Amidst the main building's rustic wood paneling, personalized cubby holes and play area filled with plush cushions and toys, the yapping and barking coming from out back is one of the few reminders that Camp Bow Wow, located in Blue Ash, has a clientele of canines, not kindergarteners.

Of course, the toys in the play area are made for chewing. The "cubbies" contain leashes and collars, not raincoats and bagged lunches, and are labeled with camper names such as Buster, Waffles and Bogie.

Camp Bow Wow, a "Premiere Doggy Day and Overnight Camp," offers an innovative and more personal alternative to traditional kennels. The main difference: the philosophy behind Camp Bow Wow is that dogs should have fun while they are away from their owners, whether their stay is for an afternoon or a week.

The "top dog" behind this puppy playground is Carol Neckels, a Cincinnati native who manages and owns the Cincinnati franchise of Camp Bow Wow USA. Neckels, a dog lover and previous owner of a houseboat manufacturing company, began to look into opportunities with Camp Bow Wow after her dog passed away. "I wanted to do something with my career that I was passionate about," she recalls.

After contacting and meeting in Denver with Heidi Flammang, founder and owner of Camp Bow Wow, Neckels decided in 2003 to invest in a franchise. Business here has grown steadily.

Seeing Neckels on the camp grounds, it's easy to see she found her perfect career. "We like to joke that we have yappy hour from four to five," Neckels laughs as she points out the posh indoor lounge area, filled with fuzzy cushions and chenille pillows, where smaller dogs can get an afternoon break.

The playpens behind the Camp Bow Wow office exude more energy than a second-grade classroom during indoor recess. As the dogs close in on Neckels, she greets each one by name, telling stories about them as if they were close personal friends. She calls Eddie, a 110-pound ball of shaggy fur otherwise known as a German Pointing Mastiff. "He thinks it's fun to open all the doors because he thinks all the dogs should play together. He's a pretty weird one."

There camp features three main indoor play areas, divided according to age and temperament. In the "big campers" play area, A tiny pug"”dwarfed in comparison to the mastiffs and German shepherds around him"”barks militantly as he chases dogs four times his size.
"Sometimes we also put dogs who think they're bigger than they are in with the big dogs," Neckels says with a smile.

The large play areas allow the dogs to socialize and play all day, instead of sporadic playtime. One customer told Neckels this environment seems to have added at least 10 years of life to her dog, who suffers from arthritis and other health problems.

The outdoor exercise area has tunnels, balls and a "kiddie" pool. Neckels points to a video camera fixed on the outside wall, scanning the stretches of the outdoor play zone. This is one of the "Camper Cams." The live video feeds are accessible by any computer connected to the internet, giving owners instant 24-hour views of their pets at camp.

"We actually had three couples leave three dogs here while they went on a 10-day cruise," Neckels recalls, "and they'd watch their dogs play here every day, from the internet." By the end of the cruise, practically the whole ship was watching. The camp's Web site reads: "WARNING: Camper Cam Is Extremely Addicting!"

Overnight campers sleep in large cages stocked with fuzzy pillows and blankets. Each gets a "campfire treat""”a ball filled with frozen peanut butter. And there's an added luxury: "We always play classical music when they go to sleep," Neckels notes.

Neckels has a few tricks for identifying the look-alike dogs when it's time for bed. "Well, I guess we can use their tags and collars," she says, petting the dogs through the fence. "But really, we just know them."