No leashes, plenty of trails to run on, a warm bed: Bowen Island Dog Ranch has it all.
You will not often hear of us humans having the chance to take a walk with 25 dogs. And for us to have that experience without hearing a single bark is, well, virtually unheard of. Put that many Rovers together and at least one of them is certain to make that familiar sound, right? Wrong actually. Or at least not at the Bowen Island Dog Ranch. I took a walk at the ranch Tuesday, March 9 with 25 active and joyful canines. Also along were Karen and Scott Munro, who own and operate the ranch, and two of their employees, ranch manager Jocelyn Cannem and Tempest Thornhill.
We were out for half an hour and did not hear a single “ruff” from the clearly contented dogs. I found it amazing and said as much. “I’m still amazed at it, too,” said Karen, whose training is in graphic design and who for some 20 years ran her own design and marketing company in Vancouver and Toronto before meeting her husband. “It’s Scott. He really understands how dogs think.” Scott – who said dogs that are not stressed don’t need to bark – is an experienced dog trainer from Seattle and has worked with dogs in a variety of capacities there and here, including Search and Rescue and with the Humane Society. His training includes the speciality of physical therapy for dogs. “These dogs just want to please you and we bond with them,” Scott said as we walked down wooded paths on their five and- a-half-acre fenced property. “That’s why we’re so successful. We treat them like they’re our own.” The Munros bill the ranch as “off-leash boarding” and to have unleashed dogs living and playing together is not the way dogs traditionally spend their time while their family vacations or works. Scott says it’s not as hard to achieve as people accustomed to using kennels and cages might think. He says that dogs naturally get along and you just need to help them understand who’s in charge and give them exercise, good food, fresh water and lots of affection.
The Munros met at a boat race in Kits six years ago. When talking with Karen – also a dog lover whose dog, Marlee, has been a constant companion for years – it becomes clear that Scott’s ability with dogs is something that drew her to him. When she first got to see her husband to- be “hiking dogs” and “doing physical therapy on dogs in a vet clinic” in Seattle, she knew he had a special relationship with dogs.
“He was like a dog whisperer who had an effect on dogs like I’d never seen before.” After getting together they moved here and started K9 Pet Services, essentially hiking dogs during the day. But they thought Bowen would be a good location for a ranch that served the island and the North Shore (they also have dogs stay from other provinces and even U.S. states) and opened on Oct. 1, 2007. They usually have 25 or more dogs but during special times like Christmas, the recent Olympics and July and August when families vacation the number grows to 40. They operate a shuttle between here and the North Shore three times weekly and will pick up dogs individually; for Bowen “daycamp” dogs they offer a pickup and drop-off service five days a week.
Dogs must be neutered or spayed and Scott and Karen say there are rarely problems. They point out that there are things they do to keep dogs safe, happy and getting along, such as having basketballs rather than tennis balls to play with. (Scott says “tennis balls cause fights”). They’ve also had the entire property double-fenced to keep dogs from going off property and to keep deer from getting in. There are 36 gates to create separate spaces to contain the dogs as they move about and create areas if any dogs are not getting along within the group. The sleeping quarters are an old converted barn that is two floors of heated dog-rooms, each with a comfortable looking bed and a fresh water bowl that automatically refills. Relaxing yoga music is played and Karen says the dogs look forward to their time in their rooms. “They go in for naps at one o’clock each afternoon and believe me by the time one comes around they crash,” Karen reports. “There’s not a peep in the barn. It’s amazing.” Other staff include rancher Nikki Nagy, groomer and rancher Tina Clark, landscaper Simon Jessop, barn and property designer Tim Waters and contractor and carpenter Johnny McClelland. Local dogs who are clients include the sisters Spirit and Karma Shatzky-Greenspoon, Theo Woodall, Sasha Silberman, Linus Lalonde and fun siblings Angus and Tate Armer-Petrie. On our walk were many breeds including two vizlas, a Rhodesian ridgeback, a blue heeler, labs, a Springer spaniel, retrievers, an Aussie shepherd, a poodle-cross Bernease mountain dog and a shiba inu.