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Afton-area dog resort aims to pamper pooches

Joy Lewanski stands by the new warm water pool at her new dog boarding and training facility in Denmark Township.1 / 2
Boarding kennels are arranged in a unique manner. Dogs can be separated into "cottages," each of which is themed.2 / 2

For the past five months, Hastings native Joy Lewanski has been working at high speed. March 23 was the grand opening of her new business, Northern Lights K-9 Resort and Spa. Just last October, all that stood on the site of her new boarding and training kennel was a field of corn.

Lewanski has always been involved with animals, she said. After high school, she started attending college in River Falls to study animal science. Although she later changed her major to business, her desire to work with animals continued.

Lewanski spent about 35 years working side by side with her father, Leo Conzemius, at his transportation business, Conzemius Companies. About 10 years ago, she started training dogs on the side. She did obedience and agility work, and started working with 4-H youth programs. She's added all sorts of canine sports to her resume, including sheepherding and Schutzhund, a German dog sport that deals with tracking, obedience and protection. She's trained more than 3,000 dogs.

A few years ago, she decided she wanted to expand her training business, but she wanted to go beyond just offering more classes. She wanted to create a unique boarding and training facility for her clients. So she got to work designing every detail of what is now Northern Lights K-9 Resort and Spa. A considerable amount of help came from her husband, she said. Jim Lewanski's company, Nininger Dirt and Grading, did much of the site work, and he's helped considerably on the interior as well, she said.

The features

It might be simpler to ask what you won't find at Northern Stars K-9. The answer to that question is easy: not much.

Northern Stars K-9 is located on 20 acres of land a few miles north of Hastings and a few miles south of Woodbury. The lot has some woods and a natural prairie will be planted this spring. Some trails are already in place on the site, with more to come.

"It was hard to find what I felt was the perfect location," Lewanski said.

She didn't want to be too far from Hastings, but also wanted space for the trails and a natural environment.

Lewanski built a brand new building on the site. On the main floor is a set of boarding kennels set up in five cottage-style groups. One, a smaller "cottage," opens off the staff room, providing a quieter stay for dogs that are older, have special needs, or simply prefer a more removed environment. The main kennels are split into four themed cottages, each decorated by hand by Lewanski. Just off the kennels outside are areas for outdoor exercise and play.

On the second floor is a large training area. Lewanski has four trainers lined up to work at Northern Stars K-9, some of whom are already nationally known, she said. They'll cover all the usual classes - obedience, agility and behavior - as well as some more unique ones like nose work, four-day kid camps and a session that works on getting both the dog and owner into shape together.

Then there's the pool. Being able to offer warm water therapy for dogs was important to Lewanski. Her own dog was injured, and she spent thousands of dollars on treatments to try to ease his pain. But what ended up being the best thing for him, she said, was swimming at Afton State Park. She got her warm water therapy education, then, and included it in her plans for the new kennel. The pool itself is kept just a few degrees below a dog's body temperature, and it's kept clean using ultra violet light and hydrogen peroxide, so there's no chlorine.

Warm water therapy has a range of benefits, such as relaxation (which helps dogs that stress while being boarded), pain relief (especially for arthritic dogs), increasing range of motion, diminishing muscular tension and more. There's an added physical benefit, as five minutes in a pool produces the same amount of exercise as five miles of walking. A?grooming room is adjacent to the pool.

The kennel is located at 13681 80th St. S., in Denmark Township. For more information, go to www.northernstarsk9resort. com or call 651-436-DOGS (3647).