Just 20 minutes outside of the busy city of Portland, Oregon, and settled right on the banks of the Columbia River, you’ll find what countless visitors have flocked to the area in search of – mountain views, crisp, clean air, and running water for miles. What you might not expect to find, however, is a hidden oasis designed just for dogs and their people, owned and operated by a farming couple and enjoyed by visitors on two legs, and four.
A second generation farmer on her 80-acre property, Jessica spent the last 10 years renting part of the space to hunters, which, while a reliable source of supplemental income, wasn’t exactly something that made her happy. “I’d been doing that for a decade and I just was like, there's got to be another way to make some extra income,” she stated. Renting the land by the hour as a private dog park was the perfect fit for her and her land.
Living off the land, with room to share
Located on Sauvie Island, Jessica’s property offers a roaming refuge for dogs and their guardians to run, explore, relax or even get their feet wet among the island’s attractions. “Sauvie Island is really popular, so we're in a really good location for this. We have beaches and there's a lot of farms,” she explained. “It's really popular for hunting and bird watching, including bald eagles, so you get a lot of visitors.”
The space, which spans acres and rests right on the riverfront, has been more than a home for Jessica’s family, who acquired the place in the mid-80s, and is where the young entrepreneur grew up. While still a fully functioning farm and horse haven, it’s recently been opened to invite new types of guests. “My husband and I are here, and we board and train horses, and grow alfalfa and various types of horse-grade hay,” she said. “But then we also have the beach that is private, so that's something that the people really get a lot out of going down there, because you’ve got campsites, and the dogs can jump right off into the water. It's almost a mile long.”
Finding a good fit
Knowing that she had the space and time to host, and the desire to create additional income, Jessica and her husband began looking into short-term rental options. “We were looking, and I came across Hipcamp and of course, Airbnb, and I mean it's kind of a good idea, but I didn't wanna go that far with hosting people you know, actually putting in the bathrooms and whatnot,” Jessica said. “My husband came across Sniffspot on Portland Craigslist and I was like, you know, I'm just going to go for that, and so we signed up.”
Hosting her space on a very short-term basis ended up working out wonderfully, both for Jessica and her visitors, many of whom are repeat guests. “Just about every one of our clients is a regular,” she said. “I think it works well thanks to the social aspect of my business background, which is in nightclub and bar management. I’m very good at social organization and since we work from home I think a lot of our repeats come because we interact with the clients. I encourage them to send me happy dog pictures. It's been doing really well.”
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Setting the scene
For Jessica, the service she offers starts with a short tour of the property once new guests arrive. “I always acknowledge them when they're coming up – I need to be home and present, and on their first visit here we go out and we introduce some of the property. We show them everything from the top of the road,” she explained. “They're all comfortable contacting me throughout the visit, you know, if they need anything.”
Once guests arrive, they’re welcomed into a sprawling space made comfortable, with picturesque views to enjoy while their dogs are able to run and have the time of their lives. “We built picnic tables and graveled down by the riverfront area, which helps during the muddy season,” she explained. “We keep the space clean and mow the area, and put in a rope handrail so people who get down the slope area easier. We maintain the campsite too, which people can also rent if they want, and they can fish if they have their license.”
For dogs or guardians who may feel a bit more at ease in somewhat enclosed spaces, the farm offers a solution for them as well. “We do have a fenced in area, which we started offering,” she said. “We realized that some people were a little nervous about the expansiveness, and so when people request it, we move the horses out of a four acre fenced area and we let people go in there if they want to.”
How to go above and beyond
With expansive, private land for dogs to exercise on for miles, Jessica does price her rental accordingly. With a clientele composed almost entirely of repeat customers, “you get what you pay for” seems to be an apt expression, and this host makes sure it’s worth every penny. For starters, privacy for miles is something not everyone can offer. “The other side of the island is just packed, just for people to walk their dogs. And it has natural lakes that come up from under, so during the winter when our land was not in harvest people were able to go out and do the lake thing with their dogs,” she said. “So people are looking at this place like it's a little bit of treasure that they found on Sauvie Island, because you just can't find anything. Not here, not that's private.”
Ultimately, Jessica is willing and able to provide exceptional service because she believes in what she does, and connects over her appreciation for canines with her guests. “I've worked with people a lot in all my jobs, but I've been really happy with dog people,” she said. “Anybody that's willing to to pay and engage with these types of experiences for their dogs have been really good.” Jessica also adds that communication, both through detailed directions to the property and accessibility to her, helps people feel assured. “99% of my clients are women, and a big piece of feedback is that they're grateful to have someplace safe to walk. They always check in with me before they leave if they're out here alone and tell me they're OK, so that's something I'm really grateful about. I think, like any good business, it’s being willing and able to engage and actually care.”
Plans for the future
With near-immediate success since she’s been hosting, Jessica is looking forward to seeing what the warmer weather will bring for guests at the farm. “I've only been on it since November, so we're really looking forward to seeing how the nice weather pans out. Was actually pretty good for us through the winter, though,” she said. In addition to a steady increase in bookings, Jessica aims to make the space available for pet care professionals to conduct business safely and with privacy. “We have horse trainers come and videotape lessons in the official arenas, and I've also offered that to the dog trainers because there are a lot of people that need to film a video in an isolated area for training sessions or whatever, especially since COVID,” she said. A zipline for dogs who don’t need enclosure is something the pair is considering adding to allow people who may not be comfortable with total freedom to be out in the open field with their dogs.
While making supplemental income was her initial goal, the thing that truly keeps Jessica and her husband going, and their enterprise thriving, is the joy that she gets from sharing her space with others, and watching them enjoy something that may not be easy for everyone to find. “I think that there are a lot of people that I've never even been to a property of this size, and we are really grateful to share this with them and make them feel welcome,” she explained. “I want them to know that I care, and I want them to feel safe, and to be able to text me if anything is wrong without feeling like they're invading someone's privacy. But my favorite part has been the dogs. They're really happy to come here and we've actually had someone that asked us for help because their dog wouldn't leave – they couldn't get him in the car! I really enjoy the happy dogs.”
Happy clients and happy dogs makes for one host who’s greatest satisfaction is to serve the experience, one visit at a time. “We're big animal people, so it's just like I feel like people.
found someplace nice and private and that cares, and it makes them and their family members, like the dogs, genuinely happy,” she said. “And that makes me happy because there's not a lot of that in the world anymore. I'm glad that I can be a part of that little bit of piece of niceness.”
Interested in hosting?
Learn more here about your land can help dogs!