It was a summer evening nearly two years ago when Island Park business owner Jared Judson re-evaluated his career path.
He and his wife, Melanie, were on the shore of Long Beach in a Tuesday-night beach volleyball league. Judson, 39 at the time, who grew up in Baldwin and lives in Freeport, began to feel a pain in his chest, and decided to lay down courtside. The discomfort didn’t stop.
“I was like, ‘Melanie, I think I’ve got to go to the hospital,’” Judson recounted. “She goes, ‘OK, as soon as the game is finished.’”
The match ended, and Judson was able to walk to the car, but soon realized something was seriously wrong, and told his wife to “run the red lights.”
After making it to Long Beach’s urgent-care facility, he was transported by ambulance to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. He was told he had suffered a “widowmaker” heart attack, and was in the hospital for several days.
The unsettling experience pushed Judson toward an entrepreneurial dream that he had put aside for nearly a decade: opening a day care for dogs. The longtime dog lover opened Island Bark Doggy Daycare & Boarding last month, and has been building his customer base throughout the village and its surrounding communities, including Oceanside, Long Beach and East Rockaway.
“Life is short,” he said, recalling the heart attack that necessitated the implantation of two stents and a defibrillator, which he will carry in his chest for the rest of his life. “You’ve just got to go for your dreams.”
A widowmaker, though not a medical term, refers specifically to a blockage at the beginning of the left anterior descending artery, according to Dr. Jason Freeman, South Nassau’s director of cardiac catheterization laboratories and interventional cardiology. A blockage in that spot — the main pumping wall to the front of the heart — puts a large area of heart muscle at risk, he added.
“As far as heart attacks go, this is a big heart attack with big consequences if it’s not dealt with appropriately and expeditiously,” Freeman said. The condition is rare, he explained, as only about five of the 97 heart attacks that South Nassau doctors treated last year were given the sobering nickname.
Shortly after his health scare, Judson made the profession switch official. Working as a purchasing manager, and also in charge of information technology, for Merola Tile in Amityville at the time, he gave six months’ notice to his boss, Kevin Merola, whom he said supported him fully.
The mere idea of working with animals, Merola recalled, brought a noticeable joy to Judson. “When I saw that look on his face, I said, ‘Jared, you have to do that.’ As much I [hated] to lose [him], because he was valuable to the company, it was more important to see him happy and enjoy his life.”
Perhaps the heart attack was a blessing in disguise.
“If it never happened, he probably would have never pulled the trigger,” Merola said. “But I think he realized that, holy cow, it could be over tomorrow. What am I doing sitting in an office all day sending orders over to factories overseas when it’s not really what I love to do?”
He remained working for the company part-time, while also dog-walking to build relationships with the many pet owners in the area.
Judson moved into the Alabama Avenue 3,600-square-foot facility on Jan. 1 — along with his friendly Anatolia shepherd mix, Archie, whom he rescued from North Shore Animal League in 2007 — and officially opened two months later. The business currently cares for more than two-dozen dogs, providing three separate indoor play areas for canines of different sizes, as well as an outdoor yard.
In addition to daycare, boarding services are also available, and Judson expects to implement grooming soon. Cameras at Island Bark stream a video feed to the business’s website, Judson said, so that dog owners can log in and see what their pets are up.
The daycare gives the high-energy dogs an outlet to play when their owners are at work, he said. “When they come here they tire themselves out so when they go home, they’re mellow and relaxed,” he added.
Though the business has not always been easy for Judson — he works 12-13 hour days, and often seven days a week — his relationship with Archie reminds him why he opened the facility in the first place.
“He’s my best friend,” Judson said. “Anything I do, if I can do it with a dog, I bring him.”