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Tag: rutherfordton

Ace, astoundingly, aces agility

There’s not much cooler than finding out your dog has a hidden talent.

Ace — despite his many talents, people skills near the top – has never been much at catching Frisbees. He’s never been the speediest beast at the dog park. Fetch has never held his interest. And he doesn’t swim, preferring slow wading in gentle waters.

So when we showed up bright and early for agility class at Four Paws Kingdom, the dog-dedicated campground in North Carolina where Ace, my son and I spent last weekend, I had low expectations. Ace is graceful, maybe, but, given his size, about 130 pounds, I never considered him agile.

Once I turned over the treats and Ace to my son Joe, who we’d designated official handler for the day’s activities, Ace — under the tutelage of dog trainer and campground owner Birgit Bartoschek — amazed me to no end.

His name now stands for: Agility Canine Extraordinaire.

Granted, he started off slow — rather than jumping over a series of three six-inch high hurdles, he found he could just as easily walk through them, knocking the rail down on each one he went through. On the third try though, and after the rails were raised higher, he began leaping, clearing most of them until, on his final try, he went back to just knocking them down.

Next on the course was a tunnel. I didn’t expect him to do any more than stick his head in, but with some encouragement, and a treat waiting at the other end, he rumbled right through it.

Moving on to an A-frame, about five feet high, Ace, after watching a Chihuahua named Freckles climb up and scamper down, followed suit — also to my surprise.

Then came a narrow elevated beam, only about 10 inches wide, and about four feet above the ground. No way, I thought to myself, or maybe out loud, is he ever going to get up on that.

But, in pursuit of the treat dangling from my son’s hand he did, not even watching where his paws were going, his eyes on the prize the whole time as he walked — quite gracefully — from one end to the other.

The only obstacle he didn’t master was the curved tunnel. Without seeing the light at the end — or the treat at the end – he refused to go in. (And I don’t blame him a bit. Possibly, being from Baltimore, he feared he’d have to pay a toll once he got through.)

Birgit didn’t think he should attempt the see-saw during his introduction to agility, as that’s usually for more advanced dogs. The weave — where dogs slalom through the poles — was too advanced as well, she said.

Later on though, at the Agility Fun Park that Four Paws has in addition to its regular agility course, Ace, with my soon to be college student son Joe manning the leash, was able to succeed at beginner versions of both.

And I felt bad for ever doubting him — Ace, I mean.

It’s not good to have too-low expectations for our dogs; even worse probably to have too-high expectations.

Where’s the line between them? Beats me. But one thing’s for sure, you never know how you, your dog, or your kid is going to handle something new — until you try, or watch, with crossed fingers, as they do.

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.”