Janet Miller has announced that her dog training and boarding kennel, NW Canine Connections, will close today, Oct. 15, after 14 years of service.
Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP), currently dependent on boarding and fostering arrangements to shelter dogs on Vashon, will lease the kennel space from Miller to advance their work of protecting dogs on the island, fulfilling an enduring wish of founder Barbara Drinkwater.
During a phone interview, Miller said she believes this arrangement presents the best outcome for both organizations.
“I feel like we got really lucky with the timing with VIPP,” she said. “I just think that it just worked out the way it needed to work out. And I just feel very fortunate in so many ways.”
A day in the life at NW Canine Connections meant early mornings, sometimes as early as 6 a.m., and caring for as many as 20 dogs at a time, Miller said.
Since last year, she has been debating the decision to move on from managing the 22 kennels on the property on Cemetery Rd, hoping for some more downtime to relax, travel and focus on other interests. Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
“When COVID hit, I could see the writing on the wall. Everybody was canceling their trips,” Miller said, adding that the pandemic meant she could not keep her employees on. Working alone seven days a week and looking ahead, she said it was not an optimistic time.
“When I made this decision, part of it was, too, was that with winter coming on, the thought of standing out there alone with the dogs in the rain and the cold every single day… And I wasn’t seeing an end to COVID. I just thought, ‘Oh, that’s just a really awful thought.’ And so I just knew that I didn’t want to do that,” she said.
Miller said she feels sad about closing and leaving the island with less commercial dog kennel space for when families travel abroad again in a post-coronavirus world. But she said she is thankful to Vashon for the years of support islanders have given her.
“I will say, this community stepped up and supported me from day one when I started and has supported me all these years, with lots of encouragement,” she said, adding that running the business has not always been easy and that she has not always made everybody happy.
“You can’t please everybody, as much as you want to. It just can’t happen. But I will say, I have gained friends. I feel like I’m part of the community that I hadn’t been part of before I started the business.”
For his part, VIPP President Bob Smueles said the final agreement was signed last week between NW Canine Connections and VIPP. A big attraction of the former kennel was the opportunity to set up a long-awaited island dog shelter almost immediately. And there is enough indoor space, Smueles said, for humans to relax and get to know a dog they can bring home.
Smueles said the new shelter would go a long way to ensure that every dog on Vashon is cared for and loved.
“When dogs come to VIPP, they’re usually traumatized. And others, either the owner has died. Maybe they haven’t received very good care, maybe they’ve been kicked around from one place to another. Sometimes they’re just found dogs and nobody knows who the owner is. We have to work to help them gain some better footing,” he said, noting that the new shelter will give dogs a chance to heal and recover. “Having a shelter means that we have a place that we can immediately use if there’s a found dog and it’s late at night. We’ll have a place we can immediately put them… Dogs will get the kind of care that they’ve never experienced before.”
VIPP is excited to work through the remaining details, Smueles said, and to continue reuniting lost island dogs with their owners or finding them new homes.
“This is a huge deal for us. Something that’s never happened. The organization’s been going since 1984. And we’ve never had an opportunity for an actual dog care facility like this,” he said.
VIPP’s annual fur ball auction — responsible for a substantial part of VIPP’s budget — will be online throughout Oct. 24, with numerous objects, services and experiences up for bid. For more information, visit vipp.org.