McKenzie reassessed his life and decided to open a dog day care in Lakewood.

At 52, retired Marine Mark McKenzie took a spin class, went home and suffered a massive heart attack.

He drove himself to the emergency room, not wanting to wait for help. That was in December 2017.

McKenzie, the widowed father of three adult daughters, decided to leave his stressful job as a regional vice president for a recruitment company with a travel schedule.

“What’s my future?” he asked himself.

McKenzie realized he had been spending up to $700 a month to keep his two dogs engaged – a miniature Australian shepherd and “a little brown mutt” rescue.

His youngest daughter, in Dallas, rescued a dog and discovered after taking the anxious canine to day care that he returned home calm.

McKenzie said he researched franchises, including food, retail operations and gyms, in addition to dog care.

Central Bark is at 5614 San Jose Blvd. in the Lakewood Promenade retail center.

“The choice was easy,” he said. “I have a love for dogs. So if you have a passion and love for what you are doing, you will be better at it.

After research, McKenzie settled on a franchise of Central Bark, which he intends to open June 17 at 5614 San Jose Blvd. in the Lakewood Promenade retail center.

The 6,900-square-foot space that formerly housed a pediatric office and a Goodwill store is being converted at a construction cost of almost $369,000 by Hoffman Commercial Construction LLC.

McKenzie, now 53, said he is investing more than $500,000 – his “entire life savings” – into the venture.

“I like Central Bark because it’s about the dogs first,” he said. 

Central Bark is a day care service for dogs, open six days a week and holidays, and Sunday by special arrangement. There also are grooming services, a retail area and limited boarding.

“We’re going to teach your dog to be a good citizen,” McKenzie said.

The service focuses on “whole dog care” in a positive reinforcement training environment, he said.

Owners meet with staff for up to 30 minutes the first day and dogs must pass a full-day assessment.

Central Bark can accommodate up to 100 dogs a day. Owners are encouraged to bring their pets at least once a week.

Central Bark is not breed-restricted, but is temperament-restricted.

Dogs are separated by age and temperament and divided among groups for nap time and play time. They eat lunch in cages. Owners can bring lunch or buy it there.

“Mental enrichment” includes training and food puzzles, “calm but engaging the brain,” McKenzie said.

There are kennels for separation and privacy, a large play area, climbing and playground equipment, indoor above-ground pools and fenced outside space.

He expects five employees to start with one for each 10-12 dogs, and 12-15 staff at capacity.

Mark McKenzie says Central Bark will offer “mental enrichment” including training and food puzzles.

Employees take 16 hours of online training before starting and there are 16 cameras throughout the building for safety monitoring.

“The rule is no two dogs are ever left unattended,” he said.

Hours are 7 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Day care will start at $34 a day.

Central Bark will offer birthday parties for dogs, too.

According to its website, centralbarkusa.com, the Central Bark Doggy Day Care franchise system was created in 2003 and includes 31 locations in 10 states. It is owned by Barkley Ventures Inc., based near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

McKenzie said he is contacting the Jacksonville Humane Society and the Jacksonville Dog Café to see how he can help.

“If you’re going to be successful, you have to give back,” he said.

After suffering his heart attack, McKenzie was released from the hospital two weeks later and got back on a bike. He visits the gym every morning.

And he cares for Riley the shepherd and Monty the mutt, as well as two cats, Tom and Quincy.

It is not about me. It is about the dogs. They give us unconditional love, they are happy to see us every time we walk in the door,” he said.

“We owe it to them to make their lives a little better. So why not find a way to help make it better?”

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