published Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Dog camp offers 'stress free' stays


by Brittany Cofer
  • photo
    Choo Choo Dog Camp opened on West 20th Street last month.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When Sallie Beckes has a busy day away from her home and can't tend to her 5-month-old puppy, she doesn't worry.

Instead of keeping her Weimaraner, Sadie, cooped up in a crate or left to wander the house, Beckes drops her off at day care.

"It is just the coolest place," she said, referring to the newly opened Choo Choo Dog Camp on West 20th Street. "It is done through an animal's eyes ... everything about it is just so pet friendly."

Owner Liz Fortanier purchased the building, a 55-year-old former firehouse in the Southside, in June with hopes to transform it into a place where dog owners could feel comfortable leaving their furry friend for the day. After several months of renovations, she opened Nov. 8 and is gearing up for a grand opening in January.

A lot has changed within the building, including new floors, ceiling and several gates so the dogs can't make a run for the road, Fortanier said.

Where firefighters used to shower, now there is a pet grooming area. Where the fire trucks once were kept, dogs play on a special rubber floor that's meant to ease the stress on their joints.

Fortanier said her philosophy about dog training and dog day care are slightly different from other similar businesses she's encountered throughout the years.

"I'm creating a no-barking, stress-free environment for the dogs," she said.

When dog owners are interested in Fortanier and her staff caring for their pet, they must commit to an initial eight weeks of day care with the dog coming at least once a week, typically the same day each week. That's because she wants the dogs to get to know each other and feel comfortable around each other, she said.

GRAND OPENING

* When: Jan. 8 from 2-5 p.m.

* Where: Choo Choo Dog Camp at 25 W. 20th St.

* What: Check out the facility and get more information on dog day care from owner Liz Fortanier. There will be music, food and door prizes.

"It's the same as with children, if you bring them to a different school every six weeks, they'll never become part of the group," Fortanier said.

She said people who use her service are typically those who have busy schedules and don't want to leave their dogs at home all day while they're away.

"People will do anything for their dog," she said. "When they come in here for the interview to see if the dog will work in this environment, they're more worried about that than an interview involving their kid at school."

Beckes said since she started bringing her puppy to day care about a month ago, she's noticed that playing with other dogs all day makes Sadie more calm.

"When I pick her up, she's a different dog," Beckes said. "When we get home, she's expended her energy and is loving, calm and happy."

Though Fortanier's facility has 7,500 square feet of indoor and outdoor space for the dogs, she wants to keep her operation small, with no more than 30 dogs at the facility on any given day. She said as she takes on more clients, she will grow her business, beginning with training classes in January and eventually selling dog-related retail items such as collars, leashes and dog food.

Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at bcofer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.

about Brittany Cofer...

Brittany Cofer is a business reporter who has been with the Chattanooga Times Free Press since January 2010. She previously worked as a general assignment Metro reporter. In the Business department, she covers banking, retail, tourism, consumer issues and green issues. Brittany is from Conyers, Ga., and spent two years at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga., before transferring to the University of Georgia. She graduated from the university’s Grady College of Journalism in December ...

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