NORTHPORT — Kamrie Hodgeman’s fondness for pets would put any animal lover at ease. “I love people, but I love pets more,” she said during a Sept. 23 interview at Paws & Claws Canine Country Club, just off Route 1. Trained as a veterinary technician, she has worked with animals in one way or another for most of her career, she said.

She and her husband, Greg, purchased the kennel, which sits on more than 40 acres of wooded land, at the beginning of August, after being asked by the previous owner to take it over. Kamrie said they were happy with the grooming business they have run for 14 years, first at Aubuchon Hardware on Northport Avenue in the city, where Greg is the manager, and, since December 2018, on Stephenson Lane in East Belfast. In addition, they continue to run weekend nail clinics for pets at Aubuchon.

When the opportunity to buy the kennel came up, they were excited and decided to go for it, believing that there was room in the market for another facility. They had been asked by grooming customers if they offered boarding, and had to refer them elsewhere, she said. “But now, we say ‘Yes!'”

Greg added that while it was scary to jump into a new venture with COVID still not fully under control — they have already invested more than $40,000 in improvements — he thought when the virus was less of a threat the market for their services would blossom with a resurgence of recreational travel. He felt it was good for them to be getting the kennel fixed up now in preparation for the anticipated growth spurt.

The newly redecorated lobby of Paws & Claws Canine Country Club. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

They said while the kennel has “good bones,” it needed, and still needs, a lot of work. Already they have thoroughly cleaned the facility, painted some areas, repaired kennels and decorated the lobby, with more to come, including repairs to the roof.

The Hodgemans have big plans for the kennel. They plan to create a feline boarding area with cat condos and a common play area that is closed off from the dog quarters. They will also build boarding space for other kinds of small pets, including snakes, gerbils, ferrets — “pretty much anything,” Kamrie said, as long as it is small.

There is an on-site grooming room, where animal “guests” can be bathed while their owners are away. Boarding animals can also be fully groomed at the facility in Belfast. All boarded dogs get one playtime per day of their owner’s choice: a one-on-one play session with a staff member, a group play session with other dogs or one-on-one cuddle time with a staffer. Customers can add playtimes for an extra fee. Staff can also walk dogs, trim their nails and give them their medication.

The kennel has an on-site grooming room. Photo by Sarah E. Reynolds

Greg mentioned that they have discussed creating a small dog park on the opposite side of the driveway from the kennel, which could be a good place for a trainer to work. If they were approached by a trainer who wanted to offer services at Canine Country Club, they would be happy to discuss such a relationship, Kamrie said.

In addition to boarding, the Hodgemans also offer daycare for dogs. They plan to remodel part of the kennel to create a large, open indoor room to serve as a play area for daycare dogs, Kamrie said. She expects that will be ready by spring of 2022, possibly sooner.

An unusual feature of the kennel is that the manager, Sarah Anderson, lives in an upstairs apartment in the building. She has been a kennel manager since 2015, and has already been instrumental in moving the facility in the direction the owners want it to go, Kamrie said. In addition, an assistant kennel manager and a high school helper have been brought on since the kennel changed hands, and more attendants will be hired as the daycare ramps up.

Kennel Manager Sarah Anderson lives in an upstairs apartment at the kennel. Photo by Srah E. Reynolds

With all their big plans for the new venture, Kamrie said, she and her husband are very practical about turning their dreams into reality. She emphasized that they want to control the facility’s growth so they can always put the welfare of their animal guests first. “You’re taking care of a member of someone’s family,” she said.

“Every pet has a soul,” Greg said, adding that he enjoys connecting with the animals.

Kamrie summed up their aspirations for the business. “Our hope is that we can build a trusting relationship with the community so they feel comfortable bringing their dogs to us. … We want to see a lot of dogs!”

For more information about Paws & Claws Canine Country Club, call 338-8300 or visit online at https://caninecountryclub-me.com/home-page.

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