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Bark. Stay. Play.

Photos By Hillary Ehlen


My mom stays busy at work, making sure that a new and exciting edition of Fargo Monthly comes out each month. But some days, she gets so busy with photoshoots, interviews and writing that by the time she comes home, she is too tired to play! During her long days, she likes to make sure I don’t get bored and lazy. She told me that today we are going to explore a new place in town that will take care of me and make sure I’m treated like the princess I am. Come with me as we sniff around Barks & Recreation!

My mom took me on a nice car ride and we drove to Barks & Recreation’s brand new facility at 5126 51st Ave. S. When we got there, I was so excited to go into the lobby and ask everyone if they wanted to give me a pat on the head —lucky for me, they all obliged. It seems like all the humans here love dogs, so this is going to be a good time.

I learned that pup lovers/co-owners Deb Hemstad and Ashley Hahn designed this place to be a perfect retreat for us dogs. They told me that they are working to become one of the first fear-free certified facilities like this in the nation, which is exciting for my canine pals who get nervous or overwhelmed easily.

npschmidt final 05758I have to admit, I don’t normally get excited about lobbies for humans, but the people at Barks & Recreation told me that they use this front room to help train dogs to get used to meeting new pups and humans as they come through the front door. While my mom was talking to the front desk staff, I got to have a treat and wash it down with this cool water fountain made especially for us dogs! It automatically refills, so the humans working can focus on giving me attention, instead of having to spend time refilling water. More time with me sounds good.

The humans finished excitingly talking about the three years of planning and research that went into making this building and we got to go on a tour! First up, the luxury suites. I know that I’m a VIP (Very Important Pup), but wow these suites make me want my mom and dad to take vacations more often! There are eight different themed rooms, all named things that made my mom laugh like Jurassic Bark, Barkaritaville, Hairy Pawter and Italian Racer. The Italian Racer room had a racecar bed that was just my size! I had my very own TV where I can watch bird videos or Animal Planet, a window that lets in sunlight for me to bask in, a sound system for white noise and a 24/7 webcam so that my paw-rents can check in on me when they miss me. At some sleepover places for dogs, I have to stay in a room right next to other dogs and it makes me nervous, but these rooms were totally private!

npschmidt final 05570After seeing all the cool, decorated suites, we went to explore the other cabins. Most daycares don’t have cabins for rest periods, so it’s paw-some that this place has comfortable places for the daycare dogs to rest. Instead of an uncoated chainlink, these cabins are made of high-quality materials that are safe for us dogs and not scary! The staff says that the solid panels at eye-level to most dogs help keep them from being nervous or too distracted to rest. There are 75 of these cabins, in all different sizes, from big dogs like me to little dogs, like co-owner Ashley’s Italian Greyhound, Jasper. Counting those, plus 11 cabins with indoor-outdoor access and the eight luxury suites, this place can house up to 100 to 120 of my friends!

Next, they took me to the most fun part, the different play yards! There’s a yard outside for me to go potty and sniff some fresh air. Inside, there are three play yards where dogs of different sizes and energy levels can play while being observed by the human staff. They observe us for our individual stress signals, body language and how we interact with the other dogs. They also help provide all types of mental and physical stimulation to keep us in tip-top shape.

Sometimes when I go to the dog park, there are so many new pals running around, I get tired quick and sometimes I even get a little angry if I’m trying to rest and someone wants to chase me. My human friends at Barks & Recreation know that this many dogs can be too much to handle, so they keep our playgroups down to five to 10 dogs at a time. They also have us take rest breaks at least every two hours. Even if I’m not ready for a nap, I get some alone time to hang out and maybe chew on a Kong.

Every playgroup has a different curriculum, based on how old we are, how much energy we have and a bunch of other things. Some groups work on agility, some get to play outside and some get to do puzzles to get mental stimulation. Basically, whatever a dog likes to do, they get to do that and get better at things! Personally, I like getting pats on the head, so I like staying near any human I meet and politely nuzzling them so that they know what I want. I ask very nicely.

My paw-rents like to make sure I am physically and mentally active every day. My mom was pretty excited to hear about the Daycare Enrichment Program here. Before a dog comes here, they do temperament testings and evaluations to really get to know each one of my dog friends. Our paw-rents fill out 60 whole questions about us online before we even get here, telling our new human caregivers what we like and dislike, what we might be scared of, where we came from, what we like to do for fun and more. They like to make sure that each dog is a good fit for their program so that we can all have fun playing and learning together at the same pace.

npschmidt final 05713I love the playroom and the rest areas, but the humans tell me that sometimes some dogs need different or extra care. I still think I’m a puppy, so I love to bounce around and play, but some dogs have special needs, like being mobility/hearing/vision-impaired. I want these friends to have a good time too! Thankfully, Barks & Recreation has a separate room just for them. This room is very quiet and low energy, which is awesome for pet parents who haven’t been able to take a vacation for a while because there wasn’t a place they felt they could leave their special needs dog.

I hate when I get sick, and my mom hates it just as much! Here at Barks & Recreation, they do everything they can to make sure I stay healthy. The whole facility has three separate hospital-grade PetAirapy UVGI filtration systems throughout. These filtration systems have a 99.9% kill rate against pathogens and Barks & Recreation is THE ONLY animal care facility in the midwest that offers this technology! If a dog here starts to show signs of a communicable disease (like canine cough) there is a special Isolation Room that they can stay in until they get to a vet or their parents to come to get them. This room is on a separate HVAC system so that if something is wrong, the rest of us don’t catch anything.

After learning so much, I’m ready to come back! I bounce and paw at my mom, asking if we can get a Perks & Play Membership. This annual membership means we can get first dibs on lodging (super helpful when my paw-rents plan a vacation on a holiday weekend last-minute), exclusive access to the indoor dog park (thank goodness — I hate playing in the snow), complimentary dog evaluation and family movie nights!

Phew, that was a full tour! I made so many friends and everyone was so nice to me. All the humans on staff were so knowledgeable and awesome, which makes sense because they all spend over 20 hours in classroom training and continuing education to be able to provide the best pet care possible. Thanks to Deb and Ashley for making such a cool place where I can have fun, learn and train to become a better pup. I can’t wait to come back.

Hugs and licks,


About Phoebe

Phoebe is a six-year-old “brindlequin” Great Dane adopted by her owners, Alexandra Martin and Keenan Dillard, in March. She lives at home with her brother Lance, a Harrier hound, and her favorite way to play involves putting her mouth over his whole head. She loves to give “hugs” to her owners and doesn’t know a stranger.

Written by Josiah Kopp

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