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Camp, when a kennel won't do

Camp Bow Wow delivers indoor/outdoor, day/night canine care and capers.

Austin Monroe opens the plastic sheeting so Leo the dog can make his way out in the yard with the other dogs. ( Michael Bryant / Staff
photographer )
Austin Monroe opens the plastic sheeting so Leo the dog can make his way out in the yard with the other dogs. ( Michael Bryant / Staff photographer )Read more

When Michael Schnoll sent his 7-year-old off to overnight camp for the first time, he knew he would do just fine.

Newman would exercise, eat well, nap, and make friends his size and temperament.

Not bad for a dog.

He was, after all, going to Camp Bow Wow, a newly opened 10,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor doggy day and overnight facility in Cherry Hill. Tucked inside a sprawling commercial park, the camp - its lobby sports a fireplace and wood-cabin decor - provides pooches a place to run around and socialize.

Just like "people" camp, the dogs are supervised by counselors who are certified by the American Red Cross in (dog) CPR and emergency care, and are placed in groups according to size and temperament. The overnighters get tasty campfire treats before lights out. They are tucked into their private cabin (dogs from the same household can sleep together if they want) equipped with a platform bed and fleece blanket. They are serenaded with piped-in classical music.

Unlike people camp, dog campers first must pass an "entrance interview." Pooches are observed by a staff member for 20 minutes with other dogs the same size. If he can behave himself, he's in. The price: $40 for a full day and night. For day care only, $28.

Welcome to another service in the growing upscale-pet-care industry. Part of a Colorado-based company that started franchising in 2003, Camp Bow Wow now has 107 locations throughout the country. The Cherry Hill spot, which opened last month, is the first location serving the Philadelphia area, and already has 46 clients. (Its combined capacity, for day care and boarding, is 150 dogs.) There also are four locations in Pennsylvania, one in Allentown and three in Pittsburgh.

The franchise's growth isn't surprising to Marla W. Deibler, director of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. "Pets become part of the family unit, so finding a place that's fun and safe is a great comfort," she said. "It is akin to finding a child-care center that you feel good about for your child."

For Schnoll, 58, a contractor from Margate whose business is in Cherry Hill, Camp Bow Wow was a perfect place for Newman, a mocha-colored German shorthaired pointer named for the Seinfeld character. The dog otherwise would spend too much time alone or be bored hanging out at Schnoll's office.

Although Schnoll said he wasn't worried about Newman's first weekend at Bow Wow, he admitted he called the camp to check in and watched his dog on the camp's Web cam setup.

At the end of Newman's stay, Schnoll knew he was a happy camper: "He was totally exhausted from all the exercise he got. He was really tired when we got home."

While more people are owning dogs - 45.6 million households in the country have one - they also have busier lifestyles, which often interferes with their providing the socialization and mental stimulation their pets need, said Ilana Reisner, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. But as owners grow more aware of their pets' needs, they are seeking outside providers to give them peace of mind.

"It is like being a good parent," Reisner said.

Camp co-owners Heidi Duffy, 48, of Monmouth Junction and Michelle Bryson-Rivers, 44, of Mount Laurel were best friends for more than 20 years when they discovered at a party that they had an interest in starting a dog camp - they had heard about the franchise separately. The two have backgrounds in veterinary science, both having worked as medical researchers for many years.

"The dogs are like our children," Duffy said, "and opening this business has been our dream."

According to the American Pet Products Association's latest survey, pet owners will spend an estimated $45.4 billion this year on their four-legged friends, up from $43.2 billion in 2008. That includes the basics as well as gourmet foods, upscale clothing and services, high-tech equipment, health care, and boarding.

Kim Jacobs, 45, a personal trainer and life coach who lives in a Cherry Hill condo with her husband, said her dog's access to the outdoors was very limited. So in early November, Jacobs brought Lexi, her 6-year-old, 125-pound Italian mastiff who recently had knee replacement surgery, to Camp Bow Wow for an acceptance interview. Lexi passed with flying colors, and since has become a regular camper. Her two-day-a-week schedule is really working out. "Lexi loves camp," Jacobs said. "When she comes home, she eats her dinner and conks out."

For Cheryl Molotsky, 44, a Cherry Hill office manager, putting Jersey, a 7-month-old, 10-pound pekepoo, in a safe environment makes the separation worry-free when she is at work or goes out of town. She sends him off with the comforts of home - his blanket, favorite toy, dog food, and a baggie with treats - and then, Molotsky says, "I can have a life."

Plus, watching Jersey play via the Web cam gives her "a giggle in the middle of the day. And I know he's happy."