Decadent dog's life at Waglands

FIVE STAR TREATMENT: Arlene Hawkyard and Ben Adams of Waglands already have to turn away would-be ‘‘guests’’ at their popular dog retreat.
FIVE STAR TREATMENT: Arlene Hawkyard and Ben Adams of Waglands already have to turn away would-be ‘‘guests’’ at their popular dog retreat.

Wellington canines can have their own holiday while owners are away. At hilltop Waglands Dogs' Holiday Retreat in Belmont, dogs are "guests", fed gourmet food and given special areas for afternoon naps, a sandpit to play in and grass to run around on.

Couple Ben Adams and Arlene Hawkyard, previously an engineer and financial services analyst respectively, bought the property three years ago for a lifestyle change after eight months travelling the world. They have turned it into the envy of dog accommodation establishments nationwide.

Waglands was recently awarded Best Small Business at the 2012 Westpac Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

"We were looking for lifestyle properties on TradeMe and this one just popped up. We loved the property and the area," said Hawkyard, who once swore she would never work with dogs after growing up surrounded by the animals with a father who bred siberian huskies and border collies, and who was also a New Zealand canine competitive obedience judge.

The Waglands property had been a kennel for many years before they bought it, and was run down. The couple were keen to change the name to remove the prison-like term "kennel" and rebrand its public profile.

They hired a branding professional to create the name Waglands Dogs' Grooming & Holiday Retreat, and take bright photographs of dogs frolicking outdoors for marketing material.

The rebranding exercise was extremely successful - they have had to turn away 300 people who wanted their dogs to stay over the Christmas period because the 70-dog capacity was booked out months ago.

"Seventy sounds like a high number but the dogs know each other. When they're actually all out there in their little play groups they have such a ball. We only take social dogs," Hawkyard said.

"We have enough space [4 hectares] that every single dog can be outside playing at the same time, rather than taking turns," Adams said.

The couple employ five part-time staff and live on the property, working long hours. Their days start at dawn but they ensure they take mid-morning and afternoon breaks during times at which they specify clients may not drop off or collect dogs.

After $260,000 of investment into upgrading the property there are 17 different spaces for the pets to play outdoors on various surfaces or indoors on heated pads during winter.

For the dogs, it is a five-star luxury stay experience. For the dog owners, it costs between about $25-$30 a night.

"We want it to be an enjoyable experience for the dogs," Adams said.

Dog owners appreciate the obvious affection the pair have for their pets. "Twenty years ago, the dog used to live outside and it was the guard dog whereas now, they're part of the family," said Hawkyard, who is expecting the couple's first child in mid-December.

"We're proud of our place," Adams said. "We've got so many ideas to keep improving."