Dogs unleash their cares at country camp for pets

April 30, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Sun Staff Correspondent

JARRETTSVILLE -- Tex raced to the edge of the pond and jumped in. He splashed about, playing with a rubber duck and a stick as camp counselor Laurie Allen watched from the bank, occasionally tossing a toy into the water.

Then Buddy and Molson took turns romping in the water as counselors readied other campers for nature walks on Pat Weiskopf's rolling 35-acre estate or played ball and Frisbee with them on the close-cropped lawn of the "fun and games yard."

This is Camp Country Comfort, a retreat in Jarrettsville for pampered pooches and pussycats whose owners either want them out of the way for a few days or have decided to give the animals a break.

"Think of us as doggie day care, the fun alternative to kennels and pet sitters," said Mrs. Weiskopf, the owner. "They need vacations, too."

Dr. Dale Greene, who practices at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, drove up with Max, his 2-year-old Shetland sheepdog. Mrs. Weiskopf and her staff greeted the dog like an old friend, and his tail wagged furiously.

"We know Max," Mrs. Weiskopf said. "He was here twice last year and a week ago, too."

Dr. Greene and his wife are moving to a new home and decided to spare Max the confusion of packing and moving. "He just seems to enjoy it here, the exercise and the outdoors, instead of just being stuck inside in a," Dr. Greene said.

Mrs. Weiskopf, 36, began working with animals as a groomer when she was 13. She later bred shelties before opening Country Comfort Kennels eight years ago as a boarding kennel on Mount Horeb Road, off Madonna Road, where she has lived for 16 years.

"I always wanted a kennel," she said, but she had the idea six years ago to expand it as the animal counterpart to sending the kids to summer camp. About the only thing her campers don't do is toast marshmallows while telling ghost stories around a campfire.

Most kennels and veterinarians are equipped to confine, feed and water dogs and cats, and neighbors or pet sitters take care of their physical needs with daily visits, Mrs. Weiskopf said.

"But what about their emotional needs?" she asked. "Dogs become extremely bored when suddenly left alone for days or weeks. They need interaction and companionship much like a child."

She said she designed her kennel to reduce or eliminate the stress and boredom of being separated from family. Dogs can see and hear each other at her kennel, although they have no physical contact.

When a dog goes home from the camp, it is with a bath, including a hot oil treatment for the skin, grooming and a pedicure. "The average stay is seven days," Mrs. Weiskopf said, "and most of our dogs are repeaters."

She boards as many as 60 dogs at a time, particularly during the summer vacation season when families are traveling. "We average about 25 dogs a day year-round," she said.

Mrs. Weiskopf and the four women who work with her, two of them students working part time, say they have found the best of all possible worlds for working with pets.

While there are fees for the various services, there is no way to measure the T.L.C. the animals receive.

The toughest part of dog breeding, Mrs. Weiskopf said, "was placing them in good homes. I worried about that. This way I work with healthy, happy dogs. I love it. It's a great way to live, right here with them."

"We have the same relationship with the dogs that teachers have with their students," said Wendie Mackin, 31, who has worked at the camp for six years and has two poodles of her own at her Media, Pa., home.

"You get to know the dogs, and they know you. When they come back, they know where they are, and they're very happy," Ms. Mackin said. "I like best the way the dogs respond to you."

"These dogs live better than some people," said Ms. Allen, an Abingdon resident who owns a Chinese Shar-Pei.

One woman sends her dog to camp when it becomes overweight, Ms. Allen said. The dogs are exercised five times a day along with the swimming and play. There are even life preservers for dogs, particularly small ones whose swimming abilities aren't known.

The only time any dogs get outside the fence is on nature walks and then only on 30-foot leashes. "This lets them feel they are free while we keep control," Ms. Allen said.

Mrs. Weiskopf's husband, a contractor, built the kennels for her as well as the four additions on their 100-year-old farmhouse just down the slope, where the family's own dogs loll in the sun.

One kennel wing has central heating and air-conditioning and indoor runs for dogs unaccustomed to outdoor life. It has also a roofed "play pavilion" because those dogs simply must go outside from time to time.

Cats are housed in this wing, too, in individual cages. They never come in contact with the dogs, and the cages are set so that the cats can watch birds picking at feeders outside. "Cats don't run around much. They'd rather sit in a sunny window," Mrs. Weiskopf said.

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