Monterey County Weekly Article

ANIMAL INSTINCT: Little dogs get their own section of the playroom, where the slide and the bridge are popular props. Photo by Nic Coury

Pooch Pampering: Monterey’s new ‘Dawg Gone It’ takes kenneling to customized heights.

By Carole Tiley

Princess is a 12-pound Bichon, a bundle of fluff and curls. She prefers the company of people over other pups, the more spoiling the better, and loves peanut butter.

Those tendencies help make Princess an ideal client for the newest dog hotel in town, the completely indoor 6,600-square foot Dawg Gone It, and, more specifically, its “Queen Bee” treatment.

For $52.95, the dog resort will regale her with a game of fetch in an individual playroom, an afternoon walk to smell the flowers, several bathroom strolls, bedtime brushing, and a Kong stuffed full of creamy peanut butter.

She’ll stay in a suite with a white tile floor, bright pastel walls—tangerine, light lime, lavender—and a patio door. She seems to like the simple decor of the rooms that come in sizes ranging from small, medium, to extra large: one framed picture paired with a steady stream of instrumental music. As with all clients, her parents choose the amenities for their furry friend, including a raised cot bedding or a pillow-like mattress on the floor; plastic or ceramic dinner dishes; and one or two cup serving sizes. If it’s not the peanut butter stuffed chew come treat time, it might be peanut butter and banana whipped together—served chilled in a sugar cone.

Wayne Ragen, owner of Dawg On It, doubles as the concierge for Princess and her pup acquaintances. He came to create a canine spa after a 26-year career studying “pride dynamics,” caring for and training lions and tigers. After his cat career, Ragen worked in architecture, and then decided to get back to what he’s most passionate about: animals. “I’ve been around dogs since I was two years old,” he says. “They’ve been by my side ever since.”

Through an interview guided by an exhaustive checklist of options, he develops “a customized stay” for each guest. Temperament testing is also required for every daycare visitor before Ragen will commit to placing him/her in a play group.

“We are mixing and matching physical activity with pampering,” he says. “We call it activity-based lodging.” The idea is to eliminate a dog’s tendencies to mope—a symptom of separation anxiety—by offering them constant stimuli.

While Princess visits for overnight indulging, Bradley the Maltese Poodle comes for daycare calibrated to his energetic instincts. He enjoys a full day of romping with pup friends in the indoor playroom, with its paw-friendly recycled rubber tire flooring. The air is always circulating, with the help of a ventilation system that brings in 100 percent fresh air every 10 minutes.

Much like an elementary school playground, big dogs and little dogs are separated by a boundary; in this case, an adjustable plastic fence. Each playgroup has an obstacle course—a plastic stair with slide, and a bridge—and a patch of green turf grass with a bright red fire hydrant ready for those who like to lift their leg.

Bradley has come to dig staying here.

“When we pull into the parking lot he goes crazy with excitement, above and beyond anything I had ever seen before,” says his mom, Sarah (who declined to share her last name). “After he comes home, he eats a bit of food, and then goes to sleep.”

Ragen staffs with a specific sort of person: one that loves to romp as much as a dog like Bradley.

“They love playing around,” he says. “They will try to see who can play chase the longest—dog or dogsitter.”

Most employees are young adults. Several are studying animals at venues like Moss Landing Marine Lab and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Their studies continue on site, as Ragen requires extreme attention to detail—every pooch who visits is given a five point wellness check when they arrive: coat, ears, eyes, paws and mouth. From there, notations are made for most everything they do—everything from feeding times and appetite to bowel movements and disposition (descriptors include “playful,” “chill” and “rambunctious”).

The system recently enabled a staff member to detect blood in a dog’s urine. A speedy trip to the veterinarian identified and treated the dog’s urinary tract infection.

“I trust them completely,” Bradley’s mom says.

That trust translates to good business for Ragen. You might say it’s a dog’s life for him.

Posted July 01, 2010 12:00 AM