Camp Wagalot happy place for canine campers
STOCKBRIDGE -- Jennifer Andrews loves dogs, but it wasn't always that way. Andrews, owner of Camp Wagalot, a "doggy playcare" business in Stockbridge, was 5-years-old she was attacked by a large dog, which left her terrified of all canines.
Aspiring to be a veteranarian at the time, Andrews was torn. She loved animals but couldn't seem to get over her fear of dogs.
When she and her family moved from Savannah, Ga., to a farm in Western Massachusetts, Andrews had numerous pets including horses, ducks, geese, chickens and even a skunk named Rosebud, but no dogs. At least not until the family added a new addition at Andrews' request, a German shorthaired pointer name Spot.
"He was with me all the time and helped me get over my fear quickly," she said. "But I always wondered about the dog that bit me. Was it something I did? Did I provoke him in some way?"
The question silently nagged in the back of her mind until 2008.
After being laid off from a job she thought she loved as a human resources trainer, Andrews started looking for any paying job and saw several people looking for dog walkers. She also began volunteering at Sonsini Animal Shelter and knowing that the animals experience there was often stressful, would take the dogs on individual walks. She quickly noticed a vast improvement in their temperament.
Andrews, who studied psychology in college, saw a connection and it set a fire inside her. She knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.
"It was the mental as well as the physical stimulation that created a change in the dogs," she said. "I wake up every morning now, excited at the prospect that I can help a dog."
Her passion showed through and her home business in Lenox grew as her customers shared the difference they saw in their pets after being at Andrews' through word-of-mouth. A few clients quickly boomed to dozens.
About that time Andrews was looking for a new vehicle, something she could transport her own animals in, and made a trip to Haddad's Toyota just before closing.
Bill Pikula just happened to be working and his first thought as he heard the door open was, "oh great, I'm gonna be here for hours and they're just going to end up wanting to think about it."
But when he saw Andrews his mind quickly did a 180 and he said aloud, "that's my wife."
The two agreed to meet the following day and, as "Big Bill" says, "the rest is history." They were married in 2010 and Andrews says Pikula has been the biggest supporter of her business.
"It was a good thing he liked dogs, otherwise this never would have worked," she said. "It made it a lot easier to convince him to move the business and our home to Stockbridge."
At the request of her growing client list, Andrews agreed to keep dogs overnight, and what was once just a couple of dogs to walk became a successful business that allows her to live out her passion.
Her new facility, which opened in April, features 14 private acres of wooded land for personalized hikes with dogs as well as more than 20,000 square feet of fenced-in land for supervised play.
Each of her full-time employees are Red Cross certified and have their pet first-aid licenses.
Although Andrews has her certification in basic dog obedience training, she said she uses it only as a way to help maintain good behavior.
Janet O'Brien, of Lee, started bringing her 4-year-old springer spaniel, Sherlock, to Camp Wagalot twice a week about three months ago and she said she noticed an immediate change in her pet's behavior.
"He's a high energy dog and needs to socialize a lot," she said. "I can't let him just run around anywhere, so when he gets here he gets lots of exercise and is actually tired when we get home."
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