The old saying “a dog is man’s best friend” is pushed to new heights at Dog World Resort where dogs are treated like kings.
Two pugs, one black and one tan, run into the office of Dog World Resort owner Marion Westerling to greet her when they arrive. Moments later, after receiving ear scratches, they are back in the small dog area, romping around with other dogs.
“It’s all about the dogs,” she laughs and smiles. “It’s personal care.”
Westerling opened the kennel in May after falling victim to the failing economy last November when she lost her job. An offhand remark by her husband sparked the idea when she was considering what her next career move would be. After doing research and visiting other regional facilities, she decided to move forward with her plans and “everything fell into place. It’s really like it was meant to be. I’ve always loved animals and always loved dogs.”
Dog World Resort, located on U.S. Highway 411S near the intersection with Highway 129, offers boarding, daycare and grooming.
And it’s evident that Westerling is enjoying her new career path when she talks about the facility and its services.
“We are the only doggie day care in Blount County,” she said. “We have somebody on site 24 hours a day. Someone sleeps here all night. What that means for our clients is that they have 24-hour drop off and pick up.”
The 24-hour accessibility feature isn’t the only thing that sets Dog World Resort apart from other boarding facilities. During the day, the dogs are free to run loose and play with one another rather than being pinned up in kennels. The facility has two playrooms to accommodate large and small dogs in different spaces. Each of the rooms has a doggie door that allows the canines to enter large fenced-in areas for free roam.
Westerling says she won’t accept dogs that are aggressive or don’t get along well with other dogs. Each dog is prescreened to determine if they are the right temperament for this environment. The facility offers crates for dogs that are used to being crated at night, but during the day they have to come out. If an owner wants a dog to be crated during the day, then he or she will have to find another place to board their dog, Westerling says without apology.
The daytime play provides benefits to the dogs including socialization and exercise, she said. Socialization can help dogs who are fearful overcome their shyness, Westerling added, recalling one such canine client who had been abused early in his life.
The daycare is open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Some customers bring their dogs in for daycare several times a week while they are at work. The exercise during the day helps with the excess energy many dogs have otherwise.
Another unique characteristic of the resort is the boarding kennel. The kennels are not the typical metal cages and have walls that only go half up so staff can check on them by looking over the wall. Westerling said she didn’t want the dogs feeling like they were locked in but wanted something that would still allow them to have privacy so they could settle down for the evening. Each kennel has its own theme: Tiki bar, Paris, Italy, China, Safari and Americana with mini murals or objects reflecting those areas of the world on the walls. And of course, here in Big Orange country, the resort wouldn’t be complete without the Volunteer Suite, which is for families with multiple dogs.
But the comforts of home don’t stop there. Westerling offers a “pampered pooch package” where the dog can sleep in the bed with staff: in this case, Westerling’s son, Daniel. Daniel grins and says, “I’m used to it.” He grew up with family dogs sleeping with him, and he now has four of his own.
After hours, the boarded dogs get to go into the TV room for awhile. Daniel Westerling said one night an 80-pound pit bull climbed up in his lap to watch a little television.
With this many dogs playing together, it might be expected there would be a skirmish or two, but Daniel says they haven’t had any serious problems. Usually a voice command will head off any potential unpleasantness. Marion Westerling emphasizes that they do not use physical discipline ever; she won’t allow it. Sometimes a squirt with a water bottle, and if that doesn’t do the trick, the dog might be moved into time out to give him space to calm down from overexcited play.
Westerling, who has five employees including two who rotate staying overnight, said she’s been pleased with business so far.
“I am amazed at the response I’ve gotten,” she said. “Most of it has been word of mouth. Over half of our business is repeat customers.”
At Dog World Resort, it may be all about the dogs, but the facility also provides pleasing surroundings for owners when they are dropping off and picking up their pooches. The lobby offers a sitting area that looks at a mural of the ocean populated with dogs on the beach.
“We wanted something comfortable and inviting,” she said. “I really believe I was led to be here.”