WITH AMENITIES LIKE A TWO STORY WATERFALL, GLASS ENCLOSED BOARDING SUITES, AND 24 HOUR ATTENTION, THIS IS NO ORDINARY PET FACILITY
BY AMANDA McCOY • PHOTOS BY ROBERT NUZZIE
It took eight years for Shelly Leibowitz to achieve his vision of the perfect pet resort. A highly sought after dog trainer his resume including co spearheading the K 9 unit of the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department he was leading a training exercise in Freehold when it became clear that many of his clients were reluctant to leave their dogs in local boarding facilities overnight.
“They were asking me where they could board their dogs, because they were not happy with the options. They’d bring their pets with them on trips because they didn’t trust nearby care givers.”
So, Leibowitz and his wife, Donna, began scouting out locations in Monmouth County to house a new type of facility, one that would go far beyond boarding. After a year and a half, they came across a former blueberry farm in Millstone Township that was exactly what they were looking for. It took three years to acquire the property and another 18 months of construction, but in 2011, Green Leaf Pet Resort opened its doors to canines from across the tri state area.
“My wife and I studied and traveled from one facility to the next to learn as much as we could,” said Leibowitz. “I wanted to be the biggest and the best, but more importantly, wanted to make a safe environment for the family pet. We want our clients to feel comfortable going on vacation to know there’s a place where dogs can feel safe and happy.”
Located on 56 acres, the Millstone location boasts thousands of square feet of indoor and outdoor play space. Seven of its acres are fenced. Inside, a heated saltwater pool provides a hip and joint friendly exercise station for pets suffering from chronic pain or hip dysplasia. And the owners of novice swimmers should have no fear, the owner explained, since custom designed life jackets are also provided.
In an effort to change what owners can expect from a boarding facility and to ensure that their pets are in a safe environment, Leibowitz outfitted Green Leaf’s glass enclosed overnight suites with hypo allergenic memory foam bedding, antimicrobial air filtration, and dedicated heating and A/C systems. Each dog receives multiple private walks and 24 hour attention, and an on-site specialist provides custom meals and snacks.
“We feel we have the best staff we could possibly have in a facility,” he added. “We do the training of each person who comes in. When you get employees thanking you for having them work here, you know you’re doing something right.”
Leibowitz, a 40 year veteran of the industry, explained that training remains an integral part of his work, both at the resort and beyond. His education began before he was old enough to vote, when he spent his summers working in kennels (as they were called then) walking and feeding dogs, cleaning pens, and completing other entry level tasks.
“While working at these facilities,” Leibowitz recalled, “a couple of guys took me under their wing, and little by little I learned. Soon, I started training under their supervision.”
From there, the Brooklyn native began training dogs at facilities in the Bronx, and in time, training became a career. He eventually relocated to a site in Manhattan and started accepting dogs from all five boroughs, plus New Jersey, and Connecticut. Leibowitz worked with problem pets, those with special needs, bomb sniffing and protection dogs, and police dogs. At the resort, he and his trainers provide coaching in obedience, special challenges (such as housebreaking, jumping, fear, and aggression), and for the needs of professional groups like law enforcement K 9 units and even professional sports teams.
“We are the official trainer for the Trenton Thunder, a New York Yankees affiliate,” he said. “We train the bat dogs; when a player drops a bat, the dog runs out and brings it back to the dugout.”
The client base has grown rapidly since the Millstone location opened seven years ago, and in 2018, a second Green Leaf location debuted, a 35,000 square foot facility off Route 35 in Oakhurst. It offers the same services and amenities, including concierge pickup and drop off service.
“We’ve had clients for 30 plus years. They first came to me for training and now they come for boarding,” said Leibowitz, adding that philanthropy is another pillar of his passion for the pet community, and that the resort works closely with the Tinton Falls Humane Society, the ASPCA, and the Popcorn Park Zoo in Lacey Township. Rachel Morreale, the resort’s marketing and event manager, hosts a number of events during the year to raise money for the organizations. Both Green Leaf facilities are also part of the Garden State’s emergency management system; in the event of a local catastrophe, the state can use both locations to shelter dogs in need.
“I’ve been very fortunate that I have a career I love and can make a living at,” said Leibowitz. If I’m not here at the facility, I’m doing something else with dogs. It’s become a way of life. And my wife, I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s there 100 percent.”
Green Leaf Pet Resort
23 Burnt Tavern Road, Millstone / 1602 Route 35, Oakhurst
844.588.3647 / greenleafpetresort.com