Garden Oaks resident Jo Dunham hasn’t always been a dog person, but she’s making up for lost time – with both a hobby and a business that revolves around her dogs.
“I did have a Sheltie growing up and two yorkies as an adult, but I’ve had (Golden Retrievers) ever since my son Jaxon was small,” Dunham said.
She credits Golden Frisco – “the best dog ever” – who died tragically at 4 years old to really make her fall in love.
As Frisco could do tricks with just minimal training at home, when Dunham got her next dog, Goose, she enlisted a professional trainer based in St. Louis. And because Goose learned how to swim while he was away, Dunham wanted to put in a pool for him when he got back. Jaxon, who attends Frank Black Middle School, approved.
Everyone enjoyed the new pool, especially Goose, which got Dunham’s wheels spinning again. She began to explore the sport of dock diving, and coincidentally discovered that Goose’s trainer, John Gassner, had helped to invent the sport.
There is even an association for the sport. North America Diving Dogs (NADD) is recognized by the American Kennel Club, although dogs without a pedigree can compete.
“It’s such a welcoming sport,” Dunham said. “You don’t have to be a registered dog. I’ve seen three-legged dogs do it.”
NADD promotes the sport by working with dock diving facilities and competitors across North America. Dunham and Jaxon took Goose to his first competition without formal training.
“He was a natural,” she said.
Now they’ve been to four competitions so far with Goose and their other Golden Retriever, Watson.
“The dogs just love it,” she said.
As Dunham explained, there are three different ways for dogs to compete. The first is a distance jump, the second is an air retrieve where a dog jumps to retrieve a bumper mid-air, and the third is a hydro dash where a dog catches the bumper and swims to the end of the pool and back.
According to the national rankings on the NADD website, Goose is the top-ranked Golden Retriever in the Air Retrieve event and in the HydroDash. Waton is ranked seventh among Golden Retrievers in the Air Retrieve.
Dunham said Jaxon’s timing with the air retrieve is also a key to the dogs’ success.
“When you throw the bumper it has to be perfect,” Jaxon said.
Dunham and Jaxon regularly train the dogs at home with help from Michele Scarantino at Houston Dog Ranch, which also offers dock dive training.
And that got Dunham to thinking once again – or as she likes to say, “Me and my mom and Jack Daniels got to talking one night.”
The 20-year field operations manager at Sandcastle Homes recently opened her side gig, Joasis, a half-acre, fully fenced facility which provides puppy socialization, dog swimming, dog rehabilitation, dock diving training and doggie birthday parties.
“Everyone is here for something different,” Dunham said. “There are old dogs getting over an injury. Dogs learning to get used to water. I even have someone train their Portuguese water dog here. I love what I do. I’m just a sponge for information right now.”
Prices for pool time are $85 an hour with a price break for a 3-pack class, but they also host special events.
A favorite was the graduation party they threw for a Texas A&M veterinary grad.
“I was so honored that he brought his family to celebrate here,” she said.
Jaxon is a big asset to the business, according to his mom, due to his skill for getting reluctant dogs in the water and making the dogs feel comfortable.
Joasis opened March 14 just as Houston was shutting down because of COVID-19, so Dunham doesn’t have a sense on how it may have impacted her business, although it has certainly impacted things at Sandcastle Homes. And with all she’s spent on advertising, pool chemicals and marketing for Joasis, she doesn’t expect to make much, if anything, this year.
“No one does this for the money,” she said.
Her long-term goal is having a big warehouse complex where people could enjoy a beer and hang out with their own water-loving dogs.
She already has the name picked out – The Dive Bar.