The dog is 11 years old. She weighs 30 pounds but is big for her weight (long hair, long legs). For most of her life she’s occasionally had to go to kennels – ever since she got too big to fly in the cabin of an airplane, since I’m not a fan at all of checking your dog as cargo on a plane (If you do fly with your dog, I’d like to recommend Delta. They have a special air conditioned pet area at Hartsfield where dogs hang out in between legs of their trip, rather than being left on the tarmac or some such awful thing).
She’s stayed at some very good kennels. When we lived in Southern California, I was a massive fan of the Heavenly Pet Resort in West Covina. They have great staff, nice facilities, reasonable prices, and a heated bone-shaped swimming pool. You could pay a little extra to have them give your dog private extra play time (frisbee for my dog), and they offered 7-day pick-up (although you paid more to pick up on Sundays).
When we first moved to Alabama, we lived in Tuscaloosa. That’s a pretty good town to have a dog in. There’s a wonderful abandoned golf course that abuts the Arboretum, and it’s a place where everyone goes to let their dogs run wild and free. And it is home to what has to be one of the very best dog kenneling facilities ever, period, in the whole world – the Tuscaloosa K-9 Camp (their website was down when I wrote this, but they have a Facebook group and their phone number is 205-330-8319). To get there from town, you drive out like you were going to Lurleen Wallace State Park, and then you just keep going. And going. You’ll pass some buffalo and take a left at the abandoned chicken farm. Then you’ll take a right at a sketchy intersection where your other option is a dirt road. There may or may not be signs painted on wood to help you find your way. Finally you’ll get to Dog Heaven (or Mecca, or whatever) – 60 acres of wonderful Alabama forestland with a stream running through it and a lovely cabin set up in the middle. The proprietors are Red and Chase. They are master dog trainers, and also offer obedience training that a) works, b) is reasonably priced, and c) is not in any way cruel. I know what they say about old dogs and new tricks, but my old dog learned a lot up there – enough to be able to co-habitate with a cat. I simply can’t say enough about how great this place is. I have seldom seen my dog as happy and as at peace as she was coming home from there. There is always a big crowd of happy dogs there whenever you arrive, and Red and Chase are nice, and gentle, and kind. It is also pretty cheap. It is almost worth the 3 hour drive from here to get there.
After that, any boarding options in Montgomery were bound to be a letdown. The first place we tried was the Pike Road Kennel. It takes about 45-50 minutes to get there from our house, as it’s well on the way to Troy and you have to navigate the hell of the Boulevard to get there. It’s on 80 acres of land, but that doesn’t mean the dogs have the run of the place. On the contrary, they’re out in a big air-conditioned barn type structure in kennels. They say that on nice days the doors of the kennel building roll up so dogs can look outside. I’ve never seen that after about a year of taking her there. The folks there are nice. They don’t let you bring your dog’s own toys or blanket. The outside time is limited to 3-ish times in the grassy outdoor area in small supervised groups. The big plus of Pike Road is that they have Sunday pick-up. Otherwise, there’s not much that distinguishes the facility other than the fairly large grassy area.
I wanted a place that was closer to us, so we boarded her several times at our vet’s office – Montgomery Veterinary Associates on Carter Hill Road. We LOVE our vet, Charles McLemore. He is folksy and kind of shy but also hilarious and knowledgeable. I’m not so keen on the boarding situation there, though. It’s a standard vet boarding arrangement, with relatively small runs or cages and a small astroturf play area. They say they walk the dogs twice a day. I have no idea for how long, and suspect not that long. Sunday pickup is only between 3:30 and 4. Last time we boarded there Roswell pooped in her run (VERY unusual – part of the reason I suspect the walks are not that long; also, they did not feed her the food I brought even though they said they would) AFTER she had been bathed the day before. Then they tried to charge me for the bath, even though I was obviously going to have to bathe her immediately when I got her home. To the receptionist’s credit, she was willing to trade me a box of Advantix (a must when you have an outside dog around here) for the cost of the bath. What worried me was not the bath – it was the lack of attention I thought the situation demonstrated. We haven’t been back for boarding since then, though I will continue to use them as our vet.
The other day we looked at the Bell Road Animal Medical Center. I thought it was just ok. It was very clean, and the people were really nice. They say they do two walks a day around the vacant lot next door. There are Sunday pick-ups. I wasn’t totally sold. The reality is that most dogs need a longer walk to poop. And to get exercise. I’m starting to think grassy areas are essential.
Then I found out that there is a newer Montgomery Veterinary Associates out on Vaughan Road with a grassy play area and an astroturf play area. They have Sunday pick-ups from 3:30-4:00, just like the other MVA. This might be the best possible option, but we can’t try them out for a while because they’re not doing pick-ups on Sunday or Monday of Labor Day weekend.
I would like to find a place that is more like Pike Road (has a grassy area for play) but is not 50 minutes away and allows for Sunday pickups. Anyone out there got any recommendations? Or places they would never use again?
UPDATE (June 2015): So it turns out that the Tuscaloosa K-9 camp has closed since this post was written, under circumstances that would make a fantastic novel. We’ll tell you the whole story over beers sometime. But yeah, we have pretty much settled into a routine of using MVA, and are pretty happy with the good folks there.