Have you ever wondered what life is like as another person? What’s it like to be on the road as a musician? What does the average day of an elite athlete look like? What does a cattle rancher do day-to-day and month-to-month? Could you handle the pressure of being a gang member? What does a Buddhist monk do for giggles? Sam and I are always wondering about other people’s lives. Fortunately for me, I got to walk in someone else’s shoes for three weeks as an operator of Gone Wild Kennels, a dog boarding kennel, just outside of Cochrane, Alberta.
First a little background: Dave, the owner of the kennel, has not had a vacation or a day off in 39 months! That sounds as bad as being a self-employed photographer! But worse (at least in my mind), Dave has to be at the kennel day in and day out; no little jaunts here and there to get away. Dave is stuck to his schedule of looking after the dogs and that schedule is rigorous! The kennel can hold up to 50 dogs at capacity and Dave’s kennel is unique in that the dogs get about 6 hours of playtime (in a giant fenced off-leash area) per day. You will never visit a more peaceful and quiet dog run. Where else can you see upwards of 50 dogs together being quiet and just hanging out? Don’t believe me? Well check out this video of Dave with 40 dogs. To achieve this feat, Dave is top dog and runs the kennel with a gentle but firm hand. This is the kennel he turned over to me. I like dogs and know a little about dog training but maybe these shoes were too big to fill! We’ll see!
Day one was not an auspicious start (read about it here) but after a few days I got the hang of things and got into the routine. And routine and long days are what the job is all about. The dogs are out from 6 to 7 AM and then are fed breakfast. Then I eat, check the kennel email and the schedule of drop offs and pick ups. Out with the dogs again from 8:30 to 11:00 AM. Much of that time is spent picking up poop, hanging with the dogs and dealing with clients that are leaving or fetching dogs. Then it’s lunch and then errands and maintenance of the kennel doing cleaning and repairs and such. There might be a little downtime (a short snooze or soak in the hot tub) but it is back out with the dogs from 3 – 5 PM. Then it’s make supper, have a few hours of downtime and then a final outing with the dogs from 9-10 PM. And I did not have to deal with the horses, the sheep, or the everyday chores of having a small farmyard. Yikes, that Dave guy is about as busy as a Border Collie in a ball factory!
The biggest skill you need is an understanding of dogs. I could mostly keep them quiet, but unlike Dave I did not have a kennel as silent as a church. And then there is the inevitable dog fight. Dave has them on rare occasions and quickly wades in there and raises hell. Mostly he just yells ‘hey’ and they stop. But they know Dave is serious and that they can get away with nothing. I was new and unproven!Dogs, like kids, love to test limits. And so the first few days scraps were common. To convince the dogs you are boss, you gotta have complete confidence. It is not so much what you do, it is how you carry yourself, but when push comes to shove, you better be the one shoving! And one day it happened. A lady let her dog out of her car outside the fence of the play area and the dogs in the fenced area went ballistic. Dogs are super brave when a fence separates them from other dogs and they hurled every insult they knew to the interloper. I was on the same side of the fence as the lady and her dog madly yelling at the lady to get her dog back in the car. Well one of the dogs snapped and a fight broke out between the two dominant dogs in the kennel. It was not just a minor scrap, it was one of those fights that was for the kill. And that fight triggered three others. There was four balls of flying fur and fury!
Experts say never wade into a dog fight or you will get hurt. A kennel owner’s responsibilities are first to the clients’ dogs; damn your own fingers and toes! So through the gate I plunged and immediately grabbed the dog with his fangs in another dog’s throat. Adrenaline had me grab the scruff of a 90 pound dog and toss it to the side. All the other subordinate dogs immediately went for the exposed gut of the dog on the ground. I was tossing dogs like a bear tosses logs looking for ants. I was totally pissed off and the dogs knew it. After that wee episode there were no more issues and the new guy in the kennel was accepted as boss. Dave makes it look easy, but the dogs know who the top dog is. Anyone new has to prove themselves to the dogs.
In the end, I have huge respect for the hard work and the skills Dave has as a kennel owner. Many people think Dave has a dream job (hanging out with dogs all day) but don’t judge it until you try it! After three weeks I already need a vacation! But the benefits of living in the country and suffering the views below help even things out! And the dogs were awesome!
In the end, could I be a kennel operator? I think so but only if I shared duties with someone else. I would want to work four days on and four days off! That is a good balance for me. Dave is tougher than that!