Our team at Pet Perennials is always meeting new and interesting business owners from around the globe that have been inspired by a pet to start a business or have dedicated their professional careers to helping our furry, feathered, or scaly companions. This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Alysa Slay Founder of Camp Dogwood.
Did you have a pet that inspired you to start your business/product/service? Or that encouraged you to be in the field that you are in? If no, what inspired you?
In 2000, while hanging out with a good friend and our dogs in a neighborhood park of Chicago, Camp Dogwood was born. I had my first dog, Forrest, who was my inspiration for dog camp, along with my many years of experience attending and working at summer camps.
The daily dog park ritual was part of our routine, and we were finding it increasingly difficult to find large, open dog-friendly spaces to play with our dogs without the threat of a ticket. One day while at the park, a stream of "what-if “scenarios was the topic of conversation, and the magical words were said aloud, "what-if there was a place like a kids-overnight-camp but the kids were dogs and came with their people?"
My friend and I had years of camping experience, were outdoor enthusiasts, and had gone on numerous road trips with our dogs. We were passionate about spending time with our dogs. Not quite ready to take the plunge, we did a little research and visited a dog camp that was a 20-hour drive from Chicago and, at the time, one of the few dog camps in the country.
Once home, we literally hit the pavement. We went to as many pet shops, vet offices, groomers, and training classes we could to gauge public interest and research the Who's Who in the Chicago dog world. We introduced ourselves and the concept of Camp Dogwood. Many responded with excitement, many with looks of skepticism. More than once we heard people say they thought the idea of a dog camp was, "crazy."
Ultimately, the incredibly strong dog community of Chicago embraced Camp Dogwood. Staff members signed on to instruct, people registered for camp, and the media took notice of us. Camp Dogwood's inaugural camp in 2001 was featured in the Chicago Tribune that year, and the sentiment of the article still ring true today:
"Anything you can do with your dog that promotes a closer bond is good...This place has been Nirvana for dogs, and the staff is great...They are interested in your relationship with your dog, not what you achieve...Dog camp feels like a family reunion with cool relatives you never knew you had...Here you have a community of dogs and their people."
Strengthening Canine Bonds, Communities, and Lives
When did you get into this line or work or how long have you been in this position?
Camp Dogwood's inaugural camp was in 2001. We started planning for our first camp a year in advance. I have been the owner and director since the beginning. My history with camp began as child though. I attended day camp, sleep away camp, and went on to be a camp counselor, and also a camp leader and trip leader over the years. I have always been passionate about the outdoors and camps.
How does your product or service help pets and pet parents? How does it specifically help senior pets?
The program at Camp Dogwood offers sessions to educate people about all aspects of their dog - health, wellness, nutrition, behavior, and the range of dog sports and activities you can do with your dog. The mission of Camp Dogwood has always been threefold: the dog, the bond, and the community.
The bond: we offer a range of dog sports (ex. agility, tracking, nose work, sheep herding, flyball, trick training, barn hunt, lure coursing and more), all of these sports have the option of competition outside of camp, however we emphasize how participating in any sport with your dog is a way to enhance your bond and relationship with your dog - that the competition aspect comes second.
The community: we promote responsible dog ownership at camp, as well as doing fundraising activities at camp to benefit dog rescue groups and non-profits. We like to think that the people who attend camp are ambassadors of responsible dog ownership.
The dog: we have many senior dogs that attend camp. Our schedule is designed so that in each activity period there is at least one low impact activity or sport offered that is well suited for a senior dog - this could be learning pet massage techniques for a senior dog, a low impact sport like nose work, or a talk on nutrition and supplements to help our dogs as they age.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice/recommendations concerning your field of expertise and that could benefit a pet’s and/or pet parent’s life, for senior pets?
1) Go for walks/hikes at your dog's pace, let them sniff, be present with your dog (put the phone away unless you are taking photos of your dog), if your senior dog isn't up for a walk consider a stroller or just sitting outside with them.
2) Maintain your dog's wellness through a quality diet and supplements, get baseline blood work done before your dog is a senior, and then do annual senior blood panels once they are of age to stay on top of any emerging issues. Preventative care costs a lot less than treating an illness or injury.
3) Learn how to give your dog a relaxing massage - pet massage is a great way to bond with your dog, in addition to the many physical benefits of massage.
Where can someone get information or access the products or services discussed?
Any parting words or thoughts in general about getting out and having fun with your pets?
As sad as it is, the notion that life is short and our dog's lives are shorter is something I hold in my heart each day with my own dog and in the care I put into planning camp. Regardless of what you choose to do with your dog - compete, play, go for a walk, snuggle on the couch, or take a nap together - people should treasure all of these moments and be present for them.
At the end of the day, we may offer 30-40 activities each day at Camp Dogwood, but I think what the dogs love the most is having devoted, one on one time with their person. Never underestimate how much it means to just "be" with your dog.