Proverbs 12:10

"The righteous one is caring for the soul of his domestic animal." Proverbs 12:10

Friday, July 6, 2007

Dogs dig in at Camp Bark

Camp Counselor, Beth Kelly, shares her affection with canine campers (from left) Darcy, Frankie, Zoe and Maggie during camp playgroup time.

Canine Campers (from left) Maggie, Frankie and Darcy explore the smells in the secure, naturalized area at Camp Bark in Waxhaw.

by Deborah Parkhill Mullis

On the outskirts of Waxhaw, off Highway 75, a gravel drive winds its way past a field, a pond and acres of woods to the place where Cindy Starkey built her dream: a 5,000 square foot pet lodge and doggie day camp with enough rustic charm to rival many retreats designed for mankind.

Starkey opened Camp Bark this year on Memorial Day weekend with the motto, "It‘s not a kennel; it’s a camp” and the associated tenet - that her clients are not canines but rather "campers" - gives pet owners an indication of her philosophy about boarding dogs.

“This isn’t the Ritz-Carlton. I think that dogs like to sniff and explore the natural environment. Dogs like to dig holes,” said Starkey, warning that dogs sometimes get dirty at Camp Bark.

Raised on a farm in West Virginia, Starkey had a natural affinity for dogs even as a child. Her love for dogs was so strong that she was shocked to discover not all children felt the same way and that some of her friends did not want to spend all day playing with pooches.

That revelation didn’t change Starkey, now 38, who still spends her days playing with dogs. Assembled daily for playdates are Frankie, her 10 year-old terrier mix and Sabrina, her 5-year-old Rottweiler, not to mention all her canine campers and any dogs she may be fostering. An animal advocate, Starkey rescues dozens of dogs from shelters each year.

Starkey ventured into the dog-boarding business eight years ago after many years spent driving back and forth to her parents’ home for her dog's sake whenever work took her out of town. The four hour drive was exhausting, but knowing the level of inactivity her dog was likely to endure at an animal hospital or traditional kennel was more stressful. “Whose dog wants to take a vacation at a hospital? Even if it’s a safe place - it’s not a fun place,” she said.

Believing there had to be a better way, Starkey started pet-sitting on the side for friends and co-workers who shared her anxiety. It gave people peace of mind to know an animal lover was welcoming their pets into her home and treating them as one of her own while they were away. Soon Starkey was so busy caring for canines that she gave up her corporate job and began dreaming of the day she would open a romping retreat for man’s best friend.

That day has arrived. Starkey and her staff now provide a high-spirited schedule beginning at 6:30 am and ending around 9:30 pm for healthy, well-socialized dogs. “I want it to be a full fun day so that when the dogs retire at night they’re dog tired,” she said.

Camp playgroups are the highlight of each day. Dogs get to go outside and play chase with canine friends or fetch with staff members. They can dig in dirt, romp on grass or visit trees all inside a naturalized area safely surrounded by solid cedar fencing. Playgroups, held mid-morning and late afternoon for up to three hours at a time, are supervised by staff members who are experienced dog handlers. The camp routine includes an indoor siesta time during the hottest part of the day. Dogs that desire more breaks from all the fun and sun can find respite on the cool concrete floor under the covered back porch where bowls of fresh water are set about. There is even a baby pool for dogs inclined to take a dip or in need of a camper bath. (Baths are by request and cost extra.) There is an indoor play area in case of bad weather. Camp playgroups are included in the regular rate of $35 a day for overnight camp and $25 a day for day camp.

Overnight campers can sleep in the cageless boarding area or be tucked into their own "cabin". Buddies are allowed to bunk together. Campers' chow times are at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., all dogs are fed their own food to avoid upset stomachs. Dogs with medications, special diets and exercise requests can be accommodated, too.

Starkey's years of experience caring for dogs with special needs led her to design a roomy den next to the lobby for her senior and special-needs “campers”. These dogs may lounge on the couch or relax on the rug while listening to music or watching television. An indoor pup tent and a separate outdoor area allows every Camp Bark canine to experience the camp atmosphere.

However, Starkey does not cater to dogs that are simply spoiled. “If your dog is a late sleeper, Camp Bark is not the right place for him,” she cautioned.

Opening Camp Bark hasn't stopped Starkey's dreaming. She plans to develop an agility course, build an exercise pool and hold obedience classes, all on Camp Bark's fourteen acres. But the camp director/owner has dreams beyond Camp Bark. As the foster home coordinator for Animal Adoption League, her most precious vision is the day when there are no animals to rescue from shelters or streets and people finally understand the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.

Learn more at or call 704-858-BARK.

Deborah is a freelance writer living in Indian Trail, NC with her husband, two children, two dogs and one cat. This article was also published in Volume 2, Number 27 *July 6-12, 2007 of Union County Weekly and Volume 6, Number 27 * July 6-12, 2007 of Charlotte Weekly. Send your dog-related news to or add your comments about the above story by clicking on the link below.


  1. my dog loves Camp Bark! we had some behavioral problems with me traveling so much. then Cindy introduced me to her dog camp concept. Buddy's behavioral problems disappeared. it's great that he loves it there; i don't feel so guilty about traveling, knowing that he's having fun!

    -susan h-

  2. Thank you Camp Bark for taking such excellent care of our girl Jazzy!! Jazz loves the Camp!

  3. They look so smart. I am a dog lover :) Love to read your writing.
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