Rachael Ray visits Camp Unleashed in Becket, Massachusetts
Native New Yorker Annie Brody moved from the 22nd floor of a Manhattan apartment building to a cottage on a dirt road in northeast Columbia County, New York, six years ago, after she adopted her first dog. The relaxing effect that living in nature had on them both inspired her to create Camp Unleashed, a getaway for dogs to unwind and "unleash" their true canine spirits together with their human guardians.
The Berkshires are off-leash dog heaven. Goose and I hike most weekends, often with Annie and her dogs, Rocky and Mandy. It's super fun.
Gina: Is that wonderful photo on your website you as a child? Where was the photo taken, how old were you, and is that a stuffed animal?
Annie: Yes, that's me with the only dog I had has a child. I named him Asta after the dog in The Thin Man television show. I think I was about five. He wasn't really a stuffed animal -- he was a rigid dog mannequin from a shoe store. My dad was the controller for a small chain of shoe stores and he brought it home for me because he knew how much I wanted a dog of my own. I recently found this old photo of me and realized that I just had to include it on the camp website -- I hadn't realized that the dog in my camp logo was a wire haired terrier, just like my little Asta!
Gina: When you adopted your first dog, did you have any inkling then that dogs would become so central to your life?
Annie: For as long as I can remember, I always loved dogs but couldn't have one because I lived in apartment rentals that didn't allow them. I also liked big dogs and didn't think it would be fair to have one if it didn't have any place to run. But then the NYC Parks Dept. opened a dog run in the park in my neighborhood...and one afternoon, as I walked away from petting someone else's golden retriever puppy, I realized that my mood had changed in just a few minutes from being kind of down and depressed to being elated and excited about life. And I knew at that moment that dogs had always had that effect on me and that I had always known that too, but had never taken action to actually bring a dog into my life.
Within two weeks I found myself at the NYC ASPCA where I found, much to my delight, a one-year-old scrawny looking Golden Retriever, who had recently been picked up from wandering in a parking lot in the Bronx, and he didn't have any identification tags! I was scared to death because I didn't really know anything about caring for a dog, but I just acted on impulse. I figured my life would have to change somewhat but I had NO idea that I would end up a) moving from the 22nd floor in Manhattan to a dirt road in Columbia County, NY and b) that I would end up wanting and creating a life of dogs 24/7.
Gina: I was nervous about off-leash hiking when Goose was a puppy, but of course he took right to it and now it's the activity that makes both him and me happiest. It's such a joyful experience to see him run and splash and scale boulders and romp with other dogs. Is it hard for the city dogs and their caretakers who experience off-leash freedom at camp to return to leashed life in the city?
Annie: Once people have the experience of seeing their dog free and independent at camp, yet connected to them, they just naturally want to create more opportunities like that. Although daily life in the city may require leashes, there are plenty of places to go for off leash hiking if one looks for them. My attitude is that dogs deserve vacations, too! And if you love your dog, it's central to his/her well-being to be allowed to be a dog every now and then, run free with the pack, and not have to live by the human rules 24/7.
Gina: Please tell me about the dog music book and CD. When I first heard about it, frankly I thought: My dog is a dog. He does not need spa music. But after he got freaked out in the thunder storm the other night, I did wonder if the music might help. What is the science behind it?
Annie: Through A Dog's Ear really works! The testimonials we get from people who were at their wits end before trying the music because their dogs' suffered so much -- particularly with thunder phobia, but really with any kind of noise phobia, are simply astounding! The music was psychoacoustically designed by composer/producer Joshua Leeds, author of The Power of Sound and clinically tested by veterinary neurologist Sue Wagner with 150 dogs in shelters, homes, and kennels. It's all based on the science of biology and sound waves -- there's a lot about their research and how to use the music to help de-stress dogs with various problem behaviors, injuries, etc. on their website. It's like aromatherapy, but this time the sense is through hearing -- something dogs are finely attuned to!
Gina: How did Rachael Ray hear about Camp Unleashed?
Annie: Her producers were researching canine nutrition for a Rachael Ray special on pets and food for The Food Network and they found two presentations we offer at Camp -- one from a holistic vet about how to feed your dog a healthy diet of high quality nutrition and a workshop on "Preparing A Raw Diet for Your Dog at Home" by local food advocate Gianni Ortiz. I'm a big believer that a high quality diet is essential to a dog's health, energy, and vitality and holistic health care is always a focus at at camp.
Gina: What’s up next for you?
Annie: In February Camp Unleashed is offering a Winter Wonderland Weekend which features cross country skiing and snowshoeing, a wine tasting and lodging at a quaint dog-friendly B&B in the Berkshires. Dogs, as well as humans apparently suffer from S.A.D. (seasonal affected disorder) and the best way to beat the cabin fever blues is to get out and enjoy the beautiful snow with them!