Pepper suspiciously sniffs the pool before trotting away. A 2-year-old rescue of dubious origins, she hates water, approaching bathtubs and gardening hoses with the skepticism most dogs reserve for open flames and cats. She does surrender to her drinking bowl, of course, but never with an audience.
I describe Pepper’s loathing to Lisa Goebel when we arrive at Rummy’s Beach Club, her private, one-acre dog park and pool in Spring. Goebel, totally undeterred, lets Pepper run with abandon around the gated compound for a good 10 minutes.
“It builds her confidence in a new place,” she says. After eight years of training and entertaining dogs at Rummy’s, and before that a career in the medical industry, her patience and empathy appear to be endless.
“I was a physician’s assistant for 20 years, where I worked with cancer and bone-marrow-transplant patients,” says Goebel, “but I’ve also always been passionate about working with animals.”
Goebel volunteers for local rescue group Husky Haven, from which she adopted Rummy, a blind Siberian Husky, in 2006. The next year, she entered Rummy in the Purina Pro Plan Rally to Rescue contest, and he won the entire national competition. Everyone who met the dog, Goebel says, just naturally gravitated toward him.
“People would start crying with joy when they met Rummy, before they even heard his rescue story,” she shares. “He brought out emotions in people, and I knew I wanted to do something more for animals. Rummy helped me focus on that goal.”
In 2009, Goebel opened Rummy’s Beach Club. And soon, what she’d originally envisioned as a small doggie daycare with a pool evolved into a swimming retreat for dogs and their owners, who don their bathing suits and join their pets for one-hour sessions.
“There was nothing like it in Houston,” Goebel says as we walk around the perimeter of the pool, which is domed and heated for the winter months. Pepper cautiously follows. We’ve been here for half an hour, and we haven’t touched the water.
Goebel continues to observe. Like a dog whisperer, she knows that an animal’s trust is key. While Pepper slowly warms up to the pool, Goebel wants getting in to be her idea. There’s no tossing anyone into the deep end here.
These days, many local doggie daycares boast pools, but there aren’t any offerings quite like this one, where the water’s kept so clean—owners are advised to not feed their dogs three hours before a session, and pets use the bathroom prior to pool time—that jumping in is inviting to humans, too.
Besides being fun, it’s good for dogs. “Whether they are overweight or need to be tired out, swimming helps,” says Goebel, who documents sessions with her GoPro camera. Through the years, she’s witnessed older dogs with a new spring in their steps, and dogs with arthritis appearing to find relief. Rummy, who died last year, also found comfort in the pool toward the end of his life.
Unlike my Pepper, most Beach Clubbers love the water, jumping right in the second they see the pool. For athletic dogs who already know how to swim, Goebel offers classes in dock jumping, the fast-growing sport in which canines dive from elevated platforms and catch objects midair. All the while, she photographs their performances—and, sometimes, silly faces—above and below water.
But Pepper’s visit to Rummy’s isn’t about catching waves or fetching frisbees. Confidence in—or at least near—the pool is our objective. Eventually, she does appear to stop fearing the water and start wading around the shallow end, with me by her side. She even splashes around with a chew toy, briefly forgetting her whereabouts.
I’m amazed, and impressed by Goebel’s patience, perseverance and passion for animals. It’s clear she dives head first into every session, even when the occasional four-legged client prefers the docks. And now that Pepper’s gotten her paws wet, we’ll be back.
Rummy’s Beach Club, Spring. Private sessions start at $120. 713-446-3805.