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So we are at the end of 2021. The past year certainly has been a challenge. We had to continue practices we adopted in 2020 to make sure our staff stayed healthy. Being able to continue to operate and take care of the dogs is paramount. Staffing remains an issue and we are not the only business struggling with that. We have been prioritizing the care of the dogs, but had to drop some of the activities we enjoy doing, like our weekly dog walks. It might also take us longer to respond to emails or return phone calls, so please plan accordingly. We want to thank everyone for their support and understanding, all of our clients have been wonderful!

I read a comment recently that A Walk in the Park had changed and we didn’t do things the way we did in 2016, when we opened. No, we are not the same business. My goal has always been for the ranch to be a home away from home for the dogs. We are here around the clock to make sure they are comfortable and have a good experience. Because we were here, we instituted extended lobby hours: clients can drop off and pick up between 6AM and 9PM, seven days a week, year round. Nobody else in the area offers that. But as we worked with the dogs day to day, we learned from our experiences and tweaked requirements. These were all done to improve the comfort of the dogs and give them a better experience. We want to thank all of you for working with us and being understanding of this.

Everything that happens in life is a potential learning experience. The dogs cannot express in words how they feel. But we can see their body language and get a glimpse into what they are experiencing. If there is something in the routine of bringing the dogs to the ranch that they have an averse reaction to, it can influence how they feel about the entire experience of staying with us. For example, we use the same grade sanitizers that a lot of veterinarian offices use. Dogs have an excellent sense of smell, so when they pick that up and they have a negative association with going to the vet, it can make them hesitant about coming in. We are not going to change the sanitizers we use, but there are a lot of other things we can change that will help create a better experience. The curbside pickup and drop off, although created to deal with the pandemic, has been great for the dogs. Being on a leash in the lobby, close to other dogs on a leash, was stressful for some dogs. Dogs arriving late caused problems. They would be so out of sync with the other dogs, who already had been playing all day, so we eliminated that.

Dogs really don’t have much choice as to what happens to them during the day. We decide when they eat, what they eat, when they go outside, when they go for walks, and yes, when they come to the ranch. One of the issues we are trying to solve now, is dogs who are lodging but really aren’t that familiar with the ranch, because they don’t come that often. We want the dogs to have a good time, we don’t kennel them, we let them play with other dogs, they sleep together at night, that is all great, but doesn’t really work out if the dogs are not used to be around other dogs and don’t see our environment as familiar.

So tonight is New Year’s Eve, and the ball will be dropped in Times Square. Would you like to be there? What if you were blindfolded and taken there and no one had told you what was going to happen? Would you enjoy it? Would you be nervous? It will probably be more fun when you’re younger, because you are more open for adventure. That is really what we are doing to the dogs when they get dropped of here. They probably knew that something was going on, because you were getting ready for your trip and dogs are keen observers. And a young dog, for whom everything is new, and who thinks every other dog is their friend, it might be easier than for a dog who has matured. When dogs are puppies, or young adolescents, they are what’s called dog social, they pretty much want to play with every dog they meet (there are exceptions of course), but as they mature, they become dog tolerant or dog selective. They get pickier about who they hang out with. It is not that different for people. When you are a kid, you make friends easily, as you become a teenager and an adult, things change.

Just like people, when dogs mature, they get set in their ways. We would like the ranch to be a familiar environment for the dogs, their home away from home. We want the ranch to be a part of their lifestyle. Therefore, beginning this spring, we will start a daycare and lodging membership, to get dogs in a regular routine. Not only will the dog be more comfortable coming here, we will know better too what is going on, because we will know what is normal behavior and what is out of the ordinary. We will have an environment for the dogs where they can not only socialize with other dogs and get physical exercise, but that also provides mental stimulation through enrichment and training activities. We will let you know more details in our next newsletter.

So, we probably gained a few pounds, thanks to all the cookies, cakes and other snacks we received. Thank you for all of that, and thank you for the gift cards and other gifts. I want to mention that we received a very generous gift this fall from an anonymous donor, and I mean very generous gift, and for that I want to express my sincerest gratitude. It will be put to good use to provide enrichment equipment and upgrades to the facility that will make each visit an even better experience for the dogs!

Finally I want to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year. I know there are many challenges ahead, but every challenge also offers an opportunity. I hope to see all of you in the new year!

Dirk Broersma