Ideal Boarding Kennels nears 50 years in business
There are dog people, and there are cat people. Then there's those who are both. Elaine Bilben falls into the latter category. Her fondness for animals led to Ideal Boarding Kennels, a business she has run for close to 50 years in Ideal Corners. ...
There are dog people, and there are cat people. Then there's those who are both.
Elaine Bilben falls into the latter category. Her fondness for animals led to Ideal Boarding Kennels, a business she has run for close to 50 years in Ideal Corners.
Bilben and her then-husband started the kennel business in the spring of 1968, and it has since grown immensely.
"Kind of the reason it was started is my mother-in-law raised dogs, and also my sister-in-law," Bilben said. "And there wasn't any other boarding kennels around."
Though the demand for kennels wasn't very high at the time, Bilben began building her business by offering additional services.
"The people that own C & C Boat Works in Crosslake, she stopped by one day and ... says, 'Do you do grooming?'" Bilben said.
That question sparked an idea and led Bilben to offer both boarding and grooming services for the animals. But as her client-base grew, her free time began to diminish, so after a few years, the business went back to simply being a kennel.
"The resorts - a lot of them didn't allow pets," Bilben said. "So that was kind of a boost."
The kennel business wasn't the only activity taking up Bilben's time though. She also raised miniature schnauzers on the property for roughly 30 years.
"I like the breed, their personality," she said. "They're small enough for a good house pet and just a good, sturdy little dog. And you try to pick out breeding stock that is going to put out nice friendly, family personalities."
Growing up with parents who raised Labradors contributed to Bilben's interest in working with dogs, but canines aren't her only clients. Cats also stay at the kennel from time to time, though not as frequently as dogs. But those still aren't the only animals Bilben has housed.
"When we first started, we boarded a couple little turtles for somebody in the house, and a parrot," she said. "There's been a couple rabbits (too)."
Dogs remain Bilben's most frequent visitors, and many have stayed multiple times and built a strong bond with the business owner.
"It's a lot of repeat business," Bilben said. "The customers, I think, are very comfortable with leaving their pets here because they drive in, and the dog is dragging them to the kennel."
One reason Bilben believes she's able to build strong relationships with her clients is her extremely small staff. She has two friends who help out when needed.
"I think the dogs actually do better than if you had several different people taking care of them because they learn your body language, you learn what they're like, and the dog doesn't have to figure out somebody else," she said. "I think it's a little more of a stable deal."
If the owner does have to step out for any reason, her next-door neighbor, Jo White, is conveniently located to help.
"And her (White's) sister as well," Bilben said. "Every once in awhile I'm able to take a trip to go out to Montana to visit people that I was in high school with, so Jo's sister ... will come and stay here. And she's really good with the dogs and the people."
While Bilben focuses most of her attention on her furry clients, she also enjoys interacting with their human companions.
"There's just an awful lot of nice people, and they've got some good dogs," Bilben said. "And when they come back again and again, you get to know each other."
When pets come to Ideal Boarding Kennels, not only do they receive attention from the owner herself, but they also gain exposure to another species - Bilben's pet horses, who get excited when the dogs spend time outside.
"When I'm turning dogs out, the horses kind of gravitate over there. They seem to be interested in the dogs. And I've had some dogs that have never seen anything that big," she said. "It's pretty hilarious when you get a dog in that's never seen anything like that."
Though some canines are shocked at first, the two animals don't normally end up bothering each other.
"The dogs that are used to the horses, a lot of the time they'll sniff through the fence," Bilben said. "(But) they aren't intermingled."
The horses simply serve as friendly companions for Bilben and her visiting canines.
"They're a nice animal. You feel relaxed around them," she said. "They're good company."
While Bilben enjoys caring for animals on a daily basis, there are a few challenges she has to work through weather-wise, not unlike other Minnesota businesses.
"If we keep getting snow all the time ... you have to keep the yard cleaned out," she said. "I think probably the biggest worry is when we get the windstorms. You don't want something to get blown away."
But dealing with wind and snow isn't unusual given Bilben's location. And the inclement weather doesn't seem to keep clients away either, as Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to be two of the kennel's busiest times of the year. Business also increases in the summer but is still fairly steady for the rest of the year.
"July and August are really busy ... and there's a period it seems like in the spring," Bilben said. "A lot of times you don't really know. It's just all of a sudden. It seems like if one or two book, you're going to get several. So quite often there's maybe between 10 and 20 dogs here. And then all of a sudden it will drop down to one or two, and then it will pick up again."
The busiest the kennel has ever been was one Christmas season when Bilben said she cared for about 45 dogs at one time.
The business certainly occupies much of the owner's time, but the fact that she lives on the property with the animals helps.
"With this kind of job, I'm working from home. I don't have to hop in the car and go somewhere," Bilben said.
And Bilben occasionally receives help from her two granddaughters, who enjoy interacting with the animals when they visit.
"They just love to go out in the kennel with me," she said.
With nearly 50 years of caring for animals under her belt and regular customers returning again and again, Bilben doesn't see business slowing down anytime soon.
"The bills keep coming, and I've been able to support myself," she said. "There's a lot of really nice dogs that come in personality-wise. So they're fun to monkey around with. And the people are nice too."