Don Worthington

York dog camp offers bus pickup for canine commuters

It’s just another day on the bus, and the commuters fall into predictable patterns. While there are no assigned seats, they generally sit in the same one if it’s available. Darcy and Clifford are such good friends they share the same space.

Most quickly close their eyes, nodding off to catch a few extra minutes of sleep.

The bus quickly fills up with the likes of Beau, Beacher, Darla, Summer, Lacey and Lola – a very gentle soul – as the driver negotiates the streets of Charlotte neighborhoods.

But instead of driving downtown, the bus heads south to York County. These commuters’ destination is outside York.

Only one passenger is “plugged in.” Robin Jackson has a laptop computer and a cellphone and she uses the bus as her office.

When the bus reaches its destination, the commuters are restless. No boring work day awaits them. Ahead is a day of play – running, jumping, catching balls, getting wet in the wading pools and even a spirited game of chase your own tail.

These commuters are dogs and they’re spending their day with friends at Sheba’s Doggy Day Camp on Turkey Creek Road between York and McConnells.

Sheba’s Doggy Day Camp is slightly different from others of its kind. Foremost, it’s located on a former goat pasture that Jackson found through a classified ad in The Herald. The dogs have plenty of space to play or just relax. But should they get rambunctious, they go into time out.

“They do get it,” said Jackson of time out. She has spent much time learning how to communicate with dogs. “We often overlook what dogs are trying to tell us,” she said.

Secondly, the bus that brought them to camp is unlike any other. It’s about half the size of a normal school bus. It’s painted in a whimsical motif that includes dogs, butterflies, trees and flowers. It was done by Jackson’s friend, Mike Ferreira.

It’s exactly what Jackson, the co-owner of Sheba’s, wanted: a rolling advertisement for business that has a funky, but silent, vibe. You would expect a rolling bus of doggy day campers to be barking. Occasionally, there’s a barker on the bus, but for the most part the dogs don’t start barking until they’re at the camp and ready to play, as a recent Friday ride revealed.

Jackson got the idea for the bus while picking up dogs with one of her vans. She saw parents, their children, and their dogs, waiting for the school bus. She asked herself: Wouldn’t it be cool if the dogs had their own bus, too?

When she started looking for a bus, there were a few items on her wish list. It had to have an automatic transmission; she can’t drive a stick shift. It had to have heating and air conditioning, for her – and the dogs’ – comfort. It had to have a lift for dogs that can’t climb stairs.

And, most importantly, she didn’t need seats. There are racks that hold a variety of dog crates. The racks can be removed quickly should Jackson need the bus for non-canine activities.

The bus is an extension of her 10 years in the doggy business. She left the insurance industry to start Sheba’s Romp Around, a play area for dogs on Old Pineville Road in Charlotte.

Growing up, Jackson would always ask her mom, “Can I keep this?’ whether it be a bug or an animal. Now that she has the day camp, her mom tells the 48-year-old, “Yes, you can keep it.”

Jackson moved from Charlotte to a former ostrich farm in Fort Mill where she started keeping dogs all day and even boarding them. When the owners decided to sell that property, she moved to the goat pasture.

She named the business after one of her favorite dogs, Sheba. Sheba was a Labrador-Rottweiller mix who was “not very bright, but she was a gentle giant,” Jackson said. A picture on Sheba is taped to the wall of the bus. Sheba died about 10 years ago.

But her memory lives on. She has a business named for her. She has a bus with her name on it. Soon, she also will have stop signs with her name.

Jackson’s next goal is to expand her business with specific neighborhood pickups. She has a good client base in Charlotte. She wants to expand it locally, picking up dogs in Tega Cay or various businesses where owners can bring their dogs for a day of fun while they work. To make things easier she’s hoping to have a common pick-up and drop-off point.

Hence the Sheba’s bus stop signs. Jackson hopes a neighbor or a business will allow her to post the signs where the parents, the kids – and the dogs – can wait to be picked up.