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Linda Candler’s three-hour drive from her home in Mishawaka, Ind., to Indianapolis last December began with a stop to pick up some discounted shop vacs—crucial tools for dehair- ifying Camp K9, her doggy day care—and continued with the delivery of a lovable pit bull to the rescue group waiting to take him.
The doggie drop-off took place in the parking lot outside a pancake house: Candler and her cohort Kelly Adelsperger handed off Tucker (the pit bull) to Casa Del Toro Pit Bull Education and Rescue, and then scooped nine new pooches into the company van, decorated with stickers of doggies in the window. Seven dogs were from shelters in Kentucky. A chow chow and dachshund mix came from an Indianapolis shelter.
“We don’t go anywhere without bringing home at least one dog who needs a home,” Candler says.
It’s a mantra she’s maintained for the last three years. She recalls a Great Pyrenees surrendered at the shelter where she once worked. “[The owner] said, ‘We didn’t understand how big he was going to get,’” she says with frustration. The sweet Irish setter she recently helped rescue has a similar story.
These memories fuel her passion for the rescue work that began when her father, knowing her dissatisfaction with her thenjob as an apartment manager and her affection for animals, suggested she open a doggy day care.
Candler had been an independent florist for 20 years and recalled the difficulties of self-employment. Her love for animals convinced her to take the leap, but not before leaving her mark on her place of employment: “First I changed the apartment complex’s regulations to allow two dogs instead of one,” she chuckles.
Candler knew about caring for dogs from previous work at an animal shelter and with rescue groups, but needed to learn about the business end. So she spent a week volunteering for a successful doggy day care in Seattle, trading her labor for a chance to learn. Since she opened Camp K9 in 2005, her guests show their appreciation daily: “When I arrive in the morning, I probably have 40 dogs come up and greet me. I like that.”
Located on a little more than two acres, Camp K9 has a 10,000-square-foot padded floor and an outdoor play yard filled with climbing apparatus, slides, balls, tug-of-war ropes, and pools for splashing around. There are lounging areas in the sun and shade, napping cabins, sticks, and other chewies.
“It’s the happiest place [a dog] could possibly be!” says The HSUS’s Indiana state director, Anne Sterling. On any given day, there are dozens of dogs palling around. Most are day campers; some are grooming clients. Others are rescue pooches waiting for homes—including, in the past few years, dozens of dogs from HSUS rescues.
Candler’s gone beyond taking in animals from HSUS seizures. In 2010, she received certification for The HSUS’s National Disaster Animal Response Team. She’s assisted The HSUS with a dogfighting raid in Gary and a large puppy mill rescue in Bloomington, working alongside a vet to collect each dog’s details, noting the wounds, terrible teeth, heart murmurs, luxating patellas, infections, and fleas. She worked in the Missouri flood zone last spring, helping at the emergency shelter and bringing back Henry, a sad little black dog who’d tested heartworm positive. Adopted by Adelsperger’s neighbor, Henry’s outlook has changed. “When we go for a walk, his tail curls up, his head is up and he goes prancing down the driveway,” says owner Jeff Stuber.
Sterling’s grateful for Candler’s help, on scene and through Camp K9. “The dogs have a phenomenal and happy life while they wait for their forever homes, and it’s an especially good environment for dogs from puppy mills or hoarding situations, if the dogs are more shut-down,” says Sterling.
Between her foster network and her day care, Candler always has a pack of pooches under her wing. But they don’t stay long. Media attention and weekly adoption fairs ensure that no dog is left behind. In the last five years, Candler has helped place nearly 900 dogs with loving families and donated thousands of dollars in treats, toys, and food for rescue dogs.