In the morning he would explode from the stable doors, a chaff-colored blur of lolling tongue and drumming footpads and ears all aflutter. As he ran he flung little clods of grass in every direction, meandering through the field as if it were an airy forest of his own design. Behind, the wood barn, light brown, stained with rain and standing in the shadow of quiet limestone mountains. Below them, the coal shelves and the strange subterranean reaches of mystic Appalachia.
But none of that was on Peanut’s mind. The sun was out, he was free, and if you thought it impossible for a Labrador to smile, you’d have been mistaken. Five years later, the Georgetown pooch has since graduated to more celestial pastures, but the Shenandoah Valley barn remains with a standard roster of around 25 canine guests. The boarding facility is the property of Country Dogs, started by Mark and Victoria Cave, who found their first customer in Peanut. The lab now graces the front page of the company’s website. “I spoke with [Peanut’s owner, a Georgetown resident] a year ago or so and said, ‘You know, we’ve never taken down that picture of Peanut. He was our first boarder.’ She was tearing up … We still have those real solid relationships with our old customers,” Mark Cave says.
It isn’t surprising. After all, it’s not always easy for vacationing dog owners to find a place to stay for their best friend, let alone a door-to-door service that carts dogs between the Washington metro area and the 17-acre farm just south of Front Royal, converted in July 2004 to accommodate dogs. Cave and his wife — both former teachers at the Maret School in Woodley Park — got the idea from Josh Tuerk of Puppy Love Petsitters, who mentioned the high demand among dog lovers for boarding that wasn’t, well, dungeonlike.
That’s the draw of Country Dogs. After the shuttle ride from the city, boarders are led to spacious, oversized stalls in what was once a barn for horses. Each dog is let out, off leash, into a giant fenced run for four to six hours a day and is free to explore the pond and fields with other furry guests. Sounds like summer camp, only without the cafeteria food.
For the Caves, that’s exactly what makes their business unique. They eschew the concrete paddocks and noisy corridors of traditional kennels in favor of a healthier, more peaceful setting, one that affords their boarders some freedom — and a chance to shake off the stress of being away from home.
“I don’t try to cut people down who are in the industry who are doing it other ways,” Cave says. “But we do believe strongly in the idea of fresh air and exercise.”
It’s catching on. Although the Caves count Washington as their original target market, they have since expanded to serve New York and Philadelphia with a 69-acre farm in Bethel, PA. Another facility serving Boston is in the works.
Both farms are designed for long-term boarding, with an average stay of 13 days. Some canine companions drop in for only a weekend, but Cave says the farms have hosted canine companions for six months or more.
He warns that customers can expect limited availability during the holidays— the D.C./Northern Virginia farm is booked for Thanksgiving and Christmas — but says last-minute spots do open up occasionally. Naturally, reservations are more easily obtained during the post-holiday lull. Which, as any smart traveler knows, is the best time to leave town anyway. But don’t forget your dog just might be having more fun.
Country Dogs charges a boarding rate of $35 per night, with a $22.50 transportation fee each way. Find out more at www.country-dogs.net.