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Willow Glen couple sets up day care for canines

By Mary Spicuzza

LOGAN HAS STRUGGLED with behavioral problems in the past. But today the feisty 4-year-old is running around the lime-green gymnasium, sharing his toys and playing nicely with his 2-year-old friend Xena. At nap time both wait patiently for their treats before curling up on their favorite "Quiet Zone" cushions. Logan no longer gets in trouble at home and has even learned how to use the doggie potty.

Logan has recently experienced a major life change: from the dog's life of unsupervised backyard barker/ pooper to a more structured environment.

Only two weeks ago a husband and wife team, Mark Helsing and Kelly Alves-Helsing, opened Camp K-9, the area's first day camp for dogs. The brightly colored blue and green building on San Carlos Street, just outside the Willow Glen border, now opens its doors to tender loving care for canines like Logan five days a week, 12 hours a day. With an emphasis on helping dogs, who are natural pack animals, develop social skills and find a positive outlet for pent-up energy, the cageless camp's mission statement is to provide "a place where a dog can just be a dog."

Inspiration for the camp came from Alves-Helsing's own troublemaking pooch, Logan. As a puppy, Logan was fond of chewing walls, furniture, and whatever he could get his teeth on. He was a classic case of puppy hyperactivity

"We were looking for something to help him calm down and couldn't find anything that worked," says Kelly, a self-proclaimed eternal dog lover. "We realized he needed to get out of the house more often. He needed day care."

Running past a small jungle gym, play tube and doggie potty, Logan playfully tussles over a rubber toy with his four-footed friend--occasionally looking up innocently toward his human.

"Now he gets home and just flops down on the couch. It's great. I never feel guilty or worry that he's not getting enough exercise," Alves-Helsing says.

After considering the dog-camp concept for years, the couple got serious about opening the camp this spring. They toured several similar facilities in San Francisco and visited the SPCA, where they picked up a packet on setting up doggie day care.

"The SPCA really encourages people to set up dog day camps," Alves-Helsing says. "So many people have trouble because they can't spend enough time with their dogs. That's really the main reason so many dogs end up in the SPCA."

Similar dog camps have cropped up in New York, San Francisco and other big cities where fast-paced lifestyles and small yards often make being a responsible dog owner a challenge.

Alves-Helsing says the idea is taking off in smaller cities as well, adding that since her husband set up Camp K-9's Web site they've gotten calls from people across the country interested in setting up their own camps.

The first client to discover the camp was Willow Glen resident Lemon. The yellow lab's owner, Sue Evans, can't stop raving about her pooch's newfound paradise.

"He had a ball," Evans says. "He played with the other dogs all day. The owners really seem to know and love dogs."

The spacious camp is open to any dog who is more than 5 months old, fixed (if it's more than 7 months old), friendly, healthy and current on all vaccinations.

Activities include daily walks in nice weather, supervised group play, one-on-one time with staff, playing on the multicolored jungle gym and agility equipment, practicing commands, doggie massage and the ever-popular nap time.

If it sounds suspiciously similar to day camps for kids, that's probably because Kelly has extensive experience in the child-care field. A Presentation High School graduate, Alves-Helsing has worked for numerous day-care centers and is studying child development at San Jose State University.

Realizing that canines have special needs, she and her husband are also taking classes in dog behavior. And of course both are certified in dog-and-cat first aid and CPR.

The busy couple is now working on the outdoor play area for post-rainy season play and building new agility equipment for dog skills development. Stacy's Wag 'N' Train, a professional dog training school, will soon offer dog and puppy classes on evenings and weekends. The sensitive, New Age school specializes in positive teaching methods based on "Clicker Training," techniques adapted from dolphin training.

"Best of all," Kelly says, "at the end of the day, you can rest assured that your dog was safe, had fun, and never even thought about chomping on your chair."

For more information, call Camp K-9 at 287-CAMP. Or check out its Web site.

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From the December 3-9, 1998 issue of Metro.

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