I have always loved all kinds of animals. As a young child, I surrounded myself with as many little creatures as I could. My parents tolerated me taking in small pets but made it clear that they would only allow me to have them if I was entirely responsible for their care – and so I was. I had (several at a time!) guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils and mice. Although they tolerated me having these little ones, my parents felt that they were too busy working to allow me to have a dog, despite my pleas. They initially did not allow me to have cats either… I was thrilled when my neighbors got a kitten, Max. Max was an orange tabby “outside cat.” I always looked for him and, once he got to know me, he looked for me too. Max had terrific recall and always sought me out when I called him after jumping off the bus from school. After Max and I became friends, I’d sneak him in my room and play with him there for hours. I taught Max all kinds of commands, including to sit, stay, and shake hands (yes, I think I kind-of made him into a dog). He was a fantastic cat with a tremendous personality. After sneaking for several months, my parents and neighbors agreed to recognize that Max had decided to adopt me. Over the next several years, I wound up taking in three more cats...
Along with my pets at home, I was always around other animals at my grandparents’ house where I spent most of each summer. My “nana” and “dadoo” were animal lovers and advocates, who always had a house full of rescues. Most of the dogs they took in were hound mixes. Each summer I was very busy and happy surrounded by all the dogs. I would groom them, feed them, train them and walk them around the large backyard. They were all great dogs but none of them started with any manners at all. I loved the challenge of teaching them tricks and trying to replace the poor behaviors with positive ones. On top of all of the dogs at her house, my nana would take me to a local animal shelter to volunteer with the shelter dogs. I helped by walking some of the shelter dogs and I gave them all cookies. At the shelter, I was even able to sometimes interact with larger breeds, such as Rottweilers and Dobermans. Of course, with being around so many dogs every summer, I was dying inside wanting to have my very own dog.
My parents never wound up relenting to let me bring a dog home as a child. It was not until I was grown, married, and had children of my own that I finally brought home Oliver, who was my first dog. I felt that I had waited a lifetime for him. You can read all about him (Here). Being a mom with young children at the time when Oliver joined our family, I spent a lot of time out and about in the neighborhood where we lived. Those days were filled with meeting great people while walking or playing with Oliver and the kids. I also occasionally helped neighbors either by feeding their pets or I would take out a dog or two to walk along with me and Oliver, while their owners attended work functions or other obligations without having to feel worried about their pets. I loved to be able to help people, while caring for animals. I felt like it was a win-win for everybody, the owner, the pets, and me! Before long, I was building a business. The more I met with prospective clients and temperament tested dogs, the more people began to reach out to me. My schedule grew from after-work care, to include mid-day walks, which would include my little children in strollers and Oliver. Before long, I started to also board dogs in my home on the weekends.
I was constantly seeing happy animals in homes, which made me often think about the unfortunate pets that did not have a happy home. After sorting out how I could manage the time-commitment, I volunteered at my local animal shelter twice per month. At the shelter, it was initially my job to leash walk the “safe dogs” for some extra stimulation and exercise. I immediately expressed my interests to work with the more challenging dogs on leash and to help practice with them simple obedience. In doing so, I soon began working with the dogs using my behavior modification training. The head of the kennel quickly identified that I had a gift, as the animals were becoming eager to work with and please me. At the same time, I was able to help the more problematic dogs build confidence and reduce their trigger responses that could lead to flight or aggression. With every dog I worked with, I felt that I was able to establish a new friendship, learn from the relationship, and carry my newfound knowledge forward to more dogs who needed my help.
After many years of developing my little business, Walkin’ & Waggin’ grew to serve several wonderful families and their beautiful dogs. After moving to a larger house with a bigger, fenced-in yard, I was able to expand my services to include a doggie day camp. A social, exercised dog is a happy dog! When integrating dogs into my program, I became focused on temperament assessments and camp trials to make sure that everyone was going to get along. The campers range from young to old and big and small, but every dog must be respectful and gentle when playing and socializing. My criteria for enrollment are very strict, as not every dog is well-suited to be in my Walkin’ Waggin’ camp program. Before being accepted, every dog has to meet my high standard. Most dogs join my program at a young age, where I am in a position to provide them and their owners with my own steady leadership and with my dogs and the other dogs who have been in my program for a significant period of time serving as their dog role-models. Over time, Camp Waggin’ has become a harmonious and beautiful pack.
I love every dog that comes into my care as if it were my own. I do not leave any dog out in the elements all day long. On cold winter days, the campers are brought inside to be warm. In the heat of the summer, the campers are brought in for air conditioning. When I’m able, I take the campers on “field-trips” to lakes or pools to swim. It is an absolute privilege to have so many wonderful families and amazing dogs in my life, they are what is my Walkin’ & Waggin’ family! I am blessed every day to fill my beautiful yard and my heart with such fantastic dogs!!