Camp ain’t just for kids anymore
Monday morning in Nashville, Tennessee finds two Pugs, Mingus and Stella, waiting outside Dizzy’s Dog Wash and Corner Store on the corner of Heather Place and Dogwood Street with their “mom” Janet Shands. They are jumping up and down excitedly because they know what being here means; they are waiting for the Almost Home Pet Farm shuttle that’s going to take them to doggie camp for a week of fun while Shands is out of town. Across the continent, in Portland, Oregon, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Maddie is standing with her pet parent Barbara Beath at the Gabriel Park Dog Park on the corner of SW 45th Avenue and SW Vermont Street. There are other people and their pets waiting, too. When a little yellow school bus comes around the corner, all the dogs strain on their leashes. The doors swing open and out steps Sam Sevier, camp counselor from the Double Dog Ranch. The dogs rush to board the bus and climb on to the seats, totally forgetting their owners. Sevier harnesses them in and off they go without a backward glance.
In Vancouver, British Columbia, the story is the same. Sophie a yellow Labrador also knows she’s going on a doggie vacation. She can pick up on the vibes at home—that along with the fact that there are suitcases at the front door. She refuses to leave the window, waiting for the familiar sound of the white Camp Good Dog van to arrive. With any luck, some of her doggie pals will also be there during this visit. Dog camps are springing up all over North America. Gone are the days of sending your pet to a sterile boarding kennel facility while you are out of town. Nowadays, choices abound, from stylish pet hotels to camp environments that have been likened to vacation resorts, offering canine guests home-away-from-home comforts and lots of activities to ensure that they won’t suffer from separation anxiety and miss their people.
Maddie is one lucky dog; she gets to go to camp three to four times a year. “The moment she sees that yellow school bus, she knows where she’s going and totally forgets about me. It’s like I no longer exist,” says Beath. “She just loves it. When she comes home, she sleeps for about two weeks. Partly because she’s exhausted and also I think she’s sulking and bitter because she had to leave. Home is so boring by comparison.”
“It’s all about free play under supervision,” explains Sevier who, along with his wife Lorinda Gayl, take on the role of surrogate pet parents at the Double Dog Ranch. “People ask how often we let the dogs out and are amazed when I say only once; they’re out all day. We only bring them in at night to sleep.”
Anything goes at the Almost Home Pet Farm, too. “Of course there are some rules,” explains Rita Hogan, “but basically dogs are invited to share my home and sleep wherever they would curl up if they were in their own homes.”
Pugs Mingus and Stella choose to curl up on Hogan’s bed and that’s just fine with her—just so long as another very large guest named Hudson isn’t also staying. “He also opts for the bed, leaving very little space for other canines let alone me!” says Hogan. She prides herself on running a totally holistic canine vacation experience. “There is non-toxic paint on our walls and I use organic cleaning materials. Dogs bring their own food but we like to suggest a holistic dog food diet, too.” Many dog camps such as Vancouver’s Camp Good Dog, also offer training courses. “If any of our guests have behavioural issues that need correcting, I work with them during their stay,” explains Deborah Wolfe. “For example, if someone complains that their dog keeps jumping up on them for attention, I train the dog to sit if it wants to be petted. When the owners show up, I simply give them a lesson on how to maintain this behaviour. Problem solved. Dogs are usually very willing and fast learners.”
No matter where they are situated, all these camp facilities offer canine guests the opportunity to enjoy romping in several acres of beautiful countryside with a swimming pond and wonderful locations to dig, sniff, and get down and dirty. “Often city life doesn’t give dogs the opportunity to be dogs,” explains Wolfe. “I have lots of campers that come once a week or for a couple of days even if their owner’s aren’t travelling anywhere themselves.”
When Lisa Crippen of Portland, Oregon, had hip surgery she sent her Doberman, Beaumont, to the Double Dog Ranch to ensure that he got proper exercise on a daily basis. “It was difficult for me to take him for regular walks,” explained Crippen. “So he got to go to camp and hang out with doggie playmates. As a result, I didn’t have to feel guilty watching him staring longingly at the front door waiting to go out. When we came to fetch him, he came up to say ‘hello’ and then ran right back to play with his friends.”
Because not all tourist attractions are pet-friendly, visitors who are traveling with their pets are also checking their dogs in to a camp facility while they go off for a few days to do some touristy things. “This way, dog owners know their pets are in good hands and simultaneously having lots of fun,” says Joseph James owner of The Dog Adventure Camp in Columbia Gorge in Stevenson, Washington. He has many dogs from Britain and Europe visiting while their owners visit the gorge and other popular sights in the area.
“Many of the hotels in the vicinity of our camp are beginning to tell guests about the types of facilities that are available to pets, and tourists are taking advantage and letting their pets off leash to have a mini vacation of their own.” For any dog owner who thinks that their dog is having too much fun without them, there are also facilities that take people, too.
At Camp Gone to the Dogs, dogs and their pet parents get to spend a week doing a range of outdoor activities together at various locations in Vermont. They enjoy nights around a campfire and curl up and go to sleep together. This year, the fall camps take place in Stowe, Vermont, in August and September and campers can sign on for a range of fun doggie pastimes, such as lure coursing, flyball, agility, tracking, herding, and dock diving.
Camp Dogwood in Chicago, Illinois, also caters to dogs and their people with action-packed weekend camps that cater to canines of all ages and sizes. Apart from dog sports, campers can also participate in various art and craft workshops, such as the dog-themed take on a classic camp-craft, paw sandcastings. The choice of accommodation ranges from log cabins to tents and if you don’t enjoy roughing it, there are warm comfortable beds at nearby off-site hotels.
Back in Canada, Dog Paddling Adventures in Richmond Hill, Ontario, offers lots of organized outdoor adventures giving dogs a chance to hang out in a pack while their owners meet and mingle.
“We offer excursions all over Canada,” explains Kathryn Howell. “The adventures are designed to match the seasons. There’s skijoring (cross-country skiing with your dog) and snowshoeing excursions in the winter, canoeing and paddling adventures in the summer months, and wonderful hikes during spring and fall.
Unlike when the neighbours sent little Timmy to camp, it’s doubtful you’ll have to worry about Rex making friends or writing postcards detailing his debilitating homesickness. And it’s not necessary to have had any prior camp experience or practice in any of the activities offered. Whether you choose to accompany your four-legged charge or send him off for some fun on his own, a doggone good time is guaranteed.
This article is from Modern Dog Magazine