Where Goldens Roam

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When Dave Liskey bought the land for Gap View Ranch & Kennel in 1989, it didn’t have much penny value. But with some work it has gone from collapsed roofs to college students swarming the property playing with Golden Retrievers.

After Liskey, a JMU alumnus (‘84), graduated from college, he got a male Golden Retriever from his college roommate who couldn’t care for the dog after getting a job.

All of the sudden, Liskey had puppies roaming out of his barn. He kept getting females, and in 2000 he “went in full force with the Goldens.”

Liskey’s love for Goldens has continued to grow. He oversaw the building of the business from the ground up, as the kennel has become a staple in the JMU community. Sororities, fraternities and other campus organizations take their members to Gap View as a fun experience, to de-stress and bond with one another.

Becca Pazzanese, a senior interdisciplinary liberal studies major, took her residents to Gap View for a program last fall when she was an RA at Dingledine Hall.

“The owner is really nice and the dogs are well taken care of,” Pazzanese, now a hall director for White Hall, says.

Petting and cuddling the dogs allows them to be properly socialized from a young age.

“I do appreciate that work because I’m one person and we have 41 dogs,” Trish Moore-Custer, the kennel manager, says.

With 30 of the 41 dogs at the kennel being used for breeding, it’s a full-time job. The wait list is vast, so the adopters usually get on the list before the puppies are even born. Adopters can pay their deposit in July and wait until January to pick up their puppy.

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The work is especially great when the puppies are being born. While Liskey is the face associated with Gap View, he has people around to help him, like Moore-Custer.

“We have to make sure mom gets them out appropriately, and then we just take over and make sure their airways are cleaned out, which is probably the most fun part and the most disgusting part,” Moore-Custer says.

The workers put the puppies on a small heating pad and wait for their mother to finish nursing them, then match them back up to the mom again. When the mom is done nursing, Gap View workers begin an hourly rotation where they split the litter in half. By doing so, each half of the litter receives equal attention from the mom. They do this for the first two weeks of the puppies’ lives before putting them on puppy chow.

Once the puppies are four weeks old, they move to the fenced area of the kennel so they can socialize with other dogs and visitors. At this age, the puppies also begin to show their personalities.

“Four weeks is usually when they start to develop their own thing,” Moore-Custer says. “You’ll start to see which ones are going to be calm, which ones are going to be more hyper.”

When the dogs find their homes, Liskey wants to make sure their new owners can adequately provide the care and love the dogs need.

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“When my adults leave their nest here, they’re going to a better home,” Liskey says. “I will take back every single dog, every puppy, every single animal that I will place in any homes. This is their home and you sign a contract and it will come back to me.”

Liskey receives about 500 Christmas cards a year from previous buyers with pictures of their Golden.

“They’re part of that family and they’re thanking me for the love, through the grace of God that I was able to put this love in their house,” Liskey says.

Liskey says it’s all about chapters. Just as humans have stages in their life, so do Golden Retrievers.

“I don’t sell you a car that you trade in,” Liskey says. “I sell you what I call the next chapter of your life, the next love of your life.”

Photos by Mark Owen