Flamboyantly-named Russell Distance Russell is the region’s leading Dog Psychologist (in fact may be our island’s only Dog Psychologist!) and is the owner/manager of the Canine Point Academy dog boarding and training centre located near Ban Don Village in Thalang.
Russell has made his home in the Andaman region from 2005 when, as he puts it, “the Beagle landed in Phuket” after growing up in a Hong Kong apartment full of puppies.
His mother, Athena Cant, is a well-known local resident, who founded the Phuket Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), so perhaps a career among boxers, bulldogs and beagles was always on the cards.
However, never one to be a conventionalist, Russell made his way toward future canine capers via an eclectic career route featuring adventures in Andaman property, management training and becoming a wedding celebrant – a role he still performs to this day, and not always featuring four-legged nuptialists.
In 2009 more adventures brought Russell’s dulcet tones to Phuket’s burgeoning radio scene as he presented firstly a regular rock music show and then became the well-recognised voice of a breakfast show.
Despite loving being a DJ with its thrill of “being on air and in the moment”, the Hounds of Destiny were still baying deep within Russell’s subconscious and in late 2009 he had the opportunity of attending the largest canine training facility in the US for a course, leading into an internship, which he seized, like a doggie grabbing a big, juicy bone.
Back in Phuket from 2011, Russell dallied with dog training and canine security, but found the going extremely tough, so he also continued with local radio DJ-ing and worked with Coral Seekers to supplement his income.
In July 2016, Russell made the decision to go full time with his dog training academy, saying, “It was my ‘go big, or go home’ moment and while it was tough to begin with, I quickly built up a brand and reputation and the business showed good growth over the years. In 2019 I opened a brand-new Canine Training Resort on three rai of land, near in Ban Don Village, with state-of-the-art training facilities and luxury resort rooms for our canine guests. We even have a couple of sport fields and a swimming lake for our barking bathers.”
Russell, his Black Labrador Sassy, and I enjoyed a delicious supper sitting on the iconic wooden decking alongside the Boat Lagoon Marina at Bart Duyker’s recently-opened The 9th Degree bistro, wine shop and tapas bar.
Here the breakfast, lunch and supper menus are packed with fresh, healthy dishes and tapas and the extensive beverage selection benefits greatly from Bart’s expert guidance and vast wine knowledge credentials.
In these virally-challenged times, The 9th Degree was a superb choice, as socially-distanced, fresh-air, indoor/outdoor dining is a doddle here, and they even have live music at the weekends.
I asked Russell about his basic philosophy for boarding and training his canine guests. “We treat each dog as a member of our extended family enjoying the spacious, beautifully-designed air-conditioned resort rooms, covered patio and secure outdoor exercise fields and water park. Our kitchen provides home-cooked, fresh food and room-service delivers a hearty breakfast and a sumptuous dinner. We also offer an extensive range of training programmes, from basic obedience, through to CGC certifications, using private, or group classes, or through our unique residential training facility.
“Our goal is always to bridge the communication gap between pets and their owners, to help prevent unwanted behaviour (canine and human) and help people build lifelong bonds with their dogs”.
When we broached the inevitable topic of COVID’s impact on his business, Russell said, “Clearly 2020 has smashed all of us a bit sideways, but since we’ve been allowed to reopen, things have been ticking over and I’m hopeful we’ll continue with that trend, maybe seeing a return to ‘normal’ towards the end of the year.”
As ‘man’s best friend’ (sorry ladies!) dogs are perhaps looked to for support in these troubling times, so I asked Russell if getting a doggie while we are socially constrained was a good idea.
“Not really,” he said, “Dogs thrive on consistency, routine and clear-messaging in their training, so if they enter a household where, say, the children are at home all day and so the puppy receives far more attention than they will get when things return to ‘the new normal’, they will suffer accordingly”.
Clearly, Russell understands a great deal about the doggie psyche, but he also makes a very interesting point about we humans. “I always try to meet a new dog with its owners, as I am totally convinced that training a dog well starts with training its handlers well too!”
As we strolled away from the charming waterside idyll of The 9th Degree under a star-filled sky, I couldn’t help thinking that some of our political leaders – especially now claiming to be as fit as a ‘Butcher’s Dog’ – would do well to listen to Russell’s wise words about consistency and clear-messaging.