Walking a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes – Three Weeks as a Kennel Operator

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!

©Darwin Wiggett – Dave’s big boots; tough to fill!

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!

©Darwin Wiggett – A big part of the kennel owner’s day!

©Darwin Wiggett – Guess what the favorite game is for the dogs?

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!

©Darwin Wiggett – The view from the living room window!

©Darwin Wiggett – The house in the country with the aurora – tough view to take!

©Darwin Wiggett – Brando came to help out with kennel duties!

©Darwin Wiggett – I loved hanging with the dogs.

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!

©Darwin Wiggett – Looking back it was a great experience!

 

 

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and a good guitar jam.

20 Comments

  1. Chris Plante
    December 6, 2012

    At least you are never short of “dog therapy”.

    Reply
  2. Stephane
    December 6, 2012

    Wow, that does seem like a tough job. Must of been a good feeling once you asserted your dominance but I can’t imagine jumping into a dog fight like that. good on you

    Reply
  3. Ron
    December 6, 2012

    I thought Brando had his foot fixed, or did it grow back?

    Looks like fun!

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      December 6, 2012

      Ron,

      Brando will always have that lump on his foot; treatment kills the cancer cells (we hope) but the lump will be there with scar type tissue.

  4. Jim Dobie
    December 6, 2012

    Good on you for taking this up this challenge, Darwin. I’ve broken up one or two dog fights over the years and been bitten in the process. I learned from each episode though, you have to be the boss for sure. Would I do it again? Of course! Especially if one of my dogs was involved.

    Reply
  5. Jane Chesebrough
    December 6, 2012

    That’s a tough test but you rose to the occasion. The dogs look very happy in the pen and was happy to see Brando after the health scare-have not known all this time whether he was still around. Kudos to Dave it seems that he runs a tight ship and glad he got a break.

    Reply
  6. Dorine
    December 6, 2012

    So glad to see Brando again!

    Reply
  7. Bob Costall
    December 6, 2012

    Darwin – I don’t comment on your blogposts much but I look at every one and really enjoyed you dogsitter episode. Keep up the good work and say hi to Sam and Catherine. I enjoy their posts too

    Reply
    • Samantha
      December 7, 2012

      Hello back, Bob!

  8. Heather Simonds
    December 6, 2012

    Really enjoyed this adventure. I see Gone Wild Kennels is the name of the kennel and will recommend. Your kennel adventure reminded me of Stephen Leacock’s “My Financial Career” …, except your story had photos that also told the story.

    Reply
  9. Sarah
    December 7, 2012

    Gone wild kennels an amazing spot as is Dave. My fur baby has spent some time there and never wants to come home. Kudos for giving dave some time away. As dave lets us dog people have time away., without worry.

    Reply
  10. Jackie Lovell
    December 7, 2012

    Many thanks to Darwin for giving up three weeks so Dave and I could get away. It allowed us three weeks of no worry and LOTS of relaxation. Thank you also to Sam for supporting Darwin while he worked his butt off!

    Very well written and of course fantastic pictures! Since we have so many pictures that both you and Sam have taken hanging in our house, I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Jackie

    Reply
  11. Rhonda Holland
    December 8, 2012

    Great story and beautiful pictures Darwin. Jackie and Dave are friends of ours and everything you say about Dave is spot on. I have never seen anyone command control yet be so receptive and understand dogs the way Dave does. Yes, it is his dream job but he works very hard at it and for it.

    Reply
  12. Nicole Dawood
    December 8, 2012

    I think people do think running a dog kennel would be an easy dollar – wrong! It is a commitment many of us would not be able to make. My two large dogs have been there, for 3 weeks. Dave stayed in touch with us, posted pictures of our pooches on his website/u tube to keep us up to date on how they were doing. One of the most impressive things for me were how clean the dog kennel area was – you could eat off the floor. That told me they get out enough. The place did not smell at all. He definitely is the alpha dog as well. Barely any barking at all, I couldn’t believe it, 40 dogs and no barking. He “interviews” all dogs to assure they are not aggressive…

    It was a no brainer to have him care for our pets while we were away for 3 weeks and we will be taking them again for sure. Without hesitation!

    Keep up the awesome work Dave!

    Reply
  13. Michelle Dobler
    December 8, 2012

    I have been a client of Dave’s for many years and I echo everything said here. My old lab absolutely LOVES going there! The excited voice begins when we hit the gravel road! Dave is the Alpha and they all know it. This was a great read and I hope Dave went somewhere wonderful on his first holiday!!

    Reply
  14. Mary B
    December 9, 2012

    Loki has been a frequent guest at Gone Wild over the last 7 years and I believe Loki and Brando have had words and good fun during that time. Your post is great and what resonated with me was the ‘as silent as a church’. Dave told me when I first brought Loki to Gone Wild that the dogs were not to bark in the kennel…huh? I wasn’t sure how to explain this to Loki…but Dave a assured me that he would handle it. It was the second time Loki went to Gone Wild and Loki, barked and barked and barked. Dave, with his experience initially thought it was ‘a new dog thing’ and ignored him. But when the barking was so persistant Dave went back into the kennel to see what the problem was…Dave opened the kennel door and Loki dashed out to sit infront of kennel 13 quiet as a church mouse. He had been in kennel 13 the first time and was sure it was a mistake to be in another kennel. Thanks to Dave’s understanding Kennel 13 is the only kennel Loki has seen since.

    Darwin, thank you for putting into words what many of us of thought for years, Gone Wild is a great place for our dogs!

    Reply
  15. Lou Cragin
    December 10, 2012

    Good to see Brando looking so good. Probably burned your shoes by this time, eh?

    Reply
  16. Anna
    December 10, 2012

    Sounds like you had quite an experience, Darwin! Dave must be an amazing guy, as his kennel is held in high esteem by so many folks.

    Reply
  17. Catherine's Ah Ha Moment - It's a Wiggly World of Photos! | oopoomoo
    December 16, 2012

    […] Sam and Darwin are trying to take some time off this month. As you read in Kennel Boy’s post, he was crazy busy while at Gone Wild Kennels.  Sam slaved over the computer most of the time […]

    Reply
  18. On Dave's Pond - Images from a Prairie Slough | oopoomoo
    December 18, 2012

    […] my three week stint as a temporary kennel operator, I managed to get out to photograph a couple of sunsets on Dave’s Pond which is a […]

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