Stay, play and learn at a little slice of heaven in Pleasant Hill

You know how happy your dog is when you get home after being gone for a week and you walk in the door and he practically does back flips for joy? How the whole room just exudes doggie delight because everything thing in his little canine world is right again now that you’re home?

That’s about how delighted Sonja Mandel is to own and operate Opportunity Barks, a doggie daycare, boarding and training facility in Pleasant Hill, OR, just outside Eugene. Mandel and her partner, Carol Rozek simply love dogs. And they love caring for them when their people are away. “This facility is everything we wanted and more,” says Mandel of their air-conditioned and heated brand-new building in view of the Cascade Mountains. “You can get into dreamland out here.”

Opportunity Barks is designed for doggie delight, complete with an outdoor play area for off-leash fun with toys and canine companions, supervised play on agility equipment — or in kiddie pools when it’s hot — and some basic training. On cold, rainy days the fun moves indoors to a matted area with lots of windows, and walls decorated with the bright whimsical murals of Eugene-area painter, Noelle Dass.

Adding to the fun are home-baked treats. Mandel bakes with anything from apples and carrots (though some dogs don’t love carrots, she admits) to tuna brownies for those on gluten-free diets. “I bake for people too,” she says, “but mostly for the dogs.”

Overnight guests get turndown service, says Mandel. Not only is their water freshened, they also get a homemade treat and a tuck-in. Rather than crates or cages like a kennel, the overnight room is designed more like horse stalls — a row of bright open rooms behind sliding wooden doors.

“Our passion has always been dogs,” Mandel says.

Mandel was once a special-needs teacher in inner city New York, working with kids who spent summer vacations in prison and lived in neighborhoods so tough that her boss once warned her, “If you go into that neighborhood, I can’t guarantee you’ll get out alive.” Mandel says hers were kids “who had a lot of emotional problems.”

After years as a volunteer dog walker at a no-kill shelter in New Jersey Mandel left teaching to begin a pet-sitting service. She’s also taken courses in pet first aid, and can give her charges required meds during their stay.

Formerly a pharmaceutical patent attorney, on her own time Rozek enjoyed working with her dogs. Eventually taking her training skills to the next level, she studied with Pia Silvani at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey. Rozek continues to study positive reinforcement training, and offers training classes at Opportunity Barks.

“Carol’s the discipline person,” Mandel laughs, “I’m the person who likes to have fun.”

When the women moved to Oregon they found their ideal spot in the green fields of the Willamette Valley and built their dream dog care facility. “We put every penny we had into this place,” says Mandel. “I’m so happy to be here.”

“People come in and look around and a smile just comes over them, “says Mandel. “I’m so excited about everything we’re doing,” adding that they hope to add pickup and drop-off service in the future.

On Sundays Mandel makes more home-baked treats for animals and people alike. They’re nearly hot-out-of-the-oven fresh for the Canine Socials at Opportunity Barks 11 to noon. While their people enjoy coffee and good company outside or in the inside lounge area, the dogs play. “Everybody rolling over each other, no one’s squashing each other. Everyone has fun.”

Opportunity Barks is on the web or at 541-726-8435.