Where dogs grin: Westhampton doggie day care has long history of happy pets

  • Alison Smith, who founded The Grinning Dog in Westhampton two decades ago, holds Flicka by the kennels after their walk. At its expansive location at 250 Southampton Road location, The Grinning Dog has both indoor and outdoor kennels, two nature parks, several play yards and a grooming facility. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelia Wilson, a kennel technician at The Grinning Dog, plays with Doolin during a walk. Wilson is one of 10 technicians statewide — three work at Westhampton business — to earn the title of Certified Professional Animal Care Provider from the Professional Animal Care Certification Council. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Grinning Dog owner Alison Smith and technicians Amelia Wilson and Jenn Schreiner let the dogs out of the kennel for an afternoon walk in late-August. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelia Wilson, a technician at The Grinning Dog in Westhampton, plays with Sadie, left, Flicka and Doolin, during a walk on the property off Southampton Road. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alison Smith, owner of The Grinning Dog, talks about her business at her home in Westhampton, while two dogs play during their walk. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Amelia Wilson, left, Jenn Schreiner and Alison Smith, the owner of The Grinning Dog in Westhampton, walk the dogs back to the kennel after a walk. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Alison Smith, owner of The Grinning Dog in Westhampton, plays with Sadie, left in front, Indy, and Piper during a walk.

For the Gazette
Published: 9/1/2021 2:00:03 PM

When Alison Smith was growing up, her family traveled too much for her to have a dog of her own. She and her family lived in Zürich, Switzerland, Paris and New York City. Already an avid dog lover, she found a way to spend time with canines by operating a small dog walking business while living in the Big Apple.

“After that, I was hooked,” Smith said.

Now, she owns her own Westhampton doggy day care, The Grinning Dog, where she has been caring for canines for over 20 years. Three of her staff have just become some of the first animal care providers to get certified in Massachusetts.

The three kennel technicians passed rigorous testing and earned the title of Certified Professional Animal Care Provider from the Professional Animal Care Certification Council. The certification is a recent development in the pet care industry. Just 10 people in Massachusetts currently have a certification, including Smith’s three staff members, according to the council’s website. Smith plans to get certified herself in the next year and hopes to eventually get all of her staff certified, too.

In addition to passing the exam, the certification also requires at least 500 hours of hands-on experience and two recommendations.

Jenn Schreiner, a kennel technician at The Grinning Dog who received the certification, believes that the new move toward certification is part of a much-needed trend toward expertise in the profession.

“This industry has gone largely unregulated for many, many years,” Schreiner said. “Pretty much anybody can open a dog day care.”

Smith believes that a more regulated animal care industry would be a good thing, because of the skill set required to work with dogs and the high stakes that come with caring for an animal.

“Dogs are not just people in fur,” Smith said. “It’s a whole other set of behaviors and health needs and ways of taking care of their mental and emotional health, as well as their bodies. And so it does require expertise.”

At its expansive location at 250 Southampton Road location, The Grinning Dog has both indoor and outdoor kennels, two nature parks (one with access to a pond), several play yards and a grooming facility. The business is both a day care and an overnight boarding kennel. Generally, there are about 20 day care dogs and anywhere from 15 to 35 overnight boarding dogs, depending on the season. There are eight people who work at the facility.

The day care, which is currently not accepting new clients, has a fee structure that varies depending on the services a client selects. Generally, however, its between $48-$58 for a full day and $32-$38 for a half day.

Amelia Wilson, a kennel technician who also received her certification, joined The Grinning Dog’s staff two years ago when she was just 16. Like Smith, she also wasn’t able to have a dog growing up, so instead she volunteered to do service dog training, offered to walk neighbors’ dogs around the block, and pet-sat for friends.

“When I turned 16, I was like, ‘I could get a job now,’ and I just started applying to kennels locally,” Wilson said.

Smith tries to give the dogs a lot of freedom when they come to the facility. All of the facility’s land is fenced-in, so the kennel technicians don’t need to worry about the dogs wandering off.

“It’s sort of a break for them, a vacation from being like an emotional support animal for their families,” Smith said. “They get to be dogs, and they get to speak their mother tongue all day long.”

At The Grinning Dog, everyone does a little bit of everything, but each kennel technician has specific responsibilities that they enjoy more than others. Wilson loves working with puppies, whereas Schreiner has a soft spot for elderly dogs.

“That’s a real privilege to be able to have someone’s treasured family member here in your facility towards the end of their life,” Schreiner said. “Some of them have been with us for their whole lives.”

Smith likes working with dogs that are a bit more apprehensive at first and slowly earning their trust.

“I really like gaining their confidence and seeing them kind of blossom,” Smith said.




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