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September 24, 2021

‘It’s like heaven:’ Dog World Dog Park provides puppy paradise in Kannapolis

KANNAPOLIS — Wanting to make sure everything was perfect, Dana Christner was waiting to hold an official grand opening for Dog World Dog Park.

She never got the chance.

As soon as a TikTok video of two dogs frolicking around the swimming pools at Dog World went viral, dog-owners descended on the park located at 2225 Fowler St., just off Moose Road in Kannapolis.

“We thought we’d come in, get it all figured out and get settled and do a grand opening, but we hit the ground running,” Christner said. “There was one TikTok video and it was like — boom.”

The short clip now has hundreds of thousands of views and has brought plenty of attention to the puppy paradise that Christner, her family and staff have curated in Kannapolis. The fenced-in facility features more than 12 acres of rolling green hills with ponds, an obstacle course, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and two water slides — all for dogs to enjoy.

The doggy playground is located at what was once Kannapolis Recreation Park, where local residents used to come in the summer for a swim or a bite to eat at the concession stand. Now, the only food served on premises are “pup cones,” which can be ordered with a variety of toppings like bacon bits, frozen strawberries, Vienna sausages and salmon oil.

“They can’t eat them in the park, but what we’ve found with the pup cones is that a lot of people’s dogs won’t leave without one,” Christner said. “That’s the way a lot of people get their dog out of the park, because otherwise they won’t leave.”

A place dogs don’t want to leave is exactly what Jeff Palmer, Dog World’s original founder, envisioned when he set about transforming the old recreation area earlier this year. Palmer’s goal was to create a dog oasis that would help him raise enough money to fund a retirement home for older shelter dogs

In order to make that vision a reality, Palmer lived on site for several months while he rehabilitated the dilapidated facilities.

“Jeff is a guy with a really big heart and this was a passion project for him,” Christner said.

Palmer has since handed the reins of the park over to Dana Christner, her fiancé Adam Coulter, her daughter Erin Christner and Erin’s fiancé Marco Mercado. Christner’s other two daughters, Tessa and Skyler, also work at the park.

Each of the park’s staff members brings a certain expertise to the operation.

Christner, who works full-time at a wealth management firm in Concord, has figured out how to make the park profitable. Coulter quit his job in construction to take the lead on maintaining and improving the park’s infrastructure. Mercado, who recently graduated from UNCC with a degree in computer science, runs Dog World’s website and online infrastructure. Erin happens to be a dog trainer, which comes in handy when you’re responsible for overseeing dozens of energetic dogs almost every day.

“It’s the perfect storm of a team and everybody has their specialty,” Christner said. “That’s exactly what we needed to make it work.”

There are no breed restrictions at Dog World, but there are plenty of rules. In order to enter the park, dogs must be vaccinated and their owners must provide proof. Once they’re checked in, each dog undergoes a 10-minute temperament test to determine how they play. Depending on a dog’s demeanor, it’s assigned one of several color-coded tags to wear in the park. A pink tag is worn by elderly canines, a green tag is given to calmer dogs and a brown tag is designated for “party poopers,” who are better off playing alone.

“Everybody is aware of these tags and you just are to always be watching for the other dogs,” Christner said. “It gives you a clue of who you are dealing with.”

The temperament tests are conducted by a trainer and one of five staff dogs, each of whom belongs to Dana, Coulter, Erin, Mercado or Jessy Harker, who is one of the park’s lead trainers.

Once dogs are let loose in the park, owners are expected to stay with their animals at all times. They’re encouraged to toss balls into the water or lead their furry friends through the obstacle course.

“The whole things here is that you stay with your dog,” Christner said. “You don’t sit down and look at your phone. Our motto here is ‘Let’s Play!’ That’s because the owner and the dog are playing together. It’s not like the dog bar where you sit and have a beer with your friends while the dog is by itself.”

Other rules include no special toys and no leashing dogs while they’re in the park. All of the regulations are designed to prevent any tension from forming between dogs.

“We do have a lot of rules, but they’re all rules that makes this possible,” Christner said. “When you’re sitting here on a sunny day and there’s dogs everywhere and they’re swimming and playing, it’s like heaven.”

Dog owners have traveled from near and far to experience a piece of paradise for themselves.

As soon as Denette Carte learned about the park, she started bringing her golden doodle, Links, to play.

“We bring him out here two or three times a week,” Carte said. “He loves it. You can’t beat this.”

Carte lives in Concord, so the drive isn’t far for her. However, she’s talked to dog owners at the park who have traveled much greater distances.

“I actually met a girl here last week who came from Tennessee,” Carte said. “She drove three hours to come here. That’s impressive. I’ve met people from all over who have brought their dogs.”

Even though Dog World has done little to no marketing, Christner said they’ve been getting calls and emails from dog owners across the country who stumbled upon the park on social media.

“We have so many emails and they’re coming from all over the country,” Christner said. “They’re flying in from Florida, California, Arkansas and they’re coming just for this.”

With so many out-of-town owners traveling to Kannapolis, Christner said she’s been working to find local hotels that accommodate animals.

As Dog World continues to grow in popularity, Christner has her sights set on adding corporate sponsors like Chewy to help them continue to improve the aging facility.

“We’re going to be working on getting some corporate sponsors to help us make the big changes that would take us forever to do,” Christner said.

Upgrading and maintaining the park, Coulter said, is the “hottest and hardest” thing he’s had to do. Cleaning an Olympic-sized swimming prove might be difficult when it’s used by humans, he said, but it’s a whole other challenge when it’s used by dogs.

At the end of the day, the hard work that goes into the park is worth it.

“That’s been the coolest thing, is having people find us to thank us at the end,” Christner said. “They say how great it was and how great of a time their dog had, or that their dog has never swam before or hasn’t played with other dogs and did or was shy and had a good time. It’s stuff like that where you’re like ‘Ah, yes. This is fantastic.’ That makes it worth it.”

Dog World is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome, but online reservations are encouraged. Day passes and 30-day memberships are available. More information can be found online at dogworlddogpark.com.

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