While she was a student at UNT, Amy Shank Fiala ('04) took her Great Dane, Kya, with her everywhere.
Kya ran and chased squirrels in the greenspace near the Art Building. She sat on the floor while Fiala chatted with friends at Lucky Lou's. Fiala almost brought Kya to class once, but then thought better of it.
Fiala obviously loved dogs. Now living in Austin, she's turned a solo dog walking venture into Game Time Dog Services, which employs 14 people. The company boasts its own spin-off, A Wedding Tail, in which she and other employees look after pets during weddings.
The service has become a big hit, with the company booked about three weekends a month for the ceremonies.
"When the bride and groom see their fur baby, it's a magic moment," she says. "You can see the love between them. It adds a level of love to the event."
Fiala's venture came out of a challenging time.
As a radio-TV-film alum, she worked in various broadcasting roles -- production assistant for Wheel of Fortune; production assistant and casting for ESPN; production assistant and editor for Big Fish Films; and account executive at WFAA and KFWD.
When the economy tanked, she found herself looking for a career change in 2009.
"I've always been the dog person of all my friends," she says. "I saw the opportunity open for a dog service business and decided to run with it."
Then living in Dallas, she started a dog walking and pet sitting business called Amy's Joggin' Dogs. The company was a hit, and she sold it in 2012 when she moved to Austin to be with her fiancé.
As she was planning her wedding, she had the proverbial a-ha moment.
"I was excited but overwhelmed with so many things to take care of," she says. "I'm sitting there and I'm totally stressing. My beloved Kya comes in and I thought, 'You have to be there!'"
The wedding took place at a beach with Kya dressed in a floral collar.
"Oh my gosh, every bit was wonderful," Fiala says. "Our pets make our lives complete, but having her there made my wedding complete."
As she kicked off her dog walking and pet sitting business, Game Time, in Austin, she says, "I thought there's got to be other brides who want to have dogs at their wedding but don't have a family member there to help."
She immediately added it to her company's services. She worked a few weddings sporadically, and then it picked up in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic stopped business completely, but it's become popular again in the last year as dogs are becoming more a part of the family and are frequently taken to public places. She recently supervised the dog in the wedding of X Ambassadors keyboardist Casey Harris and his wife, Olivia -- an event covered on people.com.
"I think the biggest moment is what I call the 'aww' moment," she says. "I get them dressed up in their wedding attire. As soon as the dog walks down the aisle, the crowd will go in unison, 'aww.' I think that's the part that really captivates the guests."
She's experienced a few nerve-wracking moments -- such as a dog that nearly made its mark before the ceremony. She notes that dogs can sense the heightened energy, and her team is there to keep the dog safe and comfortable when strangers may approach them. The team also helps photographers capture pictures where the dog is looking into the camera.
Fiala is proud she's been able to turn her love for dogs into a successful business. Being an entrepreneur can be tough.
"I feel like I'm never done learning. I'm a person who never stops. If I hit a goal, I want to set a new one," she says. "If I pause and look back to where it started from, which was just me, there is pride and accomplishment."
She currently has a companion, Bette Davis, an American bulldog. Kya has passed away, but she is not forgotten.
"I have her ashes," Fiala says. "When my time comes to an end and I go in the dirt, she's going with me."