Owner Karen Munro has returned at the helm, and she’s brought some new faces too, as the Bowen Island Dog Ranch has once again opened its doors to customers.
The boarding facility is welcoming back visitors of the two-legged – and most importantly four-legged variety – following an eight-month hiatus. The future of the ranch was very much in doubt during this time, but has now come out stronger on the other side.
Bowen residents are likely familiar with the Adams Road location, which has been in operation since 2007. Munro saw the sprawling wooded and hilly terrain as the perfect spot for a dog boarding operation, with lots of space for buildings along with free range areas.
Munro says she was inspired to start the business following an unsuccessful search for a similar facility she’d feel comfortable leaving her dogs in. Following a few months of renovations, especially to the main barn which now serves as home for most of the dogs, it was time to start receiving guests.
“We built it and they came,” says Munro.
Barn renovations included adding an extra level, better insulation, and plexiglass doors so the dogs can look at each other from their stable. “We wanted something that was as friendly as it was safe. We didn’t want cages and chain link fences, I wanted it to be a friendly place for the dogs. But I also wanted the dogs to be able to see out of the rooms… It’s a highly functioning building,” says Munro.
It’s not just the layout that’s been carefully crafted – Munro has worked on the aesthetic too. “We play spa music, dog sleeping music. It’s storytelling or spa music specifically for dogs, and it really calms them down more than anything. And we have a nightlight in there. It’s as friendly as we can make it aside from bringing them home to our houses,” she explains.
The boarding centre thrived for more than a decade, but like so many businesses suffered once the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020. Less people travelling meant more time at home – and much less need for dogs requiring a place to stay. Reservation cancellations and staff layoffs became reality at the ranch.
However, a new opportunity arose to help keep things afloat. People being stuck at home led to a boom in puppy adoptions during the pandemic – puppies that needed training. The ranch pivoted to training during the summer of 2020, and through this new avenue the doors could stay open.
Fate dealt the ranch another blow the next year though, as Munro developed health issues requiring her to step away from her duties.
“I didn’t see a way forward to stay open. And I needed the break, because it’s been 15 years of a lot of work and not stopping,” says Munro. The ranch closed – potentially for good at the time, November 15, 2021.
The same day, torrential rains washed out the main path from the road to the property, rendering it inaccessible by vehicle.
Inquiries about what was going on quickly came pouring in. “So many people approached me to see if I was reopening, or sold it to a new owner who was going to reopen,” says Munro.
Ultimately, Munro said she wasn’t able to find the right owners for the space. Some prospective buyers didn’t have interest in continuing with dog boarding and training, and some dog rescues simply couldn’t afford the price. After several months of trying, “I just decided to reopen it myself,” says Munro.
July 28 this year was the official reopening, but Munro had put the word out before that she was planning a return. “As soon as I announced it (reopening) at the end of June, people were absolutely ecstatic I was reopening. A lot of people had not found anywhere else to take their dogs that they would trust,” she says.
Munro was now back on her feet following surgery, and this time around had plenty of help at her disposal. Kathy Gagner is the new manager of the ranch, and is part of a total staff of 10 including almost all of Munro’s prior boarding team from last year, as well as a veterinarian technician. “I wouldn’t have reopened without them,” says a grateful Munro.
The ranch is now back to its boarding roots, offering both classic and enriched boarding options. “Enriched boarding is the latest trend in dog boarding. Enriched boarding is all about brain games, because if you exercise a dog too much… it’s actually not as good for them as if you cut that in half, and make them use their brains,” explains Munro.
Enriched boarding includes playing games with the dogs, as well as taking them on hikes or for beach days. “We just use their brains more than the average day… The property already gives the dogs a lot of exercise, but it’s not one-on-one,” says Munro.
Most dogs arrive from the North Shore and Vancouver, and are picked up during Monday and Thursday morning trips to the mainland. There’s also day camps available during the week as a shorter-term option.
“Physically, until May (2022) I didn’t know if I could function,” says Munro on how close the operation was to closing permanently. She’s still in search of certain positions, including trainers and groomers, but is happy with how things are going given the past two-and-a-half years.
“It’s been exciting to reopen, because it’s a new era… It’s been very challenging – but we’ve come through it, we’re in the fall now, and the systems are back in place. Things are running really smoothly,” says Munro.