Anderson Acres Canine Guest Ranch: A model pet boarding alternative

Editor’s Note: In searching for a comfortable, compassionate and holistic alternative to traditional kennels, allpets Magazine recently viewed firsthand a boarding facility which provides visiting dogs with care and attention, plus socialization and exercise. Come see what heaven looks like for dogs…offering the best in full-service boarding for all types of canine friends, Anderson Acres is a kennel alternative out of a fairytale. Or, how to go on vacation and never feel guilty again!

Anderson Acres Canine Guest Ranch: A model pet boarding alternative
by Annii Van Shaick article main imageIn late January we paid a visit to Anderson Acres, a model pet boarding alternative. We wanted to view firsthand their solution to building and maintaining a boarding facility which provides visiting dogs with care and attention, plus socialization and exercise. Located in the heart of Sonoma County, California, Anderson Acres offers a combination of beautiful, healthy surroundings, and generous space where, due to the relatively mild climate, the dogs roam together outside year round supervised under the watchful eyes of experienced professionals. There were over thirty dogs enjoying themselves in the indoor/outdoor facilities when we arrived, including several special-needs dogs. A local poodle named Chloe shared a big run with Pete, a Yellow Lab. Both had big fluffy beds and looked as comfortable as could be together. Apparently, this type of camaraderie is quite the norm in this family-run canine guest ranch. “They make friends while they’re here,” says Cris Anderson, a striking, down-to-earth brunette.Interior Cris has spent her life involved with various assistance groups – from volunteering to learn Braille as a youngster in order to help blind children in her junior high school, to speaking and training at the Assistance Dog Institute. “These two, Madeline the Golden Retriever and Tito the Aussie, know each other from before. Tito comes for day care, which we offer by the hour. He’s here just to run off some energy. He’ll go home in a few hours, exhausted and his owner will be very happy!” As we move along the row of large runs, we also meet Dustin, a Black Lab who’s involved in Guide Dogs For The Blind, where Cris received her training and with which she still retains strong ties.

Community Grouping – A Careful Plan

Cris is proactive in explaining the philosophy behind the community grouping structure at Anderson Acres. “We judge each dogs’ temperament, size and health in deciding how to match them with a group. Pointing to a group of labs and retrievers who are playing kick-the-can in their spacious yard, she notes, “These four are active, playful and friendly…they’ll play this way all day long! We never accept agressive dogs, they need to be sociable and friendly.” Activity level and use of space at the ranch is definitely not dictated by size of the dog. A group of very small dogs play together in the next-door run. Allowing dogs to feel uninhibited and unintimidated is part of the game plan and a building block in the success of the facility.Dog Duo “They’re still friendly, happy and playful, they’re just smaller” Cris says, smiling. “Some small dogs can be overwhelmed by gregarious, larger dogs, so we make sure everyone is safe and happy.” Elderly dogs or dogs with special needs are treated with particular reverence: they have their own area with plenty of blankets, bedding and radiant heat. They are exercised separately and showered with affection by Cris, Tom their staff and two special helpers, their two children, Robert (13) and Alison (11). Also very important, these geriatric pets’ diets are monitored closely and they are hand-fed if necessary. “We’ll cook rice and turkey for an older dog here in the kennel kitchen,” Cris says. Molly, an elderly and completely blind Golden Retriever now resident in this special area, senses us coming to see her and wags her tail vigorously in anticipation. Given that many people with older pets are reluctant to leave them to go on vacation, it is comforting to know that in a place like this, your dog will be properly cared for and well loved!

The Birth Of The Canine Guest Ranch

“I trained Guide Dogs for the blind for twelve years and that’s where the basis of my experience, philosophies and training comes from,” Cris explains. “I also train dogs for search and rescue, competitive obedience, tracking and basic house behavior.” The kennel alternative business was truly an organic outgrowth of the community Cris and Tom were involved in at the time. It all started ten or fifteen years ago when friends’ dogs needed a place to stay and the Andersons were always welcoming them into their home. When things started getting a little crowded they realized that there was a larger need for this type of service. Tom continues the story of the evolution of this cutting-edge, holistic business. “We helped our friends’ dogs out for a couple of years then decided that this was really what we liked to do. We looked around until we found this ranch in Santa Rosa.” The process of setting up camp was not, however, without obstacles. “I stayed at my job with Toyota, while Cris developed the business,” Tom says. Ariel ViewClients whose dogs had previously boarded with the Andersons wrote letters of recommendation to the County of Sonoma, and eventually, Anderson Acres Canine Guest Ranch was born. “It took almost a year of working with the County conforming to their regulations, then we had to refit this building so it would accomodate our needs. This meant removing everything inside the building and starting from scratch.” The retrofitted building now comes complete with a perfectly equipped and spotless kitchen, grooming and bathing facility, radiant heating system, intercom and computer interface all designed and built by Tom, who holds a degree in engineering. The microwave is used for heating food for the dogs who are used to warm dinners, medications and injectables are stored in the fridge, stainless steel pans are cleaned and sterilized in the dishwasher. The washer and dryer are used for cleaning dog bedding on a daily basis.

Digging Dog Behavior

It’s clear that Tom and Cris’ organizational skills and their varied and multiple experiences have allowed this dream to come to fruition and that this is a key reason the business is a success. “There are several aspects that work together to make this successful and safe,” Cris agrees. “Our main concern is that all our boarding guests be safe and comfortable.” Every dog receives rapt attention from Cris,Tom and their staff so their various needs are accommodated on a case-by-case basis. Cris is also a Veterinary Technician, yet another of her invaluable skills that helps make this a safe haven for visiting dogs. While Tom engineered the lighting and heating systems in the facility and makes the day-to-day decisions involved in running a business, Cris’ formal training and innate understanding of animal psychology help her to make the more elusive determinations — whether a dog is lonely, needs more friends, more affection, an enhanced diet or just some reassuring words. “The fact that our boarders live in communities, not individualized, makes a big difference in their comfort level,” Cris explains. “They’re very happy being here; they have friends to play with, space to run and wrestle, climbing structures to play hide-and-seek in and lots of toys!” Getting a reservation at Andrson AcresAcres is not easy. Holidays always have long waiting lists, and the camp has an extensive screening process for potential new canine clients. The first step is a phone interview where the Andersons determine whether each dog is well-socialized, or has any issues with aggression or fighting over toys. No agressive dogs are accepted and all male dogs over the age of 12 months must be neutered. If all is well so far, step two is next – the personal interview. In order for the Andersons to know each dogs behavior and personality traits a personl on-site visit is required. This also allows the owner and dog to get a feel of the place and to be more comfortable when their visit actually occurs. Many clients say they feel the same nervousness as in their own job interview and are relieved when their dogs “pass”. Before boarding, all dogs must have proof of current vaccinations and be free of any transmitable diseases such as kennel cough. While you would expect to pay a premium price for the multiple services offered at Anderson Acres in addition to simple boarding, the per dog, per day cost is startlingly reasonable – more reasonable in fact than the majority of the traditional boarding kennels we contacted. Tom points out one big difference between Anderson Acres and a traditianal kennel where dogs are isolated in rows. “There are over 30 dogs here today,” he says, “and you can hear that there is only an occasional play-bark.” He’s right! The dogs are mainly so busy with their toys, races and games that they simply don’t stop and bark.

Cris with the dogsIt’s A Dogs World, After All

When asked to describe a day in the life of a dog at Anderson Acres, the couple has this to say: “Their day starts at 7:30 in the morning. The dogs come out of their individual sleeping quarters into their large community areas, where they have toys to play with and always fresh drinking water. Several times a day each community/group of 5-6 dogs rotates into one of our half-acre play yards with other groups to romp, run, swim, climb, chew, dig…in other words, to be a dog! Mid-morning and early evening are meal times. We ask each family to bring their dogs food from home so their diet will be exactly the same – we think that consistency is important. The dogs are put to bed at 10:00 pm…and you can bet they’re ready for a good nights sleep! They listen to soft jazz during the night and each dog has his or her own special ‘lovie’ from home.”

Homeward Bound Complete With Report Card

Picking your dog up from Anderson Acres is quite an education – literally. The Anderson’s cheerfully complete “report cards” on all visiting dogs. Each guest is graded on eating habits, elimination habits, manners, socialization and emotional well-being. Suggestions are made for remedying any problematic areas, and the names of your dog’s new friends are also noted, just in case you want to arrange a play-date with them in the future. All this may explain why many dogs literally don’t want to go home. The formerly homesick dog can be seen sadly hugging the back window of the family’s car as they pull out of the driveway, carrying them back to reality.

To Contact Anderson Acres, Call (707) 588-8494.