2020 left you feeling ruff? We totally understand. That’s why we’re here to inject a little paws-itivity into your day. What better way to achieve that goal than by checking in on some adorable four-legged friends?
Karen Munro and her team at Bowen Island Dog Ranch are doing invaluable work to improve the lives of dogs around the Lower Mainland. Set on a sprawling five-acre site, her ranch is easily accessible by a short ferry ride, opening up a world of expert training, forest trails and well-earned treats for good boys and girls of all shapes and sizes.
With the ranch undergoing a renovation and reimagining this summer, what better time to catch up with Karen and hear her story? After hearing what she had to say, we think you’d be barking mad if you didn’t pay a visit.
We’ve been operating for 14 years now at the ranch. I guess it started when I had three dogs of my own and couldn’t find anywhere locally I’d be willing to leave them when I was out of town. There just wasn’t the level of professionalism I was looking for.
When we were starting, we found this perfect property on Bowen Island. It’s five acres and it’s multi-level with lots of trails. For a long time, we were all about boarding but then COVID-19 happened and travel just sort of ended.
This led to us getting 100% cancellation right at the beginning of March break. We quickly identified that with the lack of travel we literally couldn’t stay in business. We pivoted to a board and train program that focuses more on dog owners in our local area.
They’re mostly just folks who need help with their dogs. Whether it’s learning leash walking behaviours, socializing with other dogs or anything else, we have full programs, custom programs – everything dog training related we can help with. We’re pulling mostly from the Vancouver and Lower Mainland market now, rather than relying on people leaving dogs with us when they travel. A lot of these people live in condos and don’t necessarily have a backyard – they just need help with their dogs.
We’ve created three different types of boarding services.
There’s our Classic Boarding which includes a great deal of exercise, outdoor activities and social time. The dogs get to run through forest trails and play with their new doggy friends that they’ve made. It’s really the classic ranch experience.
We’ve also introduced a new Enriched Boarding Experience which is ideal for adolescent dogs, senior dogs, or any dogs that might be a little stressed or anxious at being somewhere new. This service includes a whole variety of different activities; things like agility training and scent detection where we send them out to find things with their nose. We do some fun activities like fetch, frisbee or trail walking. It also includes a different way of feeding the dogs. We feed them using things like puzzle toys and snuffle mats – things that will encourage and reward the dogs in a positive way.
Our third option is the Board and Train. The dogs in this program get everything included in the Classic and Enriched programs, but then we add on a training session every day. In this, we can tackle things like obedience training, behavioural adjustments like stopping them from jumping up on people, pulling on the leash, maybe they bark for attention, that kind of thing.
We’re also doing work in our community for Bowen Island residents. We offer things like group classes, private training and part-time grooming. Our boarding dogs will also typically get groomed at the end of the day.
No matter what type of boarding, we ensure the dogs are settled, calm and are having as much fun as they can!
You’ve got to come to work awake! We start early in the morning with what we call social time. We take the dogs on a walk through the property and trails. They get to run, play, and they’re raring to go. We’ve found the city dogs enjoy this most of all. They’re just over the moon to be running around in the forest. They think it’s one big dog park!
Then, we come back in and feed all the dogs and do health checks to make sure they’re all healthy. They’re usually pretty tuckered out at this point so they go down for nap time. During this quiet time, we’ll work with the board and train and our Enriched dogs. We take them down to our pasture and do different types of training like obedience or agility. We also use the ranch house for training things like teaching the dog to stay on their bed calmly while we answer the door; those real-life skills that are useful to their owners.
In the afternoon, we do it all again. It’s more social playtime for the dogs, more training, and before you know it, it’s dinner time! Typically, we’re on the go from about 7am until 8pm at night.
One of the best things about the ranch is that we are on five-and-a-half acres, making social distancing very easy for us as an outdoor facility. People are welcome to come and tour our ranch as long as it’s scheduled in advance. If people are interested in having their dog come and stay with us, they just have to go on our website and register as a new customer and we’ll contact them.
Our form is pretty detailed in terms of getting a full idea of whether or not the dog is a good fit. For example, we don’t take aggressive dogs here at the ranch. People interested in finding out more can call us, email us, register online, or email us to schedule a tour.
What we love is when the dog comes over with the owners on the ferry. It allows us to meet the dog and the owners to show them around the ranch. This lets the dog learn this ranch is somewhere they’ve visited before and they recognize it. It really helps with any stress if they end up staying here.
We do also offer a shuttle service to the city. We pick up in three locations, West Vancouver, North Bay and Downtown Vancouver in the West End. If people have been out of country and find themselves needing to quarantine, we can pick up their dogs and help them out with that.
Especially in places like Bowen Island, small businesses play a massively important role in the local economy. In fact, it’s all small business here. We rely on them to provide our services and we rely on them to provide jobs for our locals.
For example, our Dog Ranch offers a high touch service that employs so many local people. Everything from shuttle drivers to dog handlers, trainers and even high school students that are doing their work experience with us. We are teaching them so many valuable skills like business admin, computer work, customer service, all the way through to animal welfare.
If you go to any store or business on Bowen, chances are someone there will have spent time working at our ranch when they were young.
We are lucky to have an abundance of small businesses here on Bowen and one of the best things about it is they all support one another. We have our local Bowen Pet Store, our local veterinary hospital and both of those are just crucial to our business. We have two different general stores our community depends upon, we have several restaurants which have helped us through the past few months.
One of my absolute favourites is one of our neighbours, they’re called Alderwood Farm. They are a very small business with one guest house that offers an overnight experience. They have a small café that is just phenomenal and we love the eggs from there!
We respectfully acknowledge our place of work is within the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and that we serve the Peoples of the many Nations throughout British Columbia.