Pet industry continues to boom as entrepreneur opens up a private dog park in Johannesburg

The owner of private dog park, Barks and Recreation, Laura Hastie with her dog, Lucy. Image: Supplied.

The owner of private dog park, Barks and Recreation, Laura Hastie with her dog, Lucy. Image: Supplied.

Published Jun 6, 2024


As the multi-billion rand pet industry continues to boom in South Africa, a savvy entrepreneur saw an opportunity to start a private dog park in Rand Park Ridge in Johannesburg.

Laura Hastie realised there was a gap in the market for animal lovers after her dog was attacked while being walked in a public park.

Following that experience, the 33-year-old began walking her dog Lucy at different places in her area, however, she still encountered other dogs that posed a risk to herself and her furry friend.

This was when she took it upon herself to create a safe, private place to walk her dog which resulted in her private dog park, Barks & Recreation.

Hastie told Business Report, “The idea for Barks and Rec first started when my dog Lucy was attacked by another dog in a public park frequented by dog walkers. She became fearful and reactive as a result. That was when I started walking her in the greenbelts in our area instead. This was far from ideal from a safety aspect and we did still sometimes come across unknown dogs (and dogs who had escaped from their property, with no owners in sight.)”

She further said, “I first started Barks as a profit-making business in June 2023. We had many issues with our initial property and I was stuck in a tricky spot deciding what to do. Customers stopped coming because of the property issues, but finding another property with as relaxed a rental agreement was proving tricky. I was also finding it difficult to know what I could commit to rental-wise due to us having lost so many customers. I couldn't face not continuing though, I needed the park for Lu and knew the other park users still hanging in there were in the same boat.”

The businesswoman persevered and searched for properties on Google Maps, looking for vacant plots where she could move her park.

“This was how I found our current property, which is owned by the Honeyridge Baptist Church. When I started Barks I relied on the income as I had just left my job at SA Guide Dogs,” she told Business Report.

“I was so fortunate to have found a job as a consultant behaviourist for a UK company in the interim, so I was not relying so much on the Barks income by the time I started looking for a new property. This all came together in me approaching Paul from Honeyridge Baptist with the idea of moving Barks to their property but running it as a charity park instead of a profit-making business,” Hastie said.

Hastie said that with the money that the park generates, it is split 80% to the church and then 20% to the SPCA.

“The church splits the income generated from the park between the school and the children’s home that they run. The church got the bigger cut in lieu of rent for the property, but they, fortunately, agreed something at least had to go to an animal charity,” she further said.

The private park is a fully fenced enclosure that has space for your dog to run off leash and it also includes agility and training environments for you and your dog to make use of.

It also includes tools for your dog to get enrichment for scent work and different areas in the park to acclimatise your dog to different types of surfaces.

Hastie holds a BSc Honours (First Class) in Zoology with a specialisation in Ethology (awarded by the University of the Witwatersrand, with research also completed in collaboration with the University of Zurich).

She also holds a COAPE Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour (with distinction).

The consultant behaviourist also worked previously as a puppy block supervisor.

She said, “I was responsible for every aspect of running the puppy block, where pups were born and lived with their brood until +- 8 weeks of age when they went to their volunteer puppy raisers.”

“This included doing all of their early socialisation (exposing them to novel sights, sounds, textures and experiences, in a controlled and positive manner) as well as conducting their behaviour checklist tests which are done by all guide dog schools internationally to assess temperament and behavioural strengths and weaknesses in puppies, to advise their training going forward and to place them in the most suitable home,” Hastie further added.