PITTSFIELD — Renee Dodds owns two daycare centers in the Berkshires where her customers bark instead of talk.
Dodds owns Love Us and Leave Us, a dog daycare and boarding facility with locations in Pittsfield and Lee. Dodds, from Lanesborough, or ‘the borough’ as she calls it, is a certified dog trainer who originally became a dog sitter while working as a cook for a short time while living in the ski region of Vermont.
She does all of this despite her allergy to animals, which kept her from having pets as a child. [Dodds said she has found ways to work around this issue].
In 2012, she opened her Pittsfield location in the former Munchies Pub on West Housatonic Street – which still had a dancer’s pole located in the main room. Seven years earlier, a Springfield-based company had expressed interest in opening a strip dance establishment on this site. But, neither the concept nor the establishment came to fruition, as the proposal went against an adult entertainment ordinance that Pittsfield had passed the previous year.
Dodds opened his establishment in Lee last year.
We recently spoke with Dodds about her business, her love of dogs — and what happened to this dancer’s pole.
Q: How did your dog daycare career start?
A: I was a cook for a long time, and I worked in a bakery in Stowe [Vermont]. I worked for this really nice lady who knew how much I loved dogs, and she even saw an ad for someone who worked at a dog daycare for a local hostel where people could stay with their dogs .
It was a sort of dog-centric hostel for skiers. She encouraged me to apply for a job and do it. I was gifted and I liked it. That’s when I decided I could probably do something like this on my own while I was working at my real job.
Q: Why did you go to Vermont?
A: I was just looking for some kind of change of scenery. I went to music festivals and had a store that sold hippie stuff. My friends had a house in Vermont, and no one lived there for the winter, so I ended up there.
I was 20, you know? … It was too cold to stay in the Northeastern Kingdom. It was like minus 35 [degrees] for a month, and I said “No”, and I came back.
Q: Where do you live?
A: East Hardwick. You roll to the end of the Earth, you fall and you arrive. It’s 45 minutes east of Stowe.
Q: What do you like the most in dogs?
A: Unconditional love; really cute faces… it’s kind of almost, I don’t want to look like TV, but it’s kind of like healing for your soul to be with these animals. They hang on your every word. They want to please you…going to work and seeing all those super excited faces waiting to see you…it’s soothing and comforting.
Q: Many people are probably wondering what a dog daycare really looks like. Can you describe it to me?
A: We start each dog with a trial day. Not all dogs like to be in an environment with so many dogs. So we introduce them slowly, at their own pace. Some dogs, you do them one at a time. Others, like some labs, arrive as if they’ve been here for 1,000 years.
We watch them and just see how they play. …Right now we’re getting a lot of what we call “pandemic puppies” who haven’t had much socialization, but we can still work with the shyness and build their confidence. If the dogs show aggression in any way, they won’t do well, so we send them away.
Q: What do dogs do when you take care of them?
A: Lots of play, inside and out. We try to work with them a lot because even though they were trained at home, they don’t really have the training. … Group dogs know how to behave, so we work hard not to bark so much and come when called.
It’s a bit like a supervised game. If one of them starts playing too rough, we calm them down for a minute and take a deep breath. … They give off so much energy. Owners love it.
We spend a lot of time outdoors, but in bad weather, heavy rain or if it’s very cold or very hot, we bring them indoors to air-conditioned playrooms. … We had very cold days, and we will keep them inside, but we will take them out … every 30 minutes, or once an hour to go to the bathroom, just run outside and come back right away in.
Q: Were you a dog lover when you were a kid?
A: We had a German Shepherd when I was growing up who was older when I was a kid, and he passed away. I’ve always wanted a dog, but… here’s my story: I’m allergic to dogs and cats. I always wanted pets, but my parents wouldn’t let me have any because I was allergic.
Q: Are you still allergic to animals?
A: Oh yes.
Q: So how do you do what you do?
A: I think I grew up a bit. I think it hit my system so hard that it doesn’t bother me as much, but some dogs will really work it out and I just won’t be able to pet them as much. … I have two dogs and cats at home.
Q: You originally directed Love Us and Leave Us out of your house. Why did you want to have a separate installation?
A: At one point, I was not sleeping very well. …I looked around and there were, like, 10 dogs in my room, sitting in there. I was so busy. I also walked dogs. … Then I finally bought a house. I loved the house, but the dogs were destroying our beautiful garden. It was just dirt.
I couldn’t even have a day off. … I had been looking at the Munchies building for years and managed to rent it to give me a break.
Q: What are the easiest dogs to keep in daycare?
A: It really varies from dog to dog, but I would say old dogs are the easiest. We actually have a lot of variations of Doodle, and I have to say, they’ve been crazy getting into the group. They all enjoy being around other dogs and they listen. … They are just carefree, they love to be around other dogs and they love to play. They have a lot of energy.
Q: What are the hardest dogs to watch?
A: Sometimes we have trouble with intimidating breeds; all dogs with high prey. They are so nice, but sometimes their game is so overstimulated and they play too rough and upset the dynamic of the group. … We had issues with them, but then again, some of the best dogs we’ve ever had were pit bulls. You can never tell until you see the dog. They have different personalities, just like us.
Q: When kids act out daycare, you put them on a timeout. What do you do with dogs?
A: We put them on a timeout. We put them in another area. We try to redirect them. This is the best way to get rid of unwanted behavior.
Q: When you first moved into Munchies 10 years ago, this dancer’s pole had been abandoned. I remember that you told me then that you were afraid to move it, for structural reasons. Is it still there?
A: Yes it is. This building [was built] in the late 1800s, and has a rubble foundation coming in, so, I’m planning on building a whole new building and tearing that one down.
Q: But what will happen to the pole?
A: I’m thinking of keeping the pole in a display case or something [Dodds laughs]. Souvenirs.