When Linda Lane was growing up in the small Texas town of Livingston, she sometimes walked the five blocks from her home to Bonds Grocery, a local convenience store, to buy candy. Her two dogs always followed; along the way, other neighborhood dogs joined the pack. By the time she arrived at the store, she often had an entourage of five or six tail-wagging dogs, including a hearing-impaired Dalmatian, a Doberman mix, a mutt, and a usually-timid English setter. Linda remembers customers asking the store owner why so many dogs were there.
“Mr. Bonds said, ‘See that little girl reading comics? They all followed her’,” she says. “I’ve always been a natural with animals.”
Over the years, Linda has owned many dogs, some of them rescue and foster dogs. She has also raised horses, parakeets, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and even a domesticated deer. As a girl, she was a barrel racer at rodeos; when she was in high school, she boarded horses for friends and neighbors.
After graduating from Sam Houston State University, Linda taught seventh and eighth grade science at Lynn Lucas Middle School in Willis for ten years. Then, in 2005, she hatched an idea to make a little extra money. She e-mailed her fellow teachers, inviting them to leave their dogs with her while they were out of town. The response was overwhelming.
It wasn’t long before Linda left the teaching profession to operate a full-time dog boarding and daycare business at her home. She knew she would need visibility on a major road and a country setting on several acres, so she searched for the perfect property. In 2006, she found acreage on FM 1314 near Creighton Road that was equipped with a homey, ranch-style house. Linda moved, dogs and all, and named her business Almost Home Pet Retreat.
More than a Kennel
While some dog boarding businesses may seem like prisons to dogs, Miss Linda, as her clients call her, has turned her home into a dog retreat. Her two-acre property has two separate, fenced areas where dogs can romp and play. Larger, more energetic dogs enjoy a spacious, well-maintained yard with a swimming pool; smaller and geriatric dogs play in a similar, separate yard. Linda treats visiting dogs as members of the family, calling them by name and inviting them into her home. Her husband Mike installed attractive gates throughout the home with dogs in mind. Almost Home is also equipped with multiple security cameras so Linda can monitor her canine guests at all times.
The “doggy dormitory” at Almost Home Pet Retreat bears little resemblance to a utilitarian college dorm. Six semi-private rooms have homey decorations and comfy beds; each room opens to a private porch and grassy area. Dogs never have to endure the monotony of dog runs, but are allowed to run and play when they leave the doggy dormitory. Clients, Linda says, often refer to their dogs’ stays at Almost Home Pet Retreat as “going to school” or “going on vacation.” Some clients tell Linda they won’t board their dogs anywhere else. “Lots of people tell me, ‘We couldn’t go anywhere before we found you,’” she says.
“My dog Ootie absolutely loves, loves, loves Almost Home doggy daycare,” one client reports. “Ootie and I give Miss Linda five stars.”
Almost Home Pet Retreat can accommodate up to 25 dogs. While some stay overnight, many come during the day for “doggy daycare.” Dogs may be dropped off and picked up from 7 to 11 a.m. and 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. Saturday drop-off and pickup hours are from 8 to 10 a.m. and from 5 to 6 p.m. On Sundays, dogs may be dropped off and picked up from 5 to 6 p.m. While some day care clients drop off their dogs daily, Linda also accepts dogs that stay at Almost Home infrequently.
Dogs are generally happy to arrive at Almost Home Pet Retreat, Linda says with a smile. Some live with their owners in homes with small or non-existent yards and enjoy having room to roam at Almost Home’s generous acreage. Dog owners often tell Linda their dogs recognize Creighton Road and exhibit excitement when they drive past the road’s intersection with FM 1314. When they arrive at Almost Home, she says, many dogs began squealing. Owners do not have to lead the way—the dogs often drag their owners to the gate. Dog owners are relieved that their pets receive conscientious care in a safe, happy environment.
Before admitting any dog, Linda requests they go through a two-hour “interview.” Dog owners leave their dogs in Linda’s care because, Linda emphasizes, “I am not interviewing the owners. I am interviewing the dog.” After two hours, Linda can tell if a dog will fit in with her pack. It is unusual, she says, for her to have to turn a dog away. “Everybody here likes to play with other dogs,” she says.
Because Linda is conscientious about the safety of the dogs in her care, Almost Home does not accept pit bulls or other breeds known for being “bullies.” Although she acknowledges that individuals of any breed can be friendly, allowing breeds that are known for being “grouchy” is not a risk she is willing to take. Every dog, she says, was bred for a purpose. For example, Australian cattle dogs were bred to herd animals, and hounds were bred to hunt. Pit bulls, she says, were bred to fight.
Linda agrees with the techniques of author and television personality Cesar Milan, “the dog whisperer.” While she is gentle and loving with dogs, she also expects obedience. Dogs, she says, soon learn to treat her as an “alpha.” If a dog misbehaves, she corrects the behavior; most dogs discover that it’s easy to get along with Linda and the other dogs at Almost Home. “I guess I think like a dog,” she says. “I am very proud of what I do.”
For more information, call (936) 788-7387 or visit Linda’s website, www.almosthomepetretreat.com.