Dog heaven on Labby Lane

If there is a heaven for dogs, it might look like Labby Lane Kennel with its large, open landscape buffered by playful horses.

"That's why this kennel is so popular, because we've got this one and a half acres out here," said owner Pamela Shepp. "So many of these dogs are city dogs. They never get off the leash. We don't use leashes here. That's why they [dogs] like it so much here. They like to come back."

The play yard, like the rest of the facility, is enclosed with a fence and gate to preclude leashes as well as disappearances. Dogs are taken out in small groups, and every dog gets out to play twice a day for at least an hour. In the summer, wading pools wait by the ready for a quick cool down or frolic.

photo Pamela Shepp, left, and Crystal Spade care for the boarders at Labby Lane Kennel like they were their own.

"When dogs are penned up too long it's not good for them," Shepp said.

The 16 climate-controlled indoor runs with constant access to a private shaded outdoor patio may be more akin to a hotel for dogs than a typical pen. The "penthouse" then is a large indoor suite complete with overstuffed couches.

"I found we had a lot of dogs that just didn't board well. Cats don't board well anyway. Anything you can do to make them less nervous is a good thing," Shepp said. "We can bring them back here and love on them and let them lay on the couches. It's almost like a little living room."

During the mandatory down time between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day, guests lounge while listening to the radio after receiving a mid-day snack.

"We have set hours because there needs to be quiet time," said Shepp, who is open to the public from 8 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. every day of the year. "Dogs need quiet time just like kids need naps."

She accepts grooming clients in the morning, which she is trained to do and does on-site, although if one of her guests needs something it gets done regardless.

"I tell all my customers when they're [animals] here, they're mine. If they need their ears cleaned or their nails trimmed, they get it. I don't even ask," said Shepp, who learned and practiced the trade during her eight years as a veterinarian technician.

True to the resort feel, Shepp said the food she serves long-stay boarders is high quality. Those only there for a short while are asked to bring their own food with them to reduce the risk of stomach problems caused by a sudden switch in diet.

"The only food in my kennel is what I feed my own dogs," she said.

Shepp herself has nine dogs and four cats, but that number could change at any minute as she fosters rescue animals for as long as they need.

"It's not a job, it's not a career, it's a life," she said. "If you're just doing this for a job it will wear on you. I didn't do this for the money, I did this because it's what I wanted to do."