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Ruffing it at Four Paws Kingdom

It took a couple from Germany to show America the true meaning of dog-friendly – at least when it comes to campgrounds.

It doesn’t mean fencing in a small strip of grass and calling it a dog park. It doesn’t mean welcoming dogs — only for a fee, or only in certain sizes, or only if you follow three pages of special dog rules.

It doesn’t mean seeing dogs as dollar signs. Dog friendliness isn’t simply tolerating dogs, but adoring them, as the proprietors of Four Paws Kingdom seem to do.

So abused and exploited is the term that Meik and Birgit Bartoschek have created their own for describing their 35-acre campground outside Rutherfordton, N.C., where dogs – though they don’t actually rule – are treated like royalty.

America’s first “dog-dedicated” campground, they call it.

With eight dog parks, a lake and a creek (both fenced in to allow dogs to play in them off-leash), two agility courses, bathhouses for both dogs and humans, regularly scheduled activities (also for both dogs and humans), it’s clear that Four Paws Kingdom – which in an unusual variation on a theme, doesn’t allow children – was clearly built with dogs in mind.

The Bartoschek’s — that’s Lucy, one of their two corgis, above — left their native Hamburg in the 1980s. Both had corporate careers, working for a consulting firm that trained employees for jobs in resorts. As part of those jobs, they’d visited 60 countries, but not America. So they chose it for a vacation.

“It was the only place that didn’t remind us of work,” Meik explained.

They liked what they saw of the U.S. and decided to move here

“We quit our jobs and said ‘lets start brand new,’” he said.

They settled in Florida, where Birgit worked as an artist. They’d travel a lot to attend art shows, always taking along the other corgi they had at the time, Schroeder.

“Schroeder went always with us, and that’s how we started camping,” Birgit said. “We brought a trailer so we can go with the dogs, because at that time dogs were not all that often allowed in motels. We saw a lot of campgrounds and we thought there was something missing. And that was doggie friendliness, doggie parks — not just a ten-foot-long stretch where dogs are allowed to pee where already a thousand dogs have already peed.”

They started dreaming of starting their own dog-friendly campground, and making a list of the features it should have, figuring that, with their combined experience in the hospitality industry and their other skills — Meik is a chef, and Birgit an artist and dog trainer — they could make it work.

(Birgit’s art — she paints on silk — is on sale in the lobby, and evident in other parts of the campground. The bathhouses, for instance, have pawprints running across the walls, and the hind ends of dogs painted on the toilet seat lids.)

After several months scouting locations, they settled on one they stumbled upon in North Carolina. They bought the land and started mapping out the campground.

“We were the crazy Germans going through the forest with a measuring tape … We didn’t tell anybody what we were planning to do,” Birgit said.

“We didn’t want to do the coporate treadmill anymore, we wanted to do something for ourselves,” Meik said. “We wanted to be the first. We knew there were corporations with more money than we had who could have put it out faster and even better. But, interestingly, after seven years  we are still the first and only dog dedicated campground. There are people who copy certain features we have. More and more campgrounds now say, ‘yeah we have a dog park,’ but look at their dog park and look at ours. It’s like if you drive a Kia or a Mercedes.”

In addition to its dog parks — for big dogs, small dogs, swimming dogs, wading dogs, even one for dogs who want to be alone – the campground has 41 RV sites, three cabins and three fully equipped rental trailers, one of which Ace and I, along with my 18-year-old son, stayed in over the weekend.

Birgit held an agility training class on Saturday morning, and there was a breakfast-for-dinner pot luck Saturday night, followed by a trivia quiz. Activities are scheduled just about every weekend, and every holiday is marked by special events, such as obedience classes, dog swimming classes, doggie massage, and fests for the people as well, including one in which Meik does a dead-on tribute to Dean Martin.

Ace loved it — from the agility class, to wading in the lake, to meeting the other dogs, to all the sleeping nooks in our trailer, the biggest of which he claimed for himself.

About 95 percent of visiting campers come with dogs, and of the 5 percent who don’t, many are former dog owners who — though they don’t see another dog in their future — still like to spend time around other people’s.

The campground, which opened seven years ago, allowed children for four years, but later decided to cater to adults and their dogs. Children between 3 and 14 aren’t permitted.

“For 95 percent of our visitors, their dogs are family,” Meik said. “Many people, 40 and over, have traded their kids for dogs.”

The campground does require dogs to be on leashes when not in off-leash areas, but with eight dog parks, there’s generally an off-leash area nearby. It also bans pit bulls and Rottweilers, because its insurance company requires it.

They’ve also stopped allowing tent camping, because too many dogs were getting loose.

“Dogs like to escape out of tents, or chew through tents,” Birgit noted. Added Meik, “There were quite a few sites where a dog was left in a tent, and all of the sudden the  tent was rolling across the ground like a tumbleweed. Our main priority has to be safety for the owners and the dogs, and the tent’s just not a sturdy enough entity to keep things safe.”

They also don’t hesitate to ask owners of a troublesome or aggressive dog to leave.

In addition to keeping the campground safe, the Bartoscheks are determined to keep it small.

“Any other campground owner would build at least 200 sites on the property. But we said no,” Birgit said. “We want to have nature.”

There’s plenty of that around, with deep woods in every direction.The campsites take up only a small bit of the land. All are named after dogs, and the first three were named after the Bartoschek’s corgis — Schroeder, Linus (deceased) and Lucy.

“With 35 acres, we could put in lots more campsites. We could pave parts over, but then we’d be like a Wal-Mart parking lot. Lots of peers say we should expand, but life isn’t all about bringing in money,” Meik said. “It’s about having a product or something you feel good about, where you get up in the morning and love what you do, and not just look at your bank account.”

Comments

Comment from Carey
Time August 4, 2010 at 7:02 am

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! You got there!!! Glad you guys had such a good time. Ace and Bimini need to plan a camping trip together ;)

Comment from Hubert
Time August 4, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Sounds like an interesting venture…. Where is it located and how do you get to it???

Comment from jwoestendiek
Time August 5, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Hubert, if you click on the Four Paws Kingdom link in the story, you’ll find all that information

Comment from Kathy
Time August 9, 2010 at 11:42 pm

We’ve been camping at 4Paws for years…LOVE IT! Worth the 10 hour drive from home…they’ve welcomed us, our good friends and our combined dozen or so Golden Retrievers with open arms. It’s AWESOME!!

Comment from JOn
Time August 10, 2010 at 9:12 am

My wife and I stay at 4 Paws often and love it. Meik and Birgit are such wonderful people. You have to check this out!

Comment from Ann
Time August 10, 2010 at 11:04 am

Discovered 4 Paws in 2008 & now it’s my “home away from home” in the summer. My cockapoo, Molly, discovered her “inner spaniel” at the pond and now loves to swim after tennis balls as much as run after them. Meik & Birgit have created a wonderful place for both people & dogs & continue to improve it. Looking forward to another visit in just a few weeks!

Comment from Johnnie
Time August 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Can’t say enough good things about the campground and the people at 4 Paws. Over the years, they have become our friends and they are our “resort home” in the mountains. We often see the same guests each year and it’s’ becoming like a family reunion when we gather there.

Comment from Beth
Time August 14, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I only complaint about 4Paws is that it’s been too long since I visited. My miniature poodle and I absolutely LOVED our stay there last year. It really is as grand as John describes. A “must see for yourself” for every doggie camper.

Comment from Kat Wolf
Time August 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm

We would so love to do in California and/or Colorado, what you have done in NC! We are RV owners with two pups…a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and an English Pointer. All our pups that we’ve ever had were rescue pups…except the Corgi. He was a result of an INSTANT communication between man and dog in a pet shop…he was nearly 4 months old and was nearly sent back to the breeder…thank God my sister and husband found him! Anyway, we love dogs, we love camping (in our RV) and we know there are better possibilities out there for dog friendly campgrounds.

Comment from Dwayne Lane
Time August 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm

We don’t even have dogs but love this campground because it is the cleanest, NICEST campground we have ever stayed at. They welcomed us with open arms! Not one piece of trash can be found anywhere on the ground…

Comment from Mike and Jackie
Time August 24, 2010 at 5:02 pm

We camped at Four Paws Kingdom for Ocktoberfest and a T@B Rally last fall and we along with our two Shih Tzus had a ball. There is a blog and an album of all our fun at http://www.mikemcfarlandphoto.com. Just check the older posts. My wife wants me to build a doggie bathroom like theirs in our basement.

Comment from Corgi Girl
Time August 25, 2010 at 5:28 am

We are lucky enough to live 90 minutes away from 4 Paws and camp there at least 3 times a year. We are going on Aug 26th for a week with our new Corgi puppy. If you love your dog(s) and want a place dedicated to your dog’s fun and yours 4 Paws Kingdom is the place to go. It close to Lake Lure and Chimmey Rock. Asheville and the Biltmore House are only 40 minutes away. If you plan on being out all day to do tourist things, they will walk your dog for you, for a small fee. They think of every thing for the dog and you. I highly recommend 4 Paw Kingdom.

Comment from Rose Schmidt
Time August 25, 2010 at 2:49 pm

My partner, I and our 4 dogs make the trek from DE to 4 Paws twice a year with our TT. We all love it. The camp ground is great, the activities mean that both dogs and owners get to know each other, and the owners are truly the best. It is a one of a kind place.

Comment from SouthernSongs
Time July 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm

We love this place! I have been camping with my pups here for many years. I’ve stayed in the cabins and now we bring our motorhome. One of my dogs is a completely different dog while she is staying at 4 Paws. It’s well worth the trip!

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