BENNINGTON -- After getting dropped off at camp on their parents' way to work, the excited campers greet friends as they arrive and immediately begin playing. Like many day camps, there's a park filled with toys, water to swim in, treats to eat and enthusiastic camp attendants to keep all of them entertained.
By 2 p.m., after hours of playing with friends, the tired campers gather around an attendant for story time. Within minutes, their heads are down, tongues are hanging out and eyes begin shutting.
"Having someone sit there and read to them, the tone of reading is very relaxing," said Linda Morse, "not just to children, but to dogs."
Morse, a veterinarian at West Mountain Animal Hospital whose idea it was to start the Doggie Day Camp at the veterinary office on Harwood Hill Road four years ago, has watched the program grow over the years to now care for 15 to 30 dogs a day.
Of course "story time" is most commonly associated with children, but Morse said it has many of the same benefits for dogs. While the dogs have no preference in the choice of literature -- whether nursery rhymes, National Geographic magazines, or "The Healing Power of Pets," as was read Thursday -- the sound of reading helps the dogs settle down and drift into a slumber.
"We used to have a nap time and it kind of morphed into story time," Morse said. "Dogs are like kids. When kids get tired they get cranky and dogs are like that too. If they are constantly stimulated, they are playing, playing, playing, they get cranky."
The dogs start off with "active play" after being dropped off in the morning before "quiet play" time at 11 a.m. and "game time" from noon to 2 p.m.
"By this time in the day they're ready for a nap ... so we just make it very quiet in here, we turn off the lights and we either have some soft music or we do a little reading," said Niomi Robertson, one of the attendants, shortly after 2 p.m. Thursday.
The idea for the Doggie Day Camp came from Morse's experience with her own puppy. When Morse used to go to work, a friend with her own dog would pick up Morse's pup and the dogs would play together during the day.
"It got so we would say the other dog's name and he (my dog) would get excited," Morse said.
After witnessing first-hand the benefit of socializing her dog, Morse proposed opening a year-round day camp for other dogs that would otherwise be left alone at home during the days.
"When dogs are not around other dogs, eventually they forget how to communicate their feelings with other dogs ... sometimes dogs that are aggressive are actually fearful because they don't know how to communicate with other dogs and don't know how to read the other dogs' signs," Morse said.
In addition to strengthening social skills, the camp also allows the dogs the opportunity to exercise in the dog park or below the main floor when the weather prohibits outdoor play.
The camp also helps owners who may not have the energy after returning from work to take their dog for a walk or to play.
But those who witness the dogs playing each day will say it's the dogs who appreciate the time the most.
"A lot of parents come in and say, ‘thank God it's Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday,' or ‘right when we were coming down the hill they were wagging their tail and I couldn't get her out of the front seat,'" said Renette Gonzalez, another camp attendant.
The camp runs year-round Tuesday through Thursday and costs $14 for a half day or $22 per full day. For more information, call 445-3107.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi