Last December, Kimbrey Havens finally realized a dream — and maybe your dog’s dream, too.
The dream was to open a business serving as a retreat for dogs when their owners are tied up with long days of work, or when they go away on vacation. Because sometimes dogs need a vacation too, or at least some time away to play.
“We’re not a kennel where you pay for a spot to put your dog for a little while — ‘Store your dog while you go on vacation,'” Havens says about A Dog’s Haven, whose tagline instead is “A recreational homestead for your best friend.” “Dogs are thinking, emotional and reactive creatures who need stimulation. They have working brains, and working bodies, and they need to get out that energy. And a kennel doesn’t do that.”
But A Dog’s Haven does. Surrounded by farmland in the small town of Walkersville, Md., north of Frederick, Havens runs her daycare and boarding business out of a rustic stone house, the main part of which was built in 1790. Havens converted the home’s large, screened-in back porch into an indoor playroom with heating and cooling and a type of paw-friendly AstroTurf called “canine grass.” The playroom’s windows look out onto the house’s large fenced-in backyard serving as the main puppy play area. Off to the side of the house is a small fenced-in garden area, a good spot for the occasional dog that needs separating from the pack, usually one that is either more social and energetic than the rest, or less social and more lethargic.
The house sits on a picturesque 4.75 acres, and Havens sometimes leads a dog, particularly one with excess energy, on a hike of the property. Another room inside the house has been designated the sleeping room, with up to eight dogs boarded nightly in crates with plush bedding and fresh water.
From the setting to the setup to the staff — right now, three friendly, dog-nurturing members of the Havens family — it’s the kind of place where you would want to go if you were a dog. “Your dog actually comes here on vacation,” Havens says. “And not even just a fancy-looking vacation, but they’re actually getting stimulation, they’re getting interaction, they’re getting exercise. They’re living life out here. They get to be dogs.”
A native of Baltimore, Havens didn’t grow up with a dog — her family’s cats helped see to that — but she did get started working with dogs early. And most of her jobs since that first one, as a 15-year-old veterinary assistant at an animal hospital, have been in the field, including work at an upscale kennel and a couple of daycare facilities.
Even after graduating with a biology degree from Ohio’s Denison University and getting a job at a pharmaceutical company in Columbus, Havens kept dreaming her dog dream. She spent her spare time developing a business plan for a “clean, safe and fun home-away-from-home” for dogs. That plan and her overall passion for the project intrigued her dad, Gary Havens, who was in semi-retirement from his own career in health insurance. Once they found the property in Walkersville, they enlisted Kimbrey’s mother and older sister to become investors.
“When I first thought about opening a business in general, I didn’t think it would be a complete family package,” Havens says. And eventually, of course, as the business continues to take off and grow, A Dog’s Haven will have to hire outside help. But, for now, Kimbrey is the primary caretaker — “client ambassador, if you will,” she laughs — while her older brother Cedric helps maintain the property and care for the dogs, and her dad Gary tends to administrative needs.
By next year the Havens hope to buy an adjacent property of 5.25 acres — all of which is owned by the same neighbor — and break ground on what Kimbrey calls “a dog village.” The village will feature a central play yard, framed in a semi-circle by eight Shaker-style, shed-sized cottages, each sleeping up to three dogs and having a small private yard. This will allow the business to board even those dogs who have little to no tolerance for other dogs, not to mention other pets, including cats.
But dogs will always be the stars at A Dog’s Haven, which welcomes well-socialized dogs for half- and full-day visits at a cost of $20 for up to six hours and $30 for up to 12. Havens only accepts dogs for boarding — $45 for up to 24 hours — after they visit for daycare a couple times, allowing her to assess them and their compatibility. On a recent tour of the property, it becomes obvious that Havens has a special way with dogs, always watching and anticipating their needs, and always friendly, even when giving commands to the unrulier dogs via positive reinforcement.
It’s enough to make some humans wish their own mothers had been so kind.
A Dog’s Haven is at 9619 Stauffer Rd., in Walkersville, Md. Call 301-845-2705 or visit adogshaven.com.