As the sun rises in eastern Hernando County, Laura Schunk begins the process of preparing breakfast for her boarders.
Each pampered guest eagerly awaits, tails wagging, and paws dancing as she calls them by name.
These pups are on vacation, spending a few days in dog heaven at Granny’s Animal Camp. While the facility is classified as a kennel, Granny’s might be better termed a luxury resort for canines.
Their “rooms” aren’t cages but rather large open spaces, with cozy, cushioned toddler beds and an open access to the outside yard. Several sections of yard separate those who are more comfortable flying solo from those more into socializing with their fellow lodgers.
Granny’s Animal Camp, located at 7070 Goodway Drive, about 7 miles east of Brooksville, was built 10 years ago as an upgrade to the original with the same name.
“I needed bigger rooms,” said the previous owner, Sheila (Granny) Morelli, who ran the business for 19 years before selling in February.
She had the idea of toddler beds for her guests but the previous kennel couldn’t accommodate them. So she commissioned her son to build a bigger facility.
The new Granny’s had spaces large enough for those important toddler beds, open doors to a covered patio and access to one of several yards for outdoor exercise. Beyond the immaculate office is a grooming room where the animals are primped as part of their stay for boarders, or as outside clients. A full kitchen area allows preparation for special diets. “A lot of them come with their own food,” Schunk said.
Separate areas accommodate smaller dogs, cats and other animals taken in on board.
A few other amenities were added, like concessions for big parties, made possible by joining a few of the rooms into one big area. One client brings eight at a time.
The front entrance is so much like a resort hotel, with big, heavy doors for easy access but difficult for escapes — an important detail since many of the boarders are big dogs. The office, internal rooms, boarding areas and grounds are immaculate.
The new Granny’s Animal Camp more than a traditional kennel. It became a prime resort location for pets on vacation. The facility takes in guests for extended periods, overnights and day care. And they also take other pets, like the family bird, fish, lizard, rabbit and so on.
After 10 years, Morelli decided it was time to follow a new journey and sold Granny’s to Laura Schunk, who had been looking to purchase a kennel for about five years.
With extensive experience in animal care, from kennel work to pre-veterinarian intern work, Schunk was also on a journey for a new adventure.
Schunk worked with a Realtor who found Granny’s. “When I looked at it,” she remembered, “I didn’t think I could afford it. But then I started comparing it to others that were available.”
She ended up boarding her two dogs for a weekend and the two women began discussing the kennel’s availability.
They bonded immediately and Schunk began the process of purchasing the business.
Schunk has been running the kennel for about a month, with Morelli’s guidance as she learns the system.
Morelli’s daughter-in-law, Candas, who has been a vital part of helping run the kennel alongside Morelli, will be staying on until May.
Schunk is a firm believer in only enhancing from a foundation that works, which is why she will keep “Granny’s” name and operating with much of the same procedures.
On March 1, the two visited for the last time before Morelli made her way to Utah. She would be leaving the following morning, making this final meeting a somber passing of the torch.
But Schunk was ready to carry on the legacy Morelli had begun. “I will be Granny II,” she said. Not to say her mind isn’t working on her own special touches to add later as she learns the routine.
But for now, the kennel will run much the same way as Granny’s always has, just with a new leader on board.
Schunk has worked with various breeds of canines in different situations. She even spent ample time volunteering for a rescue, from which she adopted her two dogs. It was important for her to find an outlet that would challenge her ambitions while putting to use her deep-rooted talents.
The final meeting was bittersweet as a client pulled up to drop her two regular boarders, Kacie and Kandu, for a few nights. The two were so used to the routine, and evidently happy to be back, they immediately took their spots out in the yard.
“We found (Granny’s) through the trainer we had when we first got them,” said Patsy Holmes of Brooksville. She has brought the pair for regular visits, sometimes just overnight, up to a few days at a time.
“They love it,” Holmes said. “And we felt comfortable leaving them. Always have, from day one. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
Holmes directed her final comment to Morelli. “I hate to see you go,” she said. Turning toward Schunk, she added, “We’ve been like a family; and now you’re that family.”