Heaven on Earth exists for dog lovers – and a visit there comes complete with cider and snacks.
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Golden Dog Farm of Jeffersonville, Vermont, just went viral for their Golden Retriever Experience, one-hour sessions where guests enjoy refreshments in the company of a big group of golden retrievers, also known as a “happy.”
The Golden Retriever Experience, also called a “happy hour,” allows farm visitors to bask in the company of at least 10 dogs from Butternut Goldens, run by local husband-wife duo Dana and Susan Menne.
While bookings sell out quickly, Golden Dog Farm owners Doug and Becca Worple told USA TODAY that the overwhelming success did not seem a given when they first took on the venture earlier this year.
How the happiest of happy hours started
When COVID hit, Doug Worple’s travel-focused job at a global digital advertising agency was interrupted. Like many others during the pandemic, he said he used the moment to take a step back and consider what was next.
He and Becca Worple – who was a photographer and media representative at a radio station – sold their home in Cincinnati, Ohio, in hopes of heading to a family cottage in Ontario.
“Then the border closed,” Doug Worple said. “Now we’re two weeks out of closing on our house and didn’t know where to go, so we decided to buy an RV and traveled to 35 different states, 17,000 miles in the RV with two of the dogs.”
Somewhere along the way, they decided to start a golden retriever-based business and plant some new roots in Vermont.
“We’ve just always loved goldens and always wanted to have a lot of goldens,” Worple said. “With what I was doing, I saw the power of influencers and social media and all that and I joked we need to have an Instagram farm full of golden retrievers, and soon we started looking at what that might look like.”
It wasn’t until they rolled into town to look at a property suggested by their realtor that they saw what Becca Worple called a sign that the location was meant to be. While driving the RV through town, the couple spotted resident Dana Menne of Butternut Goldens and a truck full of golden retrievers that he was trying to socialize on a visit to town.
“(Becca told me), ‘If God were to send to me a sign we needed to move someplace, it would be a truckload of goldens,'” Doug Worple said.
The word spread thanks to social media
The Worples began building their farm up as, well, a farm. Currently equipped with vineyards, 4,500 taps making maple syrup, beehives and orchard trees, the property is full of other work to be done. At first, they were focused on getting things up and running. Then, after becoming friends with Dana Menne and Susan, the happy hour idea began to take shape.
“Collectively both of us wanted to do something like this but they didn’t have a place to do it and we didn’t have enough goldens,” Doug Worple said. “But together we could make it happen.”
They began by offering experiences for visitors on three Saturdays in the fall. Initially, things were slow, with bookings trickling in here and there.
About eight days before their first booking date, a video about the Golden Retriever Experience made it to the TikTok account of travel influencer @mydarlingpassport, racking up 5.6 million views. Overnight, Worple said things changed.
“We went to bed on a Thursday night and Friday morning we woke up and everything was sold out,” he said. “We then immediately added more dates and those sold out then we added more dates.”
‘People cry because they’re so happy’
The calendar currently has dates until Dec. 17, all of which are sold out, but the farm plans to drop a whole set of openings stretching into April by the end of this week. The one-hour experience runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and costs $75 for adults and $50 for children.
He said visitors include all kinds of people of many ages, including those who live in the city and can’t have dogs of their own, people who recently lost their own dogs, or those who simply love dogs and want to see more.
“People are so happy when they’re here, they have this childlike joy on their faces,” he said. “People cry because they’re so happy.”