Columbus, Ohio USA
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A Community of Wonder Dogs
Doggy daycare, grooming opens in Weinland Park
by Margaret Marten
July/August 2017 Issue
Charlene Walker surrounded by her community of wonder dogs. Photo © Robert Walker
What may be the Short North area’s first dog daycare center opened in March to a round of grateful bow-wows.
Companionship, exercise, and an occasional bath or cut for Fido are now right around the corner. Straddling Italian Village and Weinland Park right off East Fifth on N. Grant Avenue, the newly opened Wonder Dog Society provides canine pal daycare and grooming.
Owner Charlene Walker clearly has enough energy, enthusiasm, and warm-heartedness to match any furry friend who might come dancing through the door.
“I just love the dogs,” she says. “And it’s funny because the dogs love me too.”
A tour of the facility on a quiet Sunday morning, undistracted by the boisterous barks and usual clamor of canine horseplay, reveals plenty of romping room and sufficient space for naps and feeding.
Housed in what may have been a warehouse, and more recently served as a church, the massive 1500-square-foot playroom with rubberized flooring and high ceiling includes a long low-lying stage that came with the building, satisfying a dog’s natural inclination to climb, jump and explore. “They really like it,” said Walker. “They run around and jump off of it and play.”
Another dynamic diversion – in additiont to a plethora of playthings – is the bright blue agility tunnel. Constructed of vinyl and wire, the tunnel offers a long confined space for curious canines to explore and run through – usually chasing each other. The Facebook videos of this action-packed playpiece are comical. Some may be timid at first, said Walker, but their curiosity gets the better of them, and they want to be a part of the pack passing through it.
In warmer weather, a puppy pool is occasionally filled, becoming a magnet for mischief. Walker says some dogs are more into water than others, so that’s something to consider when deciding whether to use it, but pooch lovers know how fun and refreshing it can be for water dogs.
For those pups who like to hide or occasionally get away from all the action and take a moment to chill out, a cot or crate is not too far off. “Having a place to hide out helps dogs feel safe,” Walker said, citing an example of one “older fellow,” who appreciates companionship but doesn’t show much interest in play. “He usually just hangs out and then when he is tired he goes to the crate and lies down.” Midday, the entire crew is corraled into an adjoining room (with a lower ceiling and less resonance) for quiet time, but by the afternoon most are eager to play fetch again, learn a few tricks, play in the pool or make mischief.
At 39, Walker is still young enough to take in a long day of strenuous pup play but mature enough to handle the critical decision-making canine control requires. Her background in business began at Wendy’s where she worked her way up the management ladder after moving to Columbus from Bloomington, Indiana, followed by almost a dozen years in customer relations at Microcenter. The corporate work was unfulfilling, however. “I was too efficient at my tasks,” she said. “and I really just wanted to do something that felt meaningful to me.”
Walker’s personal life took a dramatic turn when she and her husband, Robert, decided to become foster parents after unsuccessfully trying to conceive. During that process, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 35. “The correction for that is a hysterectomy,” she said. The couple, overwhelmed by the news, abandoned their plans to foster children. “Suddenly, I didn’t want to do kids anymore, like it was just too hard.”
A friend visiting at that time brought along a dog, and Walker liked the dog, so much so that she and her husband began to consider owning one. Another friend knew of some free puppies. “So we went, and we got Bucky, and it was just like true love, me and Bucky. We’re inseparable now.” A sweet boxer beagle mix, Bucky was Walker’s first dog as an adult, and once he settled in and became family, she began to read and do research to learn all she could about dogs. “I wanted to do everything that was good for him,” she said.
Like most pets, Bucky spent the day at home alone. Walking him before and after work did not necessarily give Bucky the full range of exercise and interaction he needed, Walker decided. Furthermore, the winter was particularly problematic with ice and snow impacting his vulnerable paws. She scheduled him for daycare three days a week in the winter. He would spend alternate days resting at home after a previous day of fun and exercise. In the warmer weather he went twice a week.
“It is mostly about companionship,” Walker explained. “People who work full time don’t want their dogs to be in a crate or home alone all day. It is also good for younger dogs to go to daycare to learn to socialize with a lot of different kinds of dogs.”
Bucky changed Walker’s life in more ways than one. Not only did he fill a hole in her heart, but he helped her solve that perplexing problem – what to do with her life. Doggy daycare had never been on the horizon, but after learning about it, she spotted a dream and went after it. “I had no idea this was anything that I would ever want to do,” said Walker, “but now it seems like all I ever wanted to do.”
Uno, a one-year-old Norwegian Elkhound and collie mix, is Jeseka Fuller’s first dog and the first dog to become a member of the Wonder Dog Society.
“I live right down the street,” she said. Uno’s “sad look” while settling into his cage when she left for work every day is what convinced her to join up – if only for four hours after lunch twice a week, allowing Fuller to go to the gym after work and to give Uno a few hours of precious playtime. “It’s really just because he has so much energy,” she added. “If I want to go home at the end of the day and decompress or clean my house, he has to have his workout first.”
The Wonder Dog Society is “awesome,” says Fuller. “They do a daily report card, and they have all these high-quality pictures that they take while they’re there.” Uno looks fabulous in the photos – particularly after he got a Wonder Dog grooming. “It honestly looked like he lost 30 pounds after that,” she said.
Kat McNamara performs her miracle makeovers at the facility two days a week.
The Wonder Dog Society was named in honor of Bucky. “I think about how wonderful he is,” Walker said, “how amazing he is to me.” In fact, all the dogs are wonderful and amazing. “They’ll follow me around, and if I sit down, they’ll all come and sit around me or be close to me – when they’re not playing. When they’re ready to settle down, I’ll have a circle of sleeping dogs around me and I love it.”
Walker’s stated mission is to nurture and grow a community of wonder dogs. What a wonderful life.
© 2017 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
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