By Starrla Cray
CARVER COUNTY, MN A group of dogs swim in a 34-foot heated pool while others receive a full massage.
When it’s time for bed, the pups retreat to air-conditioned and air-purified suites with heated floors and orthopedic mattresses.
No, this isn’t some doggie fantasy. It’s called Top Dog Country Club, and it’s located on 42 wooded acres near New Germany.
Owner and operator Jean Beuning started the club in October 2000, and the one-of-a-kind facility has attracted worldwide attention.
“We’ve received recognition beyond my wildest imagination,” Beuning said.
Top Dog has been interviewed by The New York Times, KARE 11, USA Today, Animal Planet, and several other news outlets. Beuning has done radio interviews all over the world, including Paris and Bogota, Columbia.
Beuning, a lifelong dog-lover, was inspired to create Top Dog after a terrible kennel experience in 1993, with her own four Shelties. At that time, most places were just “cages and concrete,” she said.
Dog owners had few options of where to leave their beloved pets when they went on vacation or were relocating.
“Top Dog Country Club paved the way and set a completely new standard for boarding dogs everywhere,” Beuning noted.
Since the club started, other facilities have been working to emulate the same approach.
“Top Dog has sort of been that model,” Beuning said, but added that it would be difficult to recreate the club.
“What I’ve created is not overly duplicable,” she said. Beuning and her husband, Curt, built the facility on property that they already owned, and Beuning works around the clock to keep it running smoothly.
Beuning said she’s had several requests to franchise, but has decided against it. Her foremost goal is quality, and in order to maintain her high standards, she’d have to be constantly traveling to the various sites.
“That’s not what it’s all about for me,” she said.
Before starting Top Dog, Beuning had a career with Marriott, as vice president for the midwest region.
“I would get on a plane every Monday morning and return Friday evening, visiting three to five cities a week, working 80-hour weeks,” Beuning noted. “I woke one morning and said to myself, ‘This is crazy. Life is too short, and I am not going to spend the rest of it like this.’”
So, Beuning decided to go after her dream. She and Curt, a custom home builder, designed and constructed Top Dog in the midst of two demanding, full-time careers.
“We worked 115-hour weeks,” Beuning commented. “We were crazy, but passionate.”
The 6,100-square-foot clubhouse is incomparable to standard kennels. The “guests” have 9-foot ceilings, windows, trellises, and vines. There is music piped in 24 hours per day, and the lighting is all incandescent.
The real highlight, however, is the outdoor heated pool, which is open April through November.
“The pool is the best,” Beuning said. “They can’t wait for it to open again.”
An average of 55 dogs per day stay at Top Dog, but that number sometimes reaches the mid-80s.
Keeping the dogs content and safe is a matter of properly organized playgroups and supervision, Beuning said.
“It’s like kids on a playground,” she said.
Top Dog has about 20 full-time and part-time employees, with a combined total of about 55,000 hours of “pack behavior experience.”
“There’s pretty much nothing we haven’t seen or experienced,” she said. Dogs are organized by size and temperament to ensure a happy stay for everyone.
“Countless owners tell me their dogs do not want to go home at the end of their stay,” Beuning noted.
A home for aging dogs
The Top Dog Country Club is only a portion of Beuning’s dream the other part is Top Dog Foundation, a sanctuary focusing on care for elderly dogs.
She has plans for a 15,000-square-foot facility located on 38 acres of her property, which will feature a hydrotherapy center, training center, and crematory. It will be a place where dogs that would otherwise be euthanized because of age and health can have a permanent home.
Beuning is working on raising enough money for the facility, which will have both volunteer and paid staff.
“I have a couple hundred thousand,” she said. “I need about $2 million.”
About a year ago, Beuning founded the Bentley grant program to provide financial assistance to dog owners, rescue groups, and shelters, to support the medical care of aging dogs with serious health-related conditions.
“Since we do not have our permanent facility, we are looking to support those situations where the owners want to keep their aging dogs, but cannot afford procedures or medications necessary to allow for a continued quality of life,” Beuning noted.
The Bentley grant was created in honor of a dog named Bentley that Beuning rescued.
Bentley had severe dental problems and blindness, but won Beuning’s heart.
“When Curt picked him up, this scruffy little hobo dog clung to him, as if he finally felt safe and warm,” she noted. “He wags his tail constantly, and is the most grateful dog I have ever known.”
In 2010, Top Dog Country Club will host a benefit with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward the Top Dog Foundation sanctuary.
The Monday, Aug, 16 benefit will be at the Bearpath Golf and Country Club in Eden Prairie, and will include a golf tournament, wine tasting, hors d’oeuvres buffet, and live and silent auction.
Reservations will be available Tuesday, Dec. 15.
For more information about Top Dog Foundation, call (952) 353-2122 or go to www.topdogfoundation.org.
To contact Top Dog Country Club, call (952) 353-2600, or go to www.topdogcountryclub.com.