While family's away, dogs will play at 'resort' kennel

February 25, 1993|By Angela Winter Ney | Angela Winter Ney,Staff Writer

The resort playground is littered with youngsters' toys: a red ball, a squeaky pig and several synthetic bones.

At the Happy Tails Pet Resort, a Crownsville kennel, dogs are treated like people.

They "play" in a outdoor area, complete with a red fire hydrant that reads "Top Dog Award." They watch TV during the day. At night a radio is tuned to soothing classical music to sweeten their slumber.

Talk about your creature comforts.

"It's pretty much like being at home," says Frank Buckler, who owns the business with his wife, Caryl. "They're surrounded by TV and kids. We don't want them to feel like they're being punished because the owner has gone on vacation."

No ugly wire fences are in view at Happy Tails. The "resort," set far back from Old Generals Highway, has the same country estate styling as the Bucklers' home, which contains the offices and a dog styling and grooming salon. "We don't want them to feel like they're in dog jail, which is what some kennels are like," Mr. Buckler says.

The dogs play on a gravel lot in view of the swimming pool and 32 acres of woodland.

"At many places, the dogs play on cement," Mr. Buckler says. He objected to that, because "on cement the dogs will scuff their elbows, and hurt the pads of their feet." So he installed a doggie-friendly "playground."

At Happy Tails, human companionship is free. Most kennels charge an extra $5 to $7 for 15 minutes of romping with a person to keep dogs from feeling lonely, says 19-year-old Dawn Buckler. She and the Bucklers' two younger daughters, Holly, 12, and Mandy, 9, play outside with each dog twice a day.

Lamb and rice diets are provided for dogs who favor the special line of food, which "promotes good hair growth and skin texture," Mrs. Buckler says.

The Bucklers call their place the "ultimate vacation facility," and it's hard to imagine what else a dog would want. The price of lodging is comparable to area kennels -- $10 to $15 a day, depending on the size of the guest.

"We want them to have a good vacation while the owners are on vacation," Mrs. Buckler says.

The canine guests send postcards to their owners. The Bucklers snap the pets' pictures during their stay, affix them to cards and mail them to owners on vacation, so they can see how the little ones are doing back home.

Mr. Buckler emphasizes that this is no wild party, and all the dogs' entertainment is appropriate for "family" viewing. The TVs next to the dogs' beds stay tuned to PBS, "so we only get good wholesome shows," he says.

If the Bucklers get rich, he adds, "I'm going to build individual rooms for each dog so owners can bring videos of themselves."

Is he joking? The pet resort owner smiles. "In the old days, dogs stayed outside and ate scraps. Now people want their dogs treated like part of the family, and I think that's good. I want my dogs treated like that."

The Bucklers opened the kennel in August, after more than 300 of Mrs. Buckler's dog grooming clients signed a petition asking the couple to extend their family atmosphere to 24-hour boarding.

Already, the 70-bed kennel is full on weekends, and at Christmas, they turned away 150 callers for lack of space, Mr. Buckler says.

But the Bucklers know that despite their best efforts to treat their guests like people, they're still dealing with pooches. Although the kennel brochure explains civilly that "guests checking out before 11 a.m. will not be charged for that day," it also notes: "Guests showing signs of fleas will be dipped at an extra charge."

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