The Second Act: A Dog’s Life

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“Lassie” was the first television show I ever watched. Sunday night, six o’clock, on Grandma’s small black-and-white television. I wanted a dog, just like Lassie. But dogs were expensive. Five dollars at the pet shop in Portland. I worked to earn the money. Two dollars came from walking to kindergarten by myself. (Not as bad as it sounds: Only one mile each way, rarely through the snow, and uphill in only one direction.)

I remember that Dad said I couldn’t name my dog Lassie, but I can’t remember much more about him. Even his name. But he was a boy dog. Girl dogs could get pregnant.

Life was different for dogs in those days. Dog chow was a real treat; most often a dog ate table scraps. And a dog was a short-term investment. What with disease, poor nutrition, and the highway at the bottom of the hill, a dog’s life expectancy was limited.

It’s documented that the status of the family dog has changed in the past 100 years. I can attest to the fact that it’s changed just in the past 60. Sixty years ago dogs were expendable. Even at $5 a pop, it was hard to justify much for maintenance.

Sometimes I would sleep with my dog. I had to sneak him into bed. I still sleep with my dog. But I don’t feel so sneaky about it anymore. I guess the practice remains controversial, but surveys suggest that as many as 70 percent of dog owners sleep with their dogs.

And now it’s OK to love your dog. Everybody loves their dog. Dogs are part of the family. The loss of a dog is mourned like the loss of any other loved one. The pet food aisle at Wal-Mart is now bigger than the cereal aisle. And whole businesses are devoted to selling pet food. (If our dog gets table scraps, it’s because I sneak them to her when Carolyn isn’t looking.)

And daycare. Daycare used to be a day unsupervised in the apartment or confined to the kennel. (OK, yes, I’m ashamed.) But like dog food stores, businesses have arisen to fill the daycare needs of pet owners: To provide enrichment experiences for our pets and opportunities to socialize, exercise and have a good time. We found that service for our miniature dachshund, Jem, at The Dog Club in Kalispell.

You realize that The Dog Club caters to discriminating tastes when you walk through the door. I’m greeted by a distinctive woman in crisp business attire, who introduces herself as Suzanne Johnson. Suzanne and her equally distinctive and crisply dressed business partner and sister-in-law Robbi Christopherson own the dog-care business housed in a converted auto parts store.

A chain-link perimeter fence separates in from out. Inside, the main room is furnished with comfortable leather couches and chairs. As I enter, I see an aging Irish Setter lounging in a large easy chair and a Golden Retriever resting on an overstuffed couch. A medium-small dog named Tucker, who purportedly thinks he’s a cat, sits on the counter. (I note as I pet him, though, that he doesn’t purr.)

“We opened this business three years ago,” Suzanne tells me, “as an indoor walk-your-dog park. I wanted a place to walk my dog out of the rain and figured others did too.”

She was wrong on that last part; there weren’t a lot of others dying to walk their dogs indoors. But there were a lot who wanted to drop their dogs off. And so what had been called The Walk Your Dog Club became simply The Dog Club.

“We don’t kennel the dogs,” she tells me. “Once they’re in their area, they roam free.”

Jem is assigned to the small-dog area behind the counter. The upper level of the two-story facility has a quarter-acre of floor space, divided in to five areas based on size and temperament. But until something is learned about Jem’s temperament, she’ll stay downstairs.

“We want everyone to feel good about leaving their dog here,” Suzanne says, “so we’re particular about who we accept. Since they’re not kenneled, the dogs we accept have to get along with the other dogs.”

Now I’m worried. Jem has multiple personalities, one a cuddly pet and the other an apparently fearless protector of all that is hers.

The Dog Club is primarily a daycare facility, but it does keep a few dogs overnight. In a bedroom. With a king-sized bed. And an aide who sleeps with the dogs. What initially seems weird makes perfect sense upon reflection. If dogs sleep with people at home, why should this change when they’re boarded? Jem would love it. (The only caveat I would offer is that if a dog doesn’t sleep with people before overnighting here, it most certainly will after.)

We left Jem for a short early evening stay and went to dinner. But we checked in on the webcam as we ate. A friend has a Jack Russell Terrier who visits the Dog Park frequently and invariably leaves happy and worn out from playing. We wondered how Jem would be and whether her behavior would get her expelled. The answer, when we returned, was that she was happy and full of energy. She didn’t get much exercise because the staff couldn’t resist holding and cuddling her all evening. And obviously, they would welcome her back. Every dog has its day.

David Vale retired from a career in psychology and statistics and now owns the Pocketstone Cafe in Bigfork. The Dog Club is located at 111 W. Idaho St. in Kalispell and operates the website, https://walkyourdogclub.pike13.com.

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