Every Dog Has Its Day Camp

by Nov 28, 2023Animals, The Blog, Wilmington

The Barkington Pet Hotel and Day Camp is Wilmington’s only custom luxury pet hotel, fully indoor day camp and spa, while Barkington Acres brings a pet-stay experience with plenty of room to run.

In February of 2020 Leland residents Lourdes Felmet and her husband and partner, Chris Felmet, had seen their business dream finally take flight, one based on their hard-earned, expansive vision of doggy daycare. Just as they opened The Barkington Pet Hotel and Day Camp, their cleverly named pet-care facility in Castle Hayne, COVID took the legs out from under them.

“We were so pumped and so ready to make a go of it,” Lourdes says, “though we were still working out the details of getting started. We were not really prepared for the scope of that day — March 10 — that became the first day of three when every single last one of our bookings cancelled.”

Lourdes admits that something resembling panic set in right away. They quickly realized their dream was in trouble and that it might not survive. But survive it did.

‘We knew we had to do everything possible to make it,” Lourdes says firmly. “We set up one fully masked team member in the building to watch the dogs of clients, many of whom were nurses or medical professionals. We got out to many neighborhoods, passed out business cards and introduced ourselves as owners of The Barkington, a brand-new facility where they would be welcome as things got back to normal. And by necessity we sold our grooming services, doing 10 to 12 nail trims a day.”

The Barkington Wilmington NCEmployees

It was tough, but they gradually opened their facility, and over the course of the year, they earned the trust of clients, who came to understand what they were doing and why.

Somewhat miraculously, The Barkington achieved serious recognition in its first year, receiving WWAY’s Best of Wilmington award for 2020 in the category of Boarding, Daycare and Grooming Facilities. Subsequently, they won for 2021, 2022 and 2023, and The Barkington now accurately brand-identifies as “Wilmington’s only custom luxury pet hotel, fully indoor day camp, spa and more.”

Executing the vision of The Barkington, the Felmets emphasize, was not easy and is an ongoing process of enhancing the physical facility — and the caring principles that underpin the effort. One key building block is the 3,500-square-foot day camp that is separated into five distinct areas, so that their well-trained staff can assess each dog and then place them in a group where they are most happy and comfortable.

Camp counselors respond to each group’s play style, energy level and preferred activities, including kiddie pools or bubbles. If the “dog is in the details,” that level of comfort extends to the installation of rubber flooring in order to maximize paw pad and joint comfort.

“Dogs have their own tendencies and habits and likes and dislikes, and we really strive to be sensitive to those,” Lourdes says. “We love them, and the owners love them for sure.”

The Barkington NC

The “overnighters” there for Doggie Sleepovers enjoy 120-square-foot individual rooms, furnished with a twin bed, a memory foam mattress and TV (with dog programs). The boarders have a potty/exercise break at around 10 pm. Also included is iDog Camera access for pet parents.

Lourdes underwent years-long basic training for this job as a vet clinic admin and surgical assistant in her teen years, followed by an intense academic load at UNCW and further professional experience after graduation.

This helped prepare her for the eventual task of building a non-traditional, comprehensive facility that would aggressively challenge prevailing industry standards. For the passionate animal lover, it also provided a reality check on the notion that she would enter either medical or veterinary school.

“I got to see everything, including the not-so-positive health outcomes on a regular basis,” Lourdes says. “You have to be equipped to handle that emotional impact, and I realized there was a different way for me to go.”

That way emerged with an opportunity to build her own grooming business within the practice of the Morehead City veterinarian where she worked.

“He gave me access to his patient list,” she says. “I reached out to them and I went from 0 dogs to 1,200 in less than two years. But it became apparent that I needed to strike out with my own business.”

Doggie Spa The Barkington

Working close to seven days a week with Chris (who had quit his job as a truck driver to join her one-person staff), Lourdes made the decision in September ‘19 to start the new still-nameless business. They found their building in late November and opened February 12, 2020.

“The stars just aligned for us, we just followed a sign that indicated a commercial property that checked most of the boxes,” Chris says. “Definitely we were nervous about the uncertainty of it. But so ready to tackle it.”

By the time Lourdes made her first additional hires in December 2020, she had a clear idea of the type of training and empathetic personal qualities she wanted for and from her staff.

“All of our team members are educated in areas like basic first aid, medication administration, safe supervising, safe group play behaviors and dog behavior,” she says. “Many of our team members are vet assistants with years of experience.”

The Barkington’s second facility, on Market Street in the Ogden area of Wilmington, opened on June 5, 2023. The focus of this one is more outdoorsy. Barkington Acres leans more toward working dogs; plans are in place to engage agility trainers to work with these dogs.

The Barkington Staff

The medical profession is in the family genes, one could say. Lourdes’ parents emigrated from Cuba in 1967, and her father been a family physician in North Carolina for the last 40 years. Lourdes is in awe of his work ethic, explaining that he has missed only one day of work in his roughly four decades as an MD.

“I think I share that work ethic intensity with him,” she says. “He was my early inspiration, and still is.”

Lourdes adds that Chris has been an indispensible partner in their four-plus-year adventure.

“He’s such a huge supporter of me and of women making their mark in the world,” she says. “He will do whatever is needed in the moment and tirelessly. He’s such an awesome, strong presence.”

Lourdes says she is grateful that she and Chris are working on this mission together.

“We share in the joy of building The Barkington together and raising our daughter, Autumn, who is now 18 months and amazes us in new ways every day.”

Need Doggie Day Care?
The Barkington Pet Hotel and Day Camp
2907 Blue Clay Rd, Castle Hayne
(910) 769-3568
the-barkington.com

Barkington Acres
7030 Market Street, Wilmington
(910) 660-0783
barkingtonacres.com

Photography by Megan Deitz

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