For many dog lovers, there is something simply joyful about sharing a boat ride and day on the lake with a four-legged family member. The sunshine and open air, the steady hum of a boat motor, and the cool water all make for a laid-back, fun-filled adventure. It’s a fair statement to make, then, that Candace with The Pooch Pontoon has landed a dream job!
Candace has always been passionate about animals, volunteering for several organizations including the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia and Canine Assistants. She has also been able to channel this passion into Best Friends on the Lake, where she takes dogs and their owners for rides on The Pooch Pontoon, a relaxing boat ride to an island where your dog can play off leash, swim, and explore!
For 20 plus years, Candace’s husband would take her and their dogs on his fishing boat, drop them off on one of the islands to play and explore while he went fishing, then come back to pick them up. Around five years ago, her husband shifted into a new role as chartered fishing guide and got a new fishing boat, so she decided to purchase a little “rough and ready” pontoon so she could continue her island adventures with her pups. Enter Ruben, a long term resident of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia that many would consider “unadoptable” because he was acting out in his kennel. Candace asked if she could just try him out on her boat because it had been such a stress reliever for herself, her dogs, and many of her canine-loving friends. After taking him a few times, the shelter staff and volunteers began to see such an amazing change in Ruben that they called the Gainesville Times to write up a story on how Candace’s adventures reached him when he seemed unreachable!
Ruben struck a chord with Candace, who had previously taken these adventures with her own pups for granted, and she began to offer free rides to shelter and rescue dogs. She formed an LLC in 2017, and when Covid took her away from her career in travel, she shifted all of her focus to The Pooch Pontoon, offering rides for people and their pets, coining the term “Rescue Rides” for the free trips for shelter and rescue dogs, and fulfilling her mission statement: “To enrich the lives of people and their dogs by being out in nature and connecting on a different level.” And she hasn’t looked back!
Candace says that she enjoys watching the people relax and enjoy themselves almost as much as the dogs. She shared the story of one owner who had a Jack Russell in a small apartment, and the pup was an absolute terror on the leash and was destructive at home and in his crate. It took some convincing, but she finally let Candace take them out to the island. She was terrified of letting him off leash, afraid he would take off, to which Candace (who has multiple safety measures like tracker collars) replied, “It’s a small island, where’s he gonna go?” She unclipped him, and yes, he took off! He ran his little heart out and explored and then ran some more. Then he came back to them, checked in, and took off again, staying just in sight, until he finally came to her and calmly let her leash him back up to go home. His human hugged him and cried on the boat ride back, having never seen him content and relaxed before.
This is even more poignant for the humans that accompany the rescue dogs. Working in rescue is so hard. They put in long, strenuous hours and deal with frustrating circumstances. It can get political and extremely emotional. There are more sad stories than happy ones. And even though they are doing the best they can, no one believes they are really doing enough. The boat rides give these volunteers and rescuers as much of a chance to decompress as the dogs, and one of Candace’s joys is being able to give them a chance to enjoy nature with the dogs they work so hard to save.
In addition to taking humans and pets on adventures, which enables her to fund the Rescue Rides, Candace wants to work with even more rescue groups, shelters, and fosters. She posts live videos of the rescue dogs to The Pooch Pontoon Facebook page so that potential adopters can see their personalities outside of the shelter environment. She is growing the social media side of Best Friends on the Lake so that she can reach more people and pups, and she hopes to incorporate her experience with Reiki Healing into her work to further accomplish her mission statement of improving the lives of people and their pets! The final highlight of her “retirement career”? She feels as if she gains new best friends – both two and four legged – whenever she takes a new human and dog out for a lake adventure. That’s lake life at its best!