Pets, they are the ones that wait at the window and greet you at the end of a long day. We would do anything to protect man’s best friend. Nathan Peterson and Marisa Pavan, Co-Founders and Owners of Niagara Pet Resort (NPR) in Niagara-on-the-Lake can surely attest to the emotional connection owners have with their canine companions. “Dogs are simple. They are the gateway to relaxation and calmness. They are unconditional in a world that is difficult to be in 95% of the time,” states Peterson.

Peterson and Pavan were together for three years before they decided to get a dog. Immediately they fell in love with Harley Dean, a wide-eyed, wrinkled faced bulldog. One evening the couple took their five month old puppy, to the emergency veterinarian where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and given a grim prognosis. That night the couple made a vow that regardless of Harley Dean’s outcome, they were going change their current path in life. Miraculously, Harley Dean pulled through the night which fueled their passion for canine care.

Living in Toronto where Peterson was working in Hospitality and Tourism and Pavan was a Sommelier, they put their precious one in daycare where he ingested a cow’s hoof and expelled it. “By the time Harley was eight months old we had already spent over 10,000 dollars on veterinarian bills to repair his esophagus,” recalls Peterson. Pavan realized that Harley’s body was going to need a great deal of TLC, so she created a recipe for raw dog food and nursed Harley back to health.

“Harley made us realize that being in Toronto wasn’t the lifestyle we wanted,” states Peterson. The couple left their jobs and returned to Peterson’s home in Niagara-on-the-Lake with a plan to start a unique boarding and daycare facility for dogs that would focus on a holistic approach. “Marissa was great at caring for animals and I was great at working with them,” he adds.

Niagara Pet Resort

Niagara Pet Resort, which is currently in its fourth year, is anything but conventional. Their cage free open concept program is highly controversial as it allows dogs to be dogs and roam free at certain times of the day. “All of our pack leaders go through an extensive training program and we don’t accept every dog that comes through the resort,” states Peterson.

In the beginning stages, the couple recalls standing side by side, each with a dog on a leash. “We have taken our cuts, bites and bruises and that is how we learned how to do it,” states Peterson.

“We talked to mentors and visited numerous pet resorts. We learned how to be trainers and how to work with all kinds of breeds,” says Pavan. Peterson and Pavan roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty every day. “If we didn’t feed 35 dogs a day, we could never come up with an efficient system or be on the same page with our staff,” he adds.

They often relate a dog’s overnight stay at NPR to the first time a child sleeps over at a friend’s house. “Kids will act differently without their parents around – so do dogs,” says Peterson. The couple must enforce a certain environment in order to keep the facility running smoothly and the dogs calm and comfortable. “We can’t have 35 dogs sleeping in our bed,” says Pavan.

With NPR being the first cage free facility in the area, the philosophy behind the program can be challenging for some to comprehend, but the benefits of the program are undeniable. “We are able to help the dogs come into the open concept and interact with other dogs and ultimately behave better when they return home.” says Pavan.

NPR offers a variety of membership options for clients such as active programs, daycare, training and wellness; with fees ranging from $89.00 to $400.00. Renovations are currently underway in the resort to create a VIP area for their members. Individual programming such as Labrador Retriever training for duck hunting is also available. NPR offers dog training lessons, personal training, grooming and photography, important features for daycare clients and dogs that board at NPR for extended periods of time.

Along with dog first aid training for all staff, NPR has a “No Bull” checklist when it comes to safety in the resort. Toys that can be chewed and ingested are not permitted in the facility. Doggy security blankets and toys that may unintentionally cause the dogs to be guarded are also discouraged. Their clients learn to wait their turn, refrain from jumping on the trainers and show respect to the pack leaders. “The safety of our staff is a big part of the no nonsense rules. We also don’t allow digging and destruction of property,” explains Peterson. The facility is free from chemicals and essential oils and classical music are used in the resort.

Their property, which is large in scale, provides ample space for the dogs to run and play. “We are in a constant state of change because the resort is always adding new features for our clients. We are in the process of building a treehouse for the dogs and some mud pits surrounding our pond, so that from an aerial view it will look like a dog’s paw,” explains Peterson. “We are going to fence in an additional 200 acres and create a rollerblade path. I run 10-15 dogs around right now, if I was rollerblading it would be better exercise for the dogs,” explains Peterson.

RAWCO Dog Food

Pavan’s formula for healthy dog food has become a business venture all of its own. RAWCO dog food is distributed across the Niagara, Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Areas and delivered right to the customer’s door.  Pavan, who is certified in canine nutrition, has a very simple rational behind doggie nourishment: eat clean, basic raw foods, such as chicken, carrots, sweet potatoes, apples and bananas. Her high quality dog food is designed to build a stronger immune system and better metabolism for dogs. Her recipe reduces and eliminates allergies and health issues common with dogs. Bright eyes, fresh breath, shiny coats and reduced odour in your dog’s stool  are also benefits of her recipe. “We farm the raw food on our property. We have 10 acres that we plan to use for livestock and seasonal ingredients that go into my raw diet,” says Pavan.

NPR has a close relationship with their clients, who come from the Niagara Region, Hamilton, Burlington, Oakville and the Toronto area and are often picked up at their house through NPR’s pet taxi service. “We are a big part of people’s lives, our clients tell us everything,” says Peterson. From walking their client’s dogs down the aisle for a wedding to helping when a dog has been sprayed by a skunk, Peterson and Pavan are willing to go the extra mile for their clients with whom they share a special bond. “It’s all about customer service,” adds Peterson.

Peterson and Pavan aspire to develop the therapeutic benefits and confidence that working dogs can provide for humans. “We would love to work with teenagers and assist them in becoming dog trainers as well as explore how dogs can help kids read,” says Peterson.

Sometimes life’s heartaches can be a blessing in disguise. For Peterson and Pavan, the addition of Harley Dean to their family has forever changed their lives. “We became real people when we started Niagara Pet Resort,” says Peterson. It is a guarantee that NPR will continue to get the most out of the dogs they work with and aid and foster the therapeutic benefits of pets. “The sky is the limit with our business,” states Peterson. “We can help in many ways.”

For more information visit niagarapetresort.com and rawco.ca