I could not have produced my dog camp without the help of several friends: Marie and Tom in the kitchen, Robin as agility and obedience trainer (who also lets me borrow her agility equipment), Sandra as dishwasher and kitchen helper, Miki and Mark as general do-anything assistants. These amazing people gave their time and energy simply to help me realize a dream. They insisted that they had great fun in the process, but seeing how hard they worked left me in awe of their generosity. I have been blessed by their friendship and support, and can never thank them enough. Other camp operators have been similarly blessed. Cultivate your friends.
However, I have some advice on this subject: Before accepting a friend’s offer to help, ask yourself whether—given a worst-case scenario—you can stand to lose that person’s friendship. If the answer is yes, proceed carefully, and discuss what you expect and what you’re willing and able to provide in return (such as free room and board during camp). If the answer is no, find someone else for the job, hire help or (more likely) do it yourself. The reality is that this new aspect of your relationship could ultimately stress the bonds of friendship to the breaking point.
Welcoming Guests to Camp—First Impressions
Be sure your guests feel welcome from the start. Make a good first impression so that they can relax and enjoy themselves. My participation in trail-running events taught me that a welcoming “goodie bag” is a great way to greet guests. I contacted Claudia, editor of Bark, and asked if she was willing to provide me with back issues of the magazine for my guests; not only was she happy to do so, she encouraged me in this new endeavor. “It’s about time there was a camp in the Pacific Northwest,” she said. My artistic and creative sister-in-law Sue made various craft gifts as well as prizes for games and contests. The gifts and prizes were a hit and created a good initial vibe as well as word-of-mouth promotion for little expense.
My goodie bags also contain a list of camp rules, a schedule of meals and events, and fliers for the various dog-related businesses I agreed to promote in exchange for links to my camp from their web sites.
A Pleasant Exhaustion
If you approach starting a dog camp with the right attitude, you can’t help but be successful as you enrich the lives others as well as your own.
Every camp operator I talked with agreed that the people and dogs you meet and befriend at camp make all of the effort worthwhile. “I have a whole new group of friends,” said Alysa, who uses vacation time from her job as a psychologist to run her camps. I’m self-employed and can work around my own camp’s schedule. Honey is lucky enough to make a living from her camps and other dog-related businesses, but every other camp operator I know gives this advice: Don’t give up your day job! For most of us, this is, in reality, a hobby business. In many ways, that frees us to do it because we’re passionate about the camp and about dogs, not because we have to pay the bills.
Annie, who considers herself an activist for human causes, initially struggled with the feeling that operating a dog camp might seem frivolous. She came to realize, however, that camp is a sort of “alternative universe,” where for a few days, people can recharge their spirits and experience the unconditional love of dogs by being in the moment with them. If camp can provide that, it’s worthwhile. But to disabuse anyone of the notion that being a camp director is somehow glamorous, keep in mind that one of our last duties before closing down the facility is scooping poop.