Peggy Hilton’s parents started Goldwood Kennels in Dellwood as a breeding facility for their golden retrievers. While they were known for years as the breeder of one of the top golden retriever bloodlines in the world, the couple became inactive in the 1950s.
This didn’t last long, as Peggy and her husband, Frank, caught the animal bug and started up again in the 1960s. They bred and trained goldens for 10 years before moving to their current location in White Bear Lake, starting with just four kennels, then expanding to 10. “We needed more [kennels] because our neighbors kept calling us up and saying, ‘Could you take care of my dog for me?’ ” Peggy says. “And we weren’t even charging people at that point.”
The Goldwood golden retriever name was so well known at the time that when President Ford was looking for his golden in the 1970s, “they called here but I didn’t have any puppies!” Peggy says.
Today, Goldwood Kennels is still a family business, run by Peggy’s son, Cliff, and his son and daughter-in-law, Tony and Erin. What has changed is that the facility now has 55 acres, 90 kennels for dogs, 30 for cats, and a little extra room for pets such as chinchillas, turtles and guinea pigs. In the past, they cared for a cougar cub (now illegal), a duck named Lucky, a potbelly pig, hybrid wolves and explorer Will Steger’s huskies. “That was interesting,” Cliff Hilton says. “They were on this high-protein, high-fat diet [of seal blubber]. … Imagine the smell.”
But these exotic pets are rare, and for the most part, Goldwood takes care of the family dog or cat while pet owners are out of town. And much as when we book hotels or make travel plans for ourselves, some advance notice is needed. “Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July—we usually tell people to call ahead a month or two,” Cliff says. And frequent customers plan ahead even further than that, Erin Hilton says, “A lot of people will pick up from one holiday and book it for the next.”
Tony and Erin Hilton with their dog, Ava.
These frequent customers keep returning because the Hilton family treats the animals as they would their own, and offers extra amenities such as private rooms, music, spacious play yards, grooming and one-on-one time with staff. “We don’t do the group playtime like you might see at some of the other doggie daycares; we really just want to put the safety of the pets first,” Erin says. “They’re throwing the ball, playing Frisbee, getting their cuddles [with the staff].” And they have separate areas within the boarding house for geriatric dogs, rowdier dogs and less social dogs, so that they can best meet the needs of the dogs and keep them all happy.
If you have a younger dog that you’re trying to train, Goldwood has an obedience trainer on site who can help continue the training while you’re gone. “We get a lot of K9 [police] dogs in here also, and a lot of them are trained in foreign languages, so the staff will have to learn German or something to communicate,” Cliff says.
On top of the one-on-one attention and care for the animals, the facility is built to be safe for the animals, with each section having an emergency exit, smoke detectors, a sprinkler system, and a back-up generator to keep the animals comfortable if they lose power. The fire department even came out to the facility so they understand the layout of the building in case anything happens. “[Peggy and Frank] pretty much made it the foundation of the company, I think. Safety of the pets and safety of the people,” Erin says. “We couldn’t sleep at night if we knew something wasn’t taken care of.”
This attention to detail is why customers return and continue spreading the word. Jim Koci has boarded his German shepherds and Rottweilers there for more than 25 years, and keeps coming back. “[I’ve] been more than pleased throughout the years with how clean the kennels are and how attentive and professional all the staff has been with my dogs,” he says, adding he has recommended Goldwood to friends that have kept returning as well.
Customer Eric Mahn says Goldwood has done so much more than simply board his dogs. His two dogs, Jocko and Elvis, would become extremely stressed when he left town, but by using Goldwood and their pickup service, their stress diminished. “My dogs’ behavior vastly improved, and they would become excited as soon as I grabbed the toy bag to go to Goldwood,” Mahn says. In March, he had to put down Jocko, his best friend of 13 years. “Cliff and the staff at Goldwood supported me greatly through this, more than I can say.”
“It’s how I would take care of my own dog,” Peggy says about their pet caring philosophy. And after almost 80 years in the animal business, the commitment is clear. “Every dog in this kennel I would treat just exactly like it was mine.”
9500 Dellwood Road N.
White Bear Lake