In the 'Doghouse'
By Obed Obwoge

Jeff Arnoldy offers more than a skin fade or wet shave at “The Doghouse Barbershop.” The corner of Main and English has become a de facto community center where he helps clients look and feel their best, and also facilitates important conversations. "If I didn’t treat you like family, if I didn’t treat you like this was your house too, you wouldn't come back... if I get someone in the chair twice, I keep em'. I mean that's almost a done deal."

Driving out of town at the end of a short row of storefronts on West Main Street in Leitchfield, you'll find a pale olive green Yamaha motorcycle parked outside The Doghouse Barbershop. Take a step in, and you quickly realize the bike’s color is a nod to the military service of shop owner Jeff Arnoldy, who was a tank crewman in the U.S. Army for 14 years.

The walls of his shop are lined with plaques and small mementos from his three tours abroad, a stark juxtaposition to the adjoining room where his wife Amanda, a hairstylist, serves her clients at The Pink Possum. The only thing that interrupts the chatter and gossip you might find at your local barber or salon is the pitter-patter of Jolene, their 2.5-year-old wiener dog, who takes on the role of part shop mascot, part therapy dog and part ambassador, crossing often between the wall that separates the two shops.

"Have you been following city council meetings on Facebook?" Jeff asks the mother of a young boy as he climbs into his barber chair. "Oh yeah," she responds as Jeff drapes his customer and begins jacking up the chair.

A little over two weeks away from a local election, many of Jeff's conversations with clients have been focused on politics and the needs of veterans in the community.

Four years ago, at the suggestion of one of his clients, Jeff established the Veterans Resource Group (VRG), a nonprofit geared toward bridging the gap between veterans and the resources available to them locally, throughout the state, and at the federal level. VRG offers a range of assistance, including everything from paying overdue utility bills or securing adequate housing to navigating the often nebulous Veterans Affairs system. "We give a hand up, not a handout," Jeff says when asked about the group's role in the community.

Many of the gaps VRG seeks to fill are a direct result of the local poverty rate – which is nearly double that of the state – along with the opioid crisis that has hit Kentucky particularly hard.
But their reach extends well past supporting veterans; at a recent meeting Jeff and other members of the executive committee worked through the logistics required to support their upcoming trip to Eastern Kentucky to provide relief and assistance to victims of devastating flooding which destroyed bridges, swept away homes and displaced thousands earlier in the year.

"You know, because we operate on the condition that it's not a veteran community or civilian community, it's one community, and until veterans know how to be civilians again, and civilians understand the sacrifice of the veterans, nothing will ever change," Jeff says. "So I think that's our main focus, bringing the two communities together"

Jeff gives a comb fade to a customer. He shares his shop with wife Amanda, a hair stylist who operates The Pink Possum in an adjacent space.

Amanda styles the hair of Kelsey Elliott, who is holding 6-month-old Beckham as he laughs with his grandmother. The family atmosphere is part of what keeps customers happy.

Between clients, Jeff takes time to canoodle with Jolene, which is one of the brief moments you’ll find him with his guard down.

Jeff enlisted in the Army as a senior in high school, eventually serving two tours in Iraq (’06 and ’09) and one in Bosnia (’04) as part of a NATO peacekeeping mission. Symbols of his service and patriotism adorn the walls of the shop.

Jeff works through the details of the Veterans Resource Group’s upcoming trip to Eastern Kentucky to provide relief and assistance to victims of devastating flooding that destroyed bridges, swept away homes and displaced thousands earlier in the year.

Amanda and Jeff Arnoldy met while Jeff was stationed at Fort Knox for training. After they dated for a few months, Amanda’s mother asked Jeff when they were going to get married … as they say, the rest is history.

Although Jolene is not an officially trained therapy dog, she provides affection and comfort for many of the clients at the shop, including several autistic children who almost always warm up when they see her.

Kelsey, soothes son Beckham while receiving a hair treatment.

Being on the bike forces me to not think about anything else. We call it wind therapy. That’s a common term for riding for that “not the adrenaline rush” but the relaxation and the open mindedness. You get on a bike, you can’t think about yesterday, or this morning, because you gotta think if that car is gonna pull out in front of you. You got to think about if that dog is gonna stay in the yard, you know? So you just keep building as you’re riding and 30 miles later you’re like, man, I feel like a million dollars.