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Jennifer Andrews with her Labradors at Camp Wagalot. The day-care and boarding facility for dogs also gets into socializing the pups to improve their behavior.

Camp Wagalot Owner Finds Her Passion in Caring for Dogs

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
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STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — After being laid off, Jennifer Andrews found herself in a depression. She was 40 years old, had never been laid off before, and couldn't find a job. She found herself snuggling up to her two Labradors and had an epiphany — she wanted to do something where she could spend the day with her dogs.
The result was the opening a decade ago of Camp Wagalot, a dog day-care facility that has grown over the last decade to have a waiting list of 50 to 60 dogs.
"Most of the time I can get in the field and play with them and all. It's a gift. That's the best part," she said. 
Andrews' love for dogs shines through in the effort that she puts into each client and the passion that fills her spirit as she speaks about the work they do there. She believes she's built a strong clientele base because of her focus on safety and individualized care. 
"So that's the other piece I love about this, right? So if you can imagine, every single one of our dogs all have their personalities," she said. "Every single one of these guys has their tolerances, their personality, the things I like, and the things I don't like, I will absolutely not put up with." 
Andrews' passion for dogs is made evident as soon as you meet her. Andrews now has seven dogs of her own that's she trained and uses to help introduce new dogs to the camp.
Each dog has its own unique personality, she said, so she is very selective which dogs it meets. She caters what behaviors they can build on. 
Some dogs are introverts while others are not, Andrews said. She explained that she can encourage certain behaviors to better integrate the dogs in this sociable environment that can also improve behavior at home. 
"We can condition them to be around other dogs. And, actually, it does help them become better dogs. So it's really, that's a really cool thing," Andrews said. "Until we've proved them and get them set, and then eventually, they get comfortable and they might be able to meet one of my guys. But it's a strategy."
One goal of her day care is to train dogs and inform owners as a way to lower the number of dogs that get sent to the shelters for behavioral issues. She argued that owners can unwittingly train dogs in a way that worsens their behavior, which leads them to give up and place them into shelters. 
"It's not the owner's fault, sometimes they just don't know, sometimes they're just freaking busy trying to pay the bills," Andrews said. "Without having that outlet for them where they can learn some manners, burn off some steam, owners or get fed up and put them in the shelter."
Camp Wagalot offers plenty of space to burn off steam on 14-acre camp with its 20,000 square feet of fenced-in play areas.
Andrews said her experience in human resources and as an event planner has contributed to her knowledge in running the day care. 
Similar to how HR brings on workers, Camp Wagalot on-boards the dogs in phases so that they are comfortable and a relationship can be built. Event planning, from when she was in her 20s, taught her ways to find solutions to problems that may arise suddenly. 
Andrews was in HR for five years until she was laid off due to the economy tanking. She had started off in recruiting and was promoted to do customer service leadership management training.
First launched as a dog-walking business, then pet sitting, Andrews found support from one of her dog-walking clients who looked at the property and financed the camp.
"Now, I had no idea he had the financial means to do an 'angel lending.' So he came and took a look, he got excited. He said, 'Here's what I'll do. You pay me interest only for two years,' which was like $3,000 a month. Insane. 'And after two years, you get traditional funding.'" 
The current regulations that exist for so-called doggy day-cares are broad and rely on the pet owners rather than the day-cares. Andrews feels the pet parents and day-care owners should work together to ensure the safety of the animals. 
There are reports of animals getting hurt or killed in day-cares because there are no regulations in place to protect them. Andrews referenced "Ollie's Law," a bill in the Legislature (H.305), which would create legislation to regulate and license pet day-cares. The bill was prompted after a dog was mauled so badly at an East Longmeadow day-care that it later died. 
"I feel we need regulation that the owners are involved in, but also the operators because if we're doing it right, and dogs are safe, we should be able to help with that regulation. I just feel like you'll get a great balanced perspective," she said. 
Andrews said day-cares can just open and do whatever they want because there are no regulations in place protecting these animals. She read an article how there are day-cares that has one person watching more than 50 dogs. 
To ensure safety, she has seven staff that will be trained and certified with a Pima Animal Care Center certificate. PACC is an organization that covers the whole operating procedures from chemicals to dog behavior.  
"It's pretty much the only one that I've really seen that I feel is good. Or feel like it covers it all. It's like the how to run the the whole operation from standard operating procedures, to chemicals, to dog behavior so you're running the whole thing in the most safe, efficient way," Andrews said. 
All staff receive training in pet first aid once a year and they so many different types of training to ensure their skills are up to date. 
They also use The Dog Gurus, a group of women trainers who owned a doggy day-care that created training programs. Camp Wagalot staff just finished the Pack Pro Training that discussed body language. 
Prior to being accepted into the camp, all dogs have to go through a vetting process. 
The owners complete a profie on the website that covers the dogs medical, mental, and behavioral health. Once that is received it is reviewed and determined if the dog would be a good fit for Camp Wagalot.  
If it seems like the dog is a good fit then they are added to the waiting list. There is also two-hour trial to evaluate the dog before it enters so that she has an understanding of its social skills. 
"It's short and sweet. They get this thing where they come to this new strange place that smells like dog and there's people. I don't know, and how are they going to respond to that," Andrews said, "I can learn all I need to know in that two hours, then we send them on their way. And then they've had a first full circle experience."
One of the popular activities the camp has is a lure course. The trainers will set up boxes with string, tie a bag to it, and it zips around for the dog to chase. 
They also train the dogs to swim during the warmer seasons in the new pool that was added last July. Andrews teaches the dogs how to get in and out of the pool and works with them at their own pace. 
All dogs being boarded have their own space and go through the same vetting process. All dogs at Camp Wagalot are part of the day camp to ensure that they are well rested and comfortable.

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