This June, in spite of a horrendously rainy week, Camp Gone to the Dogs took over the Marlboro campus once again, for the 23rd year in a row. One hundred eighty dog lovers and 290 dogs (comprising 43 breeds) traveled from Canada and 22 states, coming from as far as California, Oregon, and Washington, to participate in the camp. College dormitories and cottages serve as accommodations during camp. In the span of only a few weeks between the end of the semester and June, all traces of students are swept away to make room for camp-goers.
“When we show up, people tend to notice,” says Jeanne Richter, who has directed Camp Gone to the Dogs since she bought it in 2004. Since its inception, Camp Gone to the Dogs has welcomed over 8,500 people and 13,500 dogs to the Marlboro campus for a week of activities and bonding.
Each day’s events begin at 7 am and can go well past 9 every night, with about 10 events offered each hour.
When camp arrives, the Marlboro campus is transformed into a 100-acre playground. A hill sloping down to the maintenance building is outfitted as a sheepherding field, where West Virginia trainers Roy and Debbie Johnson teach dogs of all breeds the art of herding.
The soccer field becomes the site of the agility course, a series of obstacles that, according to Richter, is one of camp’s biggest draws. “People are really into agility,” says Richter.
During camp, avid owners set up tents around the soccer field to keep track of their dogs all day, even in the pouring rain.
Camp Gone to the Dogs also operates a smaller event in Stowe every September, but attendees of that event stay in area hotels. The Marlboro event is known as “big camp” because of the plethora of activities available to both dogs and owners, with new events and lectures being added every year.“Everyone really likes it,” says Richter. “We have over an 80% return rate.”
In addition to the agility course and the sheepherding events, Camp Gone to the Dogs offers dock-diving, in which a diving board is built over a small pond on campus; “paw-trait” painting, where dogs paint using their paws; leash-making for owners; as well as swimming lessons, Frisbee, obedience training, and lectures on dog behavior.
Certification courses for therapy animals are also offered and are a large draw for campers.
“It’s a community that pops up on Sunday and ends on Saturday,” says Richter, noting that many attendees of camp stay in contact throughout the year.
Aerika Shamlin, a member of the dining hall staff who also works in the kitchen during the school year, describes the changing menu during the summer. Officially and legally, dogs are not allowed to eat in the dining hall. But, says Shamlin, “half the time the bacon is for the dogs. We do a meal at the end of camp which is an entire Thanksgiving feast, and the turkey is for the dogs, too.”
Campers’ affection for their dogs is clear, even to the casual observer. Even though, according to Richter, “Rain doesn’t bother the dogs; it bothers people,” almost every dog at Marlboro strolls up and down the campus’ hills in fitted raincoats. “I’ve never heard more talk about dogs than with the campers,” says Shamlin. “I love watching the dogs have fun and seeing the owners have fun,” says Richter.
The lively burst of Dog Camp quickly gives way to the Marlboro Music program, another staple of the college’s landscape and history, with a far different effect on campus.