KANNAPOLIS – To make sure everything was perfect, Dana Christner waited to hold an official opening of the Dog World Dog Park.
She never had the chance.
As soon as a TikTok video of two dogs frolicking in Dog World swimming pools went viral, dog owners came to the park at 2225 Fowler St., just off Moose Road in Kannapolis.
“We thought we’d come in, find out everything, and settle down and make a grand opening, but we laid the foundation,” said Christner. “There was a TikTok video and it was like – boom.”
The short clip has now received hundreds of thousands of views and has paid a lot of attention to the puppy paradise that Christner, her family and her staff have curated in Kannapolis. The fenced area has more than 12 hectares of green hills with ponds, an obstacle course, an Olympic swimming pool and two water slides – everything for dogs.
The dog playground is located in the former Kannapolis Recreation Park, where residents came to swim or eat at the food stand in summer. Now only âpup conesâ are served, which can be ordered with different toppings such as pieces of bacon, frozen strawberries, wiener sausages and salmon oil.
“You can’t eat them in the park, but we noticed with the puppy cones that a lot of dogs don’t go without one,” said Christner. “That’s how many people get their dog out of the park because otherwise they won’t go away.”
One place dogs won’t want to leave is what Jeff Palmer, the original founder of Dog World, envisioned when he wanted to remodel the old recreation area earlier this year. Palmer’s goal was to create a canine oasis that would help him raise enough money to finance a retirement home for older animal shelter dogs.
To make this vision a reality, Palmer lived on site for several months while he refurbished the dilapidated facilities.
“Jeff is a guy with a really big heart and that was a passion project for him,” said Christner.
Since then, Palmer has handed over management of the park to Dana Christner, her fiancÃ© Adam Coulter, their daughter Erin Christner, and Erin’s fiancÃ© Marco Mercado. Christner’s other two daughters, Tessa and Skyler, also work in the park.
Every employee of the park brings a certain amount of expertise to the operation.
Christner, who works full-time at an asset management firm in Concord, has figured out how to make the park profitable. Coulter quit his construction job to take the lead in maintaining and improving the park’s infrastructure. Mercado, who recently graduated from UNCC with a degree in Computer Science, operates the Dog World website and online infrastructure. Erin happens to be a dog trainer, which comes in handy when you have to oversee dozens of energetic dogs almost every day.
“It’s the perfect storm for a team and everyone has their specialty,” said Christner. “That is exactly what we needed to make it work.”
There are no breed restrictions at Dog World, but there are many rules. To enter the park, dogs must be vaccinated and their owners must provide evidence. Once they’re checked in, each dog is given a 10-minute temperament test to determine how they’re playing. Depending on a dog’s behavior, it is assigned one of several color-coded tags that are worn in the park. A pink tag is worn by older dogs, a green tag is given to quieter dogs, and a brown tag is for “party poopers” who are better at playing alone.
“Everyone knows these tags and you just have to keep an eye out for the other dogs,” said Christner. “It gives you an indication of who you are dealing with.”
The temperament tests are conducted by a trainer and one of five service dogs, each one of which is one of Dana, Coulter, Erin, Mercado, or Jessy Harker who is one of the park’s head trainers.
Once dogs are released in the park, owners are expected to stay with their animals at all times. They are encouraged to throw balls into the water or lead their furry friends through the obstacle course.
“The whole thing here is you stay with your dog,” said Christner. âYou don’t sit down and look at your cell phone. Our motto here is ‘Let’s Play!’ This is because the owner and the dog play together. It’s not like in the dog bar, where you sit and have a beer with your friends while the dog is alone. “
Other rules do not include special toys or leash dogs while they are in the park. All regulations are designed to avoid tension between dogs.
“We have a lot of rules, but these are all rules that make this possible,” said Christner. “When you sit here on a sunny day and there are dogs everywhere and they swim and play, it’s like heaven.”
Dog owners have come from near and far to experience a piece of paradise for themselves.
As soon as Denette Carte found out about the park, she brought her gold doodle links to play with.
“We bring him here two or three times a week,” said Carte. “He loves it. You can’t beat that.”
Carte lives in Concord, so the drive isn’t far for her. However, she has spoken to dog owners in the park who have traveled much greater distances.
“I actually met a girl here last week who was from Tennessee,” said Carte. âShe drove three hours to get here. This is impressive. I’ve met people from all over the world who have brought their dogs with them. “
Though Dog World did little to no marketing, Christner said they received calls and emails from dog owners across the country who stumbled upon the park on social media.
“We have so many emails and they come from all over the country,” said Christner. “They fly in from Florida, California, Arkansas and only come for that.”
With so many out-of-town owners visiting Kannapolis, Christner said she’s been working to find local hotels that will house animals.
As Dog World grows in popularity, Christner’s goal is to add corporate sponsors like Chewy to help them keep improving the aging establishment.
“We’re going to work on getting some corporate sponsors to help us make the big changes that would take us forever,” said Christner.
Upgrading and maintaining the park, said Coulter, is “the hottest and hardest thing” he ever had to do. Cleaning an Olympic size swim jar might be tricky when used by humans, he said, but it’s a whole different challenge when used by dogs.
At the end of the day, the hard work that goes into the park is well worth it.
âThat was the coolest thing that people find us in the end to thank us,â said Christner. âThey say how great it was and how great the time was for their dog, or that their dog has never swum or played with other dogs and was shy and had fun. It’s that kind of thing that makes you say, ‘Ah, yes. This is fantastic.’ It’s worth it.”
Dog World is open Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome, but online reservations are recommended. Day passes and 30-day memberships are available. More information is available online at dogworlddogpark.com.