You’ve probably driven past the numerous vans or buses. Each van says ‘Run!’ in big letters across the front and sides. You may have noticed them on their way to and from Vernonia each day during the last year and a half.
Well, in case you’ve been wondering, those vans and buses are filled with dogs who are either coming or going from a ‘day camp’ where they spend the day running and playing with other dogs.
Run! is a local business, owned and managed by Erica Ochs, located about 1.5 miles up Keasey Road. Each day upwards of fifty dogs arrive from the Portland metro area to spend the day exercising and staying active on the twenty-four acres of fenced and heavily wooded property. Most of the dogs at Run! would be locked up at home, inside all day while their owners are at work. Run! provides a convenient service, transporting the dogs to a place where they can… well, run!
“We offer a pick-up and drop-off service, that’s a big part of our business,” says Ochs.
During a recent visit to the Run! property I had a chance to experience first hand what it’s like to be greeted and surrounded by about thirty dogs. They were very curious about the newcomer. Some wanted to say hello and receive a pat, others just wanted to give me a sniff and see who I was, and others stayed a few feet away, not wanting to get too close.
I also had a chance to witness another big part of the business - the human and canine interaction the dogs receive each day. Workers are with the dogs all day while they are on the property, re-directing their energy and correcting them when needed. They play, pet and talk with the dogs, giving them positive feedback as well. The dogs get socialized with all types of other dogs and learn how to behave in a large group. Sometimes it looks like the workers are having as much fun as, or maybe more, than the dogs.
Ochs says she has been working with dogs and getting them outside to run free for the last seventeen years. After graduating from college she had her sights set on a job in the corporate world. “Then I realized that I couldn’t take my dog to work with me,’ says Ochs. “I wasn’t going to take a job and leave my dog locked up all day.” Ochs found a handful of clients in Northwest Portland and began walking and running their dogs in Forest Park. She then leased property in Banks and established the current model for her business—a pick-up and drop-off day camp. Eventually she was able to purchase her own property in Columbia County just outside of Vernonia and brought her preexisting clientele with her.
Ochs, with help from business partner Dick Titus, has designed the property with several different fenced areas that all open into one central area. “That way we can have everything open or we can separate dogs out based on if somebody has had surgery or we have an older dog,” explains Ochs. “It gives us the ability to keep them all active and give them that stimulus and that outdoor time.”
Run! has created a system of gates and fences for securing the property, including several gates which the transport vehicles pass through in order to keep all the dogs in place inside the fenced area.
Titus has been clearing more land on the property to add more fenced areas and workers have been limbing up trees to add more visibility and open areas.
First of all, says Ochs, they don’t allow dogs that have issues with other dogs. Dogs that get aggressive or fight are not allowed to return. Ochs notes that having the dogs away from their own property and on neutral ground helps alleviate issues between dogs. The employees at Run! are trained to re-direct a dog’s attention. “A lot of it is recognizing triggers,” explains Ochs. While I was visiting, one dog got a hold of a work glove. Several dogs started chasing the first dog, wanting to play with the glove. The same thing happened later with a stick. “This thing suddenly becomes something that everyone wants and now there is an ownership issue,” says Ochs. “The easiest way to handle it is to redirect their attention to something else that seems more exciting and then they’re gone—they’re over it.”
At Run! dogs are obviously outside in the weather, rain or shine. Sometimes they find mud to play in or roll in something they shouldn’t. Ochs says each dog gets a warm water rinse before they are transported home.
Run! just started an exciting new pilot program with Intel at the end of May. Run! can now pick-up and return dogs to one of the Intel campuses in Hillsboro. If the pilot program is successful Run! could greatly expand their operation.
Ochs says partner Titus, who also runs a road building business, has played an active roll in making Run! successful. “He’s here everyday, actively working,” says Ochs. “He’s been a big part of getting our relationship with Intel in place. And all his heavy equipment has been a huge help. He’s made short work of some pretty major projects here.” Titus noted that Run! buys most of their supplies locally, has also hired local workers for some of the many construction projects they have completed, and used local businesses and workers to modify their transport vehicles.
Run! is a successful and growing local business. Next time you pass one of their vans on the road maybe you’ll smile to yourself as you picture all those dogs getting ready for, or returning from, a day of playing in the woods.