Ruffing It: These Happy Campers Don't Even Have to Write Home

 

Wall Street Journal, 1998

 

 

Ruffing It: These Happy Campers Don't Even Have to Write Home
By Ericka BlountWall Street Journal (Eastern Edition). New York, N.Y.:May 11, 1998.  p. B1 

Joanne Weber, a 40-year-old artist from Grand Blanc, Mich., fretted about appearing boastful when she sewed her four-year-old Willie's six merit badges onto his camp backpack. In the end, she decided the golden retriever had a right to brag.

Willie and his doting mistress are both headed for Dog Scout Camp again this summer. Located on Lake Gregory, just north of Detroit, the camp is one of several aimed at humans who feel guilty vacationing while their dogs or cats are caged up in kennels. Camp Gone to the Dogs in Putney, Vt., charges as much as $950 for one-week recreational sessions where pets and owners square dance, stage kissing contests and play frisbee.

But Dog Scout Camp has a social conscience. It awards merit badges to canine campers who master beer-can pickup and water safety, or who hike long distances carrying miniature backpacks equipped with compasses, first-aid kits and maps. It's not all work: Dogs and their masters also canoe, eat S'mores by the campfire and attend lectures (the talk on wolves and their hybrids is especially popular).

Dogs with gentle temperaments can earn their stripes as therapy dogs for nursing homes and hospitals. Some come to hone their skill at assisting the disabled. Ms. Weber, for example, has epilepsy, and Willie's water-rescue training allows her to swim without fear.

Dog Scout Camp, which costs $495 a week, had to add an extra weeklong session th is summer to meet demand. Forty-nine people are coming this July, up from 21 last year. They will bunk three to a cabin. Each dog either shares its owner's bed or sleeps in a dog bed brought from home. The mess hall dishes up human food, and dogs can partake or not.

"My husband goes hunting and fishing with his buddies, so going to camp is like my vacation," says Mary Ann Mudel, a 48-year-old janitor from Warren, Mich. She and her Shih Tzu will be returning for their third summer this year. "My dog is afraid of water," Ms. Mudel says. But last summer she learned to wade in up to her shoulders. Ms. Mudel got a discount rate by selling dog scout cookies (one of the camp's sidelines; at 50 cents a box, profits go to dog-related charities).

Camp owner Lonnie Olson, a dog trainer, also offers arts and crafts: Some people make clay imprints of their dog's paws. Virginia Venning of Chicago taped a paintbrush to her Shetland sheepdog's paw and says the resulting painting "turned out so well I hung it in my living room."