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It's a Dog Meet Dog World

By Bob Canning. Copyright © 2006 Petaluma Argus-Courier

Doggie Disneylands are springing up everywhere; two new ones lead the pack in Petaluma.

Every dog has his day, the saying goes, and doggie daycare facilities these days have become almost as common as those for children. In just three years, Camp Bow Wow, the granddaddy of all doggie daycare centers, has sold over 140 franchises nationwide in 28 states, with about 25 more scheduled to open, including in Santa Rosa, by the end of the year. And in Petaluma, two Mom and Pop doggie daycare facilities recently opened with at least one more expected to follow in the next few months ...

John Polzoni and fiancée Molly Krawczyk started Play Dog Play four years ago and currently have about 150 clients, some of whom commute to San Francisco daily. The couple's distinctive vans are often seen tooling around town and on the rural roads of Petaluma picking up and dropping off their four-legged charges.

"When we started our business," says Polzoni, "we took three or four dogs at a time out on excursions to Dillon Beach. But that was tough, as I didn't know what kind of aggressive dogs we might run into. Or there would be broken glass, or maybe a dead seal might wash up on shore and the dogs would roll around in it. I always wanted my own private space, and that's what we were working toward all along."

After having been disappointed when bids on two properties fell out of escrow, Polzoni and Krawczyk found the perfect location. "Dealing with the city," he says, "somebody suggested talking to the people at the fairgrounds, which we did. And now we lease the property from them. I don't think we could've stayed in business if we hadn't found it."

Dog Walker Ranch, located behind the Speedway, near the rubble that once was Kenilworth High School, and across from its athletic fields, officially opened in September. The neighborhood may look like "the land that time forgot" right now, but with extensive retail and residential development already underway, it's all about location, location, location. The one-acre lot accommodates three groups of 10 dogs each, and features 9,000 square feet of emerald-green, anti-bacterial Polyturf and a 16,000-gallon above- ground lap pool.

"The only drawback is we have to vacate the area for two weeks in June when the Sonoma-Marin Fair is on," says Polzoni, "because the carnival guys park their RVs there.

"So," adds Krawczyk, "we have to rent a flatbed trailer, contact every friend we've ever made to help roll up the Polyturf, disassemble the pool, and store the stuff at friends who have room on their property."

Camilla Gray-Nelson has no worries about rolling up her turf, as her 120-acre dairy farm has been in the family for generations. Since 1989, she has been one of Sonoma County's most successful and respected dog trainers, and her expandable three-acre Dairydell Canine Training facility attracts clients from as far away as Hawaii. In June, she started City Lickers, a drive-thru doggie daycare service for up to 25 dogs. Busy dog owners don't even need to get out of their cars and are even offered a latté to speed them on their way. In the evening, owners call ahead and their pets are conveniently waiting for their ride home.

"Typically, the dogs that come here are high-energy," Gray-Nelson explains. "If they are left at home unsupervised, without physical, mental and social stimulation, they pace, they bark, they dig, they destroy furniture. They're bored and too much isolation can affect a dog's mental balance. Here, we have seven contained exercise fields where they're professionally supervised in socially compatible groupings. They can swim and play when they want, climb the haystacks when they want, go crazy if they want. Since here they're allowed to be dogs, that helps preserve your home, your yard, and your sanity."

Gray-Nelson, who has written a book about her revolutionary new approach to matching people with dogs, currently employs two part-time helpers, one of whom has multiple sclerosis and depends on the canine assistance of a Bouvier des Flandres. Plans are currently underway for a major expansion of Dairydell's training services.

(Contact Bob Canning at argus@arguscourier.com)
Copyright © 2006 Petaluma Argus-Courier
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