On any given weekday, Amy Akerlind can be found walking along rural roads with a pack of energetic dogs – including her albino Doberman, Sheldon – in tow. Akerlind runs her own dog camp, training, and leash-walking business, Squad Dogs, and is living her dream.
“The name was the most challenging thing to come up with,” she reflected. It’s a play on her 13 years as a rescue chief for Colchester Rescue, her prior experience as a veterinarian technician and the “squad” of dogs she now cares for at the camp.
Akerlind started as a volunteer in 2001 and became Colchester’s first paid rescue chief in 2005. But she always knew she wanted to get back to working with animals.
“I just knew it was time for me to do something else,” Akerlind said of her decision to step down earlier this year. “It was time for someone new to be in that role [of rescue chief], too.”
She now works shorter hours for Colchester and intends to continue work as a paramedic on nights and weeks as her business grows.
Dog camp is an off-leash program in which Akerlind picks up her clients’ dogs, takes them on a group walk and brings them back home, exercised and ready to relax.
Akerlind builds her pack slowly adding a dog every month or two so the others can socialize and become adjusted to their new squad member. She teaches them commands like sit, stay, and “recall,” which is to follow on command by name.
“It’s definitely fun, but it’s not all fun and games,” Akerlind said. She must ensure the safety of the dogs, as well as keep them from becoming too riled up.
For Shaunna St. Clair, Akerlind’s camp has been helpful in the care of their two-year-old yellow lab, Kaya, since she and her husband both work long hours.
“Kaya has a ton of energy … and having her stay at home is just really not an option for us,” St. Clair said. “Having dog camp really takes the guilt away from going to work.”
St. Clair turned to dog camp as an alternative to doggie daycare because of the flexibility the program allows with her work schedule. With doggie daycare, she said, hours usually end between 5-6 p.m.
“It’s just not reasonable for people who don’t work a regular 9 to 5 job,” St. Clair explained. Plus, St. Clair likes the unique offerings of dog camp.
She said the fact that Kaya gets to be with other dogs and walk in nature – off leash – “[is] like the best-case scenario for her.”
St. Clair also noted Akerlind’s professionalism, flexibility and accommodating nature. “It’s nice to have somebody who can tire the dog out when you’re at work,” she said.
Akerlind’s business model was inspired by Rhonda Biloudeau’s dog camp, Vermont Dog Pack. Biloudeau helped Akerlind train her dog and showed her the ropes of running a dog camp.
For now, Akerlind services towns that border Essex but said her clients will dictate any expansion plans.
She said she enjoys watching her campers play and takes pride in taking out dogs whose busy owners might not be able to walk them themselves.
“It’s definitely less stress than from my other job,” she said. “It’s dogs … even the bad days are fun.”