Image: Dogs
Sam Sevier  /  Pet Camp
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 12/19/2007 1:03:17 PM ET 2007-12-19T18:03:17

It’s 11:00 a.m. on a Monday morning and Barbara Beath of Portland, Ore., and her yellow Labrador Retriever Maddie are waiting at the Gabriel Park Dog Park on the corner of SW 45th Ave., and SW Vermont Street in Southwest, Portland. There are other dogs and their owners milling about too—everyone holding a bag backed with their dog’s favorite toys, food and medications.

Suddenly, a little yellow school bus comes around the corner and all the dogs start straining on their leashes. The doors swing open, and out steps Sam Sevier, Camp Counselor from the Double Dog Ranch located in the lush countryside about an hour from the city near Rainier. The dogs rush to board the bus and climb on to the seats totally forgetting about their owners on the other end might actually want to say “good bye”.

These lucky dogs are about to go off on a doggy vacation to a dog camp and spend a couple of days to a few weeks, having nothing but fun in the sun, the wind and the rain doing doggy stuff—with no pet parents around to say “get off the couch” or “you can’t eat that on the bed!”

If your dog is bored at home during winter or tired of tagging along to family and friends over the holidays, why not send him to doggie camp?

Ostensibly, the Double Dog Ranch is a canine hotel—a home away from home for pets when their parents travel. But these days, many people are sending their dogs to camp even if they don’t have any travel plans of their own. Fortunately for pets everywhere, special camps such as this one, where pets come and stay or just play for a day, are opening up all over the country.

Image: Dogs on a bus
Sam Sevier  /  Double Dog Ranch
On the bus headed for fun to the Double Dog Ranch.
And while many pet parents are happy to drive out to the ranch to drop off their pets for their vacation, Sevier like many other similar facilities, offer the convenience of a downtown pickup service in his now famous little yellow school bus.

“They just love the ride. I harness them into the seats and you can see they are already having fun.”

Maddie goes to camp three to four times a year.

“The moment she sees Sam, 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. “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!”

Another regular camper, a Doberman named Beaumont, couldn’t wait to go for a couple of weeks when his pet parent Lisa Crippen had hip surgery.

“It was difficult to take him for regular walks. So he got to go to camp and hang out with doggie playmates,” says Crippen of Portland Ore. “I didn’t have to feel guilty that I couldn’t take him for walks. When we came to fetch him he came up to say ‘hello’ and then ran right back to play with his friends.”

The ranch offers canines of all shapes and sizes carte blanche to romp around seven acre slice of countryside that is undoubtedly the closest thing to doggie paradise. They can dig and roll in the mud, chase birds and rabbits and bury toys to be discovered an unearthed from the ground on their next stay.

“The swimming hole is also very popular,” explains Sam. “We watch them very carefully and only strong swimmers are allowed although given the chance every dog would love to jump in. Sadly some dogs such as Basset Hounds aren’t built for aquatics.”

Image: Pet Camp in San Francisco
Pet Camp
A labrador swims in specially imported indoor swimming pool at Pet Camp in San Francisco.
While Sevier is out and about with the dogs, he carries his camera and shoots hundreds of photographs to put up on the Web site so that pet parents can see what their furry kids have been up to during their stay.

Maddie holds the “closest to duck” record,” says Beath proudly referring to a photograph on the Web site that shows the Labrador within paw range of a wild duck in the swimming hole. “Even when she’s not at camp I often check the Web site to look at the photographs, especially if I’ve had a bad day because they make me laugh.”

In San Francisco, Calif., Mark Klaiman, chief camp counselor at Pet Camp, also takes pictures of his visitors and posts them on the Pet Camp Web site for doting parents.

Klaiman’s state-of-the-art indoor facility caters for urban dogs that don’t have place to run and play at home.

“We also have a specially imported indoor swimming pool,” says Klaiman who prides himself on the facility being totally environmentally 'green'. Even the doggy poop is part of an experimental pilot program to convert into compost. While the camp also offers boarding facilities, many locals take advantage to simply give their pets a day of fun.

Following on the success of the canine campground, Klaiman opened a separate facility for cats. Camp Cat Safari, located in a beautifully remodeled turn-of-the-century building in Presidio Heights, is a landscaped green house that offers felines the unique opportunity to enjoy the feel of the great outdoors from this safe enclosure. Surrounded by trees and plants, there are towers full of tropical fish and aviaries of twittering birds so that felines can look, but not munch.

“Cats love it,” says Klaiman. “Feline guests are allowed to play here on their own so that there is no cat fights. And apart from the boarding facilities offered, local cat owners are also bringing their felines for day trips to hone their natural hunting instincts and sit and watch birds.”

According to Joseph James, owner of The Dog Adventure Camp in the Columbia Gorge in Stevenson, Wash., many foreign tourists bring their dogs to camp while they enjoy some of the outdoor amenities the area has to offer.

“Lots of hotels in the area are beginning to tell guests about the types of facilities that are available to pets, and tourists are taking advantage, letting their pets off leash to have a mini vacation of their own.”

Many pet camps such as James’s also offer dog obedience classes.

“You’d be surprised how much a dog can learn in a day,” he says.

Image: Pet Camp Cat Safari
Pet Camp Cat Safari  /  Mark RogersPhotography.com
Masai "hunting" at Camp Cat Safari in San Francisco.
Others like the Great Dog Adventure Park in Seattle, Wash., offer a variety of entertainment, including painting classes and a recreation room where they are allowed to sit on the furniture and watch cartoons while drooling over peanut butter treats.

But for city slickers, the main attraction at many of these venues is the great outdoors, with no rules—as long as there are on their best behavior.

“Dogs are allowed to bring their own toys to sleep with if they are staying over, but we don’t encourage their own toys for outside play because then they get possessive,” explains Sevier. “We have plenty of stuff here for them and it’s surprising how they know it's communal property and are happy to share. There are never any fights. They are far too busy having fun.”

It is indeed, a dog’s life.

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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