July 31, 2013 | 10:52 AM
Dawna Johnson believes that when a person goes on vacation, their pet should, too. Therefore, earlier this month, she and her family opened Heavenly Hounds Lounge near Milltown.
Johnson said the idea for the dog vacation kennel came to her and her husband, James, last summer when they wanted to go away for a few days. However, they didn't feel comfortable boarding their dogs, especially Hailey, a 190-pound St. Bernard with epilepsy.
The couple wanted to make sure that Hailey, a rescue dog for whom they had made a 12-hour round trip to adopt, received the personal attention she needed in case she suffered a seizure.
"We just decided there wasn't a place that would care for her the way we would care for her if she went into an attack," Johnson said.
Johnson and her husband ended up leaving, but only after their daughter, Heaven, 23, said she would stay back. Even then, they didn't stay away overnight, driving home each evening because of the needs of another rescue dog. It was during those drives that the couple began brainstorming about what would make an ideal kennel.
They said that crates and cages were out and plenty of hands-on attention was in. In short, the Johnsons decided that the perfect kennel should be a fun, relaxing place for dogs.
Those ideas began to transform into reality as the couple had the shell of a building constructed on their property. To save money, the Johnsons, along with their daughter and her boyfriend, Clifton Daniels, finished the building, working on it for several months in between their day jobs.
Small breeds are kept in the front, in 5-foot-8-inch-by-4-foot-3-inch "rooms," while larger dogs are in a well-insulated back room. Johnson said they did this to comfort the small dogs, as they often get anxious around larger breeds. If requested, dogs from the same family can be housed together.
Each area includes a bed, with the linens washed daily, even if a dog is staying more than one night, and food and water bowls, which are cleaned in between dogs. Johnson, who is emphatic about cleanliness, even uses anti-bacterial wipes to clean the hose after a dog drinks from it during playtime outside, and said there are no communal pails of water or food.
The entire Heavenly Hounds Lounge boarding area is air-conditioned. Johnson said her husband said every dog is a VIP and deserves to be comfortable, and she agreed.
A connected exercise yard is completely fenced, with the top portion of the fence slanted for added security. Even the opening to a drain pipe has been covered with wire to prevent small dogs from slipping out.
Johnson said, if their owners want, dogs can socialize with others of the same size in the large yard, but they can also be taken out by themselves. Dogs also can be taken for leash-led hikes and even allowed to take a dip in a lake on the property with Johnson's daughter.
Johnson said they decided to build the facility on their property, where Heaven also lives, to make it easy for someone to always be available to keep an eye on the dogs.
"Because if there's a dog in the boarding kennel, there has to be someone on the property around the clock," she said.
Johnson said photos of the dogs are posted periodically on the facility's Facebook page because she thought it would be nice for people to be able to see the fun their dogs are having during their own vacation.
In addition, Heaven, whom the Johnsons hope will take over the entire business one day, offers grooming services and James soon will begin making custom beds with the dogs' names routed in them to sell.
Before a dog can be boarded, a copy of its vaccinations, including those for bordatella, must be presented. Also, while Johnson expects dogs to be their primary guests, she said cats also can be kept.
To celebrate their opening, the Johnsons are offering anyone grooming service at half price. Plus, dogs that stay overnight will be given a free bath and tidy.
Johnson, who said their entire family has offered much support, added that she and her husband, as well as their daughter, have long had a soft spot in their hearts for animals, making the business a perfect fit for them.
"We've just always liked caring for the furry friends, I guess," she said.
Heavenly Hounds Lounge is located at 7321 E. Shafer Ridge Road. It can be reached at 972-2651 or firstname.lastname@example.org. It also can be found on Facebook at Heavenly Hounds Lounge LLC.