The sun pokes its head through the dew-drenched cabin windows at Camp Kirk, a grassy children's retreat ringed by towering maple trees and patches of poison ivy 150 kilometres north of Toronto. Outside, a miniature schnauzer is yipping like a demented yahoo as campers bang in and out of the bathroom next door. The Australian shepherd caged on the other side of the room growls menacingly. Across the road, someone clangs a bell to announce that breakfast is ready when Fritz, my beloved 16-month-old pug, pounds on top of me and frantically starts scratching my armpit. It's 8 a.m. on a shivery Saturday morning in September. Groaning, I pull the sleeping bag over my head and silently curse the day I decided dog camp would make a fun weekend away for me and my pooch.
Dog owners are a strange breed. Best in Show,a new Christopher Guest "mockumentary" opening in theatres today, portrays us as an obsessive society of eccentrics who compose little ditties about our furry friends and drag them to psychotherapists. Take a stroll through your local dog park and you'll realize that this bizarre world is no exaggeration. And I am no exception.
Fritz, you see, doesn't actually live with me anymore. He belongs to my ex, who was kind enough to allow informal visitation rights after our human relationship fell apart. I've recently acquired a cat, however. And she's a bit of a princess. So to keep the peace at home and avoid the ugly consequences of cross-species rivalry, I've taken to travelling with Fritz on our weekends together. Yes, I know. I really do have to let go.
In the meantime, I console myself in the knowledge that vacationing with your pet is an increasingly popular concept. For the growing ranks of devoted dog owners who can't leave home without Fido, the CAA now publishes Traveling With Your Pet, a guide that lists more than 10,000 pet-friendly lodgings across North America. Eileen Barish has written a similar series of directories that cover specific U.S. regions, with titles such as Doin' California and Doin' New York. Type "pet travel" into your favourite Internet search engine and you'll come up with hundreds of relevant Web sites. Or try subscribing to the Florida-based newsletter, Dog Gone, which delivers in-depth reviews of hotels, inns and resorts that offer luxury pet pampering amenenites. At Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos, Mexico, for instance, dogs enjoy in-room massages, room service and the use of a poolside pet cabana.
Camp Dogwould (thus named because "Your dog would love it") is not a doggy daycare. It's a regular camp in the great outdoors for you, your best friend and 79 like-minded oddballs. Founded six years ago, the annual hound-dog hideaway will set you back $275, a modest fee considering that it includes shared accommodation, home-cooked meals and two full days of intensive training. The fees are kept low in order to attract "regular" dog people like me. But it doesn't take long to figure out that my detachment issues don't quite measure up on the Camp Dogwould scale of dependency. THE CHECK-IN We pull up to the campground check-in on Friday afternoon, our vehicle piled high with flea spray, plastic baggies, kibble, treats, dog dishes, extra towels, an assortment of collars and leashes, rain gear, sleeping bags, pillows, Fritz's favourite stuffed gorilla that shrieks "Eeee-eeee-eeee-eeee" when squeezed and a big bottle of Scotch stashed in the bottom of our suitcase. In less than five minutes -- the time it takes Fritz to wiggle out of his doggy seat belt, escape from the car and eagerly snort his way into the nether regions of a startled golden setter -- I am completely transported back to the nightmarish memories of my tweens; those long weeks of exile at summer camp and their brutal lessons about heirarchy and power inequities.
There is a distinct difference, though. While 12-year-olds tend to judge one's worth by the goodies sent in a care package from Mom, here at dog camp, it all comes down to breeding.
"He's just a really friendly dog," I appeal to the owner of the setter, who is now frantically tugging her pooch away. "Oh, so is mine," she replies with a weak smile and a condescending huff. "But they're much different dogs." INITIATION The Camp Dogwould experience begins with, yikes, a test. With much trepidation, I walk him over to the Canine Good Citizen testing area.
It doesn't take long for my fellow campmates to recognize that we're not one of them. "So, how did you hear about Camp Dogwould?" one camper asks suspiciously as we stumble through the Walk In a Crowd portion of the test.
"Never had any obedience training before, huh?" another observes as I wait around the corner during the Supervised Separation, praying that Fritz won't bounce after me (a feeling which quickly turns into anxiety when I consider that maybe it's been too long between visits).Report Typo/Error