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story.lead_photo.caption Camp Diggity Dogs employees pictured sitting front from left are Angelique Harrison, Jacklynn Wheeler and Noley Smith. Back row standing from left are Jackie May, Mason Whisenand, Christina True, Elam Fulton, Jamie Dickson, Kylie Peace, Tom Hopkins, Ashley Hopkins and McKayla Wright. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen of The Sentinel-Record

For many, day cares provide a way for parents to work a job while their little ones spend half the day learning new things and interacting with others in a group or class setting.

For caring dog owners in Hot Springs, Camp Diggity Dog's doggy day care camp creates the same unique opportunity for furry friends to enjoy a fun-filled day together while being primped, polished, loved and taken care of by owner Ashley Hopkins, her family and trusted staff.

A lifetime of love for animals has continuously promoted and paved the way for Hopkins in her endeavors relating to animal care and rescue, as well as her eventual and present career as a highly certified groomer.

"I've always been in the animal field; that's just always been a passion of mine since I was a little girl," she said. "I was a vet tech supposed to be a veterinarian, and decided to become a dog groomer."

Hopkins explained that when she first began her journey as a professional pet stylist, her career choice and business had a unique value due to a lack of available grooming services in the area at that time.

"There was not a lot of dog groomers around," she added. "Now there's one on every corner, but I made the right decision and went to school. I went to the Oklahoma School of Poodle and All-Breed Dog Grooming in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1986, and learned from my dad that I just wanted to become the best pet stylist that there was."

Strong passion and ardor for the work she does has always motivated Hopkins to continue learning and acquiring more knowledge in her particular field, and earning her certification as a canine cosmetologist through the ISCC (International Society of Canine Cosmetology) is one of the many accomplishments Hopkins proudly stands behind.

Various experience in different atmospheres has awarded Hopkins more perspective throughout the course of her career.

"We were in the (Hot Springs) Village for 24 years and I originally started in the Little Rock area and then moved to Dallas (where I) was able to do and learn a lot more -- there's a lot more trade shows," she said. "Moved back to Hot Springs and raised my kids here. ... My kids have been a big part of my business my whole life."

With 23,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor play yard, the pup patrons at Camp Diggity Dog have the ability to play and exercise freely whether rain or shine.

The owners, "operated by pet lovers," go to great lengths in making the program a safe haven for dogs of all ages and personalities.

"They enjoy the learning. It truly is just like a child day care when they come and you have the little bullies on the playground and the little cry babies that need special love," Hopkins said.

"We have a lot of seniors that come. We have two 17-year-old dogs that come every single day and it mainly is just to get them out, get them moving, keep their joints going, and they love to come. ... They like to lay on the cots on the sidelines and just watch. As we like to people watch, I guess they like to dog watch," she said with a laugh.

Multiple factors played a part in Hopkins' decision to start the venture, but what sealed the deal was witnessing the positive impact the program was having on its guests.

"The reason I did the doggy day care was (because) all of my customers were always coming to me (and) they were just having a hard time leaving to go on vacation," said Hopkins. "And us ourselves, we never went anywhere because we didn't ever want to board our dogs and have the kenneling of it. I've been around dogs my whole life and know a lot about their behavior. They've just seemed so much more comfortable (and) so much more stress free when they came to me to be groomed. ... We had a doggy day care before doggy day care was cool, and didn't even really understand what we were doing. But the dogs were happy (and) they enjoyed coming to us, so that kind of started the whole thing off.

"There's not a lot of people who have backyards anymore and you might come home from work feeling too tired to walk your dog, but after they've been to Diggity Dog's all day they're tired and they don't need that extra walk. You can put your feet up and drink your glass of wine."

With her family and loyal employees helping to build and further the business, the mother of two has always striven to incorporate a family oriented mentality into the work she's done.

The unique layout of the property and camp encourages an atmosphere that allows every pet the freedom to roam and stretch their paws if they so please.

"My husband's retired from the fire department after 23 years and now he works with me," Hopkins said. "I've got lots of employees that have been with me for over 20 years. ... What makes us different is (being) cage free. The dogs get to play instead of be caged up. ... When they come for their spa day they get to play (and) even if they're just coming for day care or for boarding. We don't have any bars anywhere. They are really nice little bunkhouses that they go in that just keeps them safe while grooming. I don't think that there's anything like it here in Hot Springs."

An ever-growing love and admiration for innocent animals and the lives they lead has kept Hopkins involved with rescue groups and fostering programs around the area for years, and the longtime caretaker is anticipating that more owners and families will consider using doggy day care as an outlet for their pets young and old to experience positive interaction and special care all day long.

"We've had a big puppy boom " she said. "Lots of people have cleared the shelters in lots of cities and states, and it's just amazing to me they've all fostered animals. We have a little puppy program from eight to 16 weeks that they go in and since people started going back to work, our puppy program is just filling up. I just think dog day care is one of the best things that you can do for your dog and it's almost one of the most kindest.

"So many dogs suffer from separation anxiety when their owners are away and some become destructive chewers or they're escape artists. Taking your dogs to day care, they'll always have human interaction. Dogs are pack animals; they love to be social, to play and have a good time. That's something that we can provide for them and they really love it. They get to release that energy that's built up and most dogs sleep between 18-20 hours a day, and there they get to sleep, too, but they really do like to play and they can run off-leash."

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