Updated: Jun 7, 2021
I am so excited to have finally reached this point. You know how you have an idea and you get to work and start to execute a plan? Well, my idea started 20 years ago. I was among the ranks of people working for a large corporation, making excellent money, earning stock bonuses, having a private parking space and all the perks a large company can provide. I even had excellent health insurance along with disability and life. Heck, they even had a limo pick me up and I flew first class to out of state meetings. I stayed at hotels that didn't have a free breakfast, had no community swimming pool, and guys in fancy uniforms kept their hand out with their palm up for everything! And...I was miserable. I've always been an independent spirit (ask my Mom...sorry Mom!) who dislikes following other's rules and being stuck in the corporate rut just wore me out! Don't get me wrong...I enjoyed my job very much. I had worked hard to move up through the ranks to receive promotions and raises and eventually ended up heading my own office in Tampa, FL. For all intents and purposes, I had made it! Well, two things happened to change that for me. The first was, like I said....I was miserable. While I loved what I did, I completely disliked all the periphery stuff that goes along with a corporate job. Monday staff meetings at 7 a.m., rush hour traffic, and yes...the dreaded glass ceiling. I had literally trained men younger than me to do the same job and make $10,000 more a year than I did. The second was, the company had declared bankruptcy and while I was not on the chopping block for any of the early rounds of dismissal, I would get my letter sooner or later.
I had already started to formulate my plan even before I heard the news of bankruptcy. I was helping a friend pet sit and I was loving it! I made money going to people's houses and just taking care of their pets! I knew this was a business because I had hired pet sitters for my own dogs. However, it hadn't dawned on me that I could do the same thing until my friend needed help one day and asked if I was interested. I had found my THING! One of the perks of working for a large corporation for many years is a severance package. I got a rather large cash severance and I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. I was going to start my own pet sitting service and that is just what I did. Wow...did it take off! I remember one Christmas holiday, I was running practically 24/7, taking care of pets. I had even converted my kitchen and garage into boarding space because so many of my regular clients wanted my services and they asked me to keep their dog in my home. I remember calling friends and asking them to help me with the boarders so I could make it to all of my pet sitting clients. It was crazy but tons of fun!
That Christmas, my plan changed. I knew the only way I could continue taking care of dogs, long-term, was to open up a place where the dogs came to me. So, off I went to find a location for my newest endeavor. As an FYI...my family thought I was crazy! They supported me but still thought I had lost a bit of my mind. I drove all over the place looking for the right location and really...I had no idea what I was doing. I guess you could say, I was "winging" it. Amazingly, I found the perfect location. I found a house, on a country road, across from the TPC of Tampa...(yes, that bougie golf course), that had been abandoned for 10 years. Perfect! Well, not so perfect but it would be. The owner of the property agreed to implode and fill the pool and clean up the back area but the house was all up to me. Thanks to my brother, Thom, I was able to get the house into a condition that was ready for business. Don't get me wrong, it was not 5-star, granite counters, marble floors, big city ready but a fence was up, suites were built, rooms were converted, plumbing and electric were working and safe so I was ready. You know that saying "build it and they will come"? Well, that was not exactly how things worked. It seems that being on a country road, 1 1/2 miles off of the nearest major road doesn't necessarily mean people will be ringing your phone off the hook to drop their dog off for daycare. And, well...boarding requires a need like a major holiday. Now I owned two properties, my home and Pets In Paradise Resort & Hotel. Work with me on the name. I was very optimistic! For the first two years, I lived in my Pet Hotel. I couldn't afford to hire much help and the friends started getting tired of providing free labor so ultimately, I had to do everything. I remember one summer, early on, I had the flu but the lawn needed to be mowed. I couldn't afford to hire someone so I had to do it. I had dogs to care for and the lawn needed care as well. I climbed on my very old Ford lawn mower...it was blue...and off I went to mow my little 1/2 acre. All was going great until I ran into a tree. No, the tree was not harmed but my steering column was and that meant that mowing was done for the day. Sometimes you just have to listen to what the universe is telling you...I went to bed. Eventually, I was able to buy a new(ish) lawn mower and finish the lawn and I got over the flu. Whew! As if that wasn't enough to throw in the towel, the people I hired should have made that happen. One guy stole some of my equipment from me, one girl spent more time smoking pot out by the barn than she did working, another thought sunning herself on the deck meant she was being productive, and a slew of others turned out to be less than stellar. One lady kept bugging me and bugging me about hiring her and I just couldn't get myself to do it. She came with 2 young children and one on the way. How in the world could she take care of dogs and her family? She finally convinced me to give it a try. Let me tell you, I am so glad she talked me into it. Tina and her family were the lifeblood of Pets In Paradise. She was a hard worker and she never let her kids be an excuse for not doing her job. She was an excellent Mom and even started to teach her kids how to care for the hotel and the dogs. I remember holding her new born son on my lap and feeding him a bottle while she cleaned and took care of the dogs. Her girls would hang out with the dogs and I would yell at them to quit slamming doors. Good times! Eventually, PIP made it. We became a popular pet hotel just north of Tampa and stayed in business until the big recession hit. Even though we had made it, Florida was one of the hardest hits states and people started fleeing the state faster than a herd of cockroaches. Business went from overflowing to barely a trickle so the decision was made to shut it down. It was a very sad time for me, Tina, and her family. The good news for me is that I had already started TDS and it was growing and becoming an even more enjoyable pet hotel than PIP had been. The biggest part of that is that I wasn't a newbie this time around. I knew what I was doing! My plan was to offer daycare, boarding, training, and grooming services. I had already received my Certification as a Behavior Counselor and had been teaching for many years, privately. I had not provided group classes so this was going to be a new endeavor for me. TDS had a slow first year as Loganville was still a fairly small community with a rural mindset. However, by years #2, we were filling up 1/2 the building on a regular basis. After a couple years, I started renting the entire building to allow for more space for those group classes. This was the first step toward becoming a Training Center rather than a Pet Hotel. Funny thing happened though. I didn't like teaching group classes. I felt like I couldn't be the best coach to my clients that I wanted to be. I only had an hour and a roomful of people looking at me and expecting me to help them get their dogs to listen and obey. I found this format very frustrating and my classes always ran over an hour because I spent tons of time with each person working individually with them. Again, the universe had spoken...I stopped offering group classes and focused on private consults only. One day, I received a call from one of the large dog behavior schools, asking me if I would mentor one of their students. Sounded interesting. Why not? That is when I met Heather. Oh, I did not like her at first. She came to classes with bags and books and all sorts of paraphernalia AND she asked so many damned questions!! I mean when I says she asked questions, she asked, wrote answers, asked more, wrote answers, and then asked more. My thought was this lady will never be able to teach clients because she will ask them questions until they kick her out of their house. Needless to say, I was wrong about Tina and I was wrong about Heather. Heather is now my Lead Trainer and she is phenomenal. Oh, and I found Tina again. She is now my Operations Manager and she is also phenomenal. Savannah came to me already having received her certification so once Heather received hers, we had a team of Trainers. Now, all they had to do was work at TDS to learn everything they could about dogs and dog care and mentor with me. This propelled us forward to changing our name from Pet Hotel and Training Center to Training & Enrichment Center. Last year, we rearranged the building to give the Trainers their own space. We had already been providing day training services and that became so successful, the space was beyond necessary. Now we are offering mentoring services to other people who want to become Professional Trainers as well as offering Day and Private Training to our clients.
The big news happening on April 1, 2021 is that Enrichment is getting infused into all of our services so we are truly a Training & Enrichment Center. What is Enrichment? That is a wonderful question! Enrichment, quite simply, is giving dogs a chance to do doggie things that make them feel satisfied in body, mind, and spirit. We have spent so much time trying to make dogs fit into our lives that we have taken away much of their dogginess. No barking, no digging, no chewing, no climbing, no foraging, and no licking to name a few. When these things are allowed, we have come up options that are convenient to the human but less than stellar to our dogs. Many times, pain and discomfort have been used to try and create the dog behavior wanted. Bark collars, prong and choke collars, tone emitters, modified mouse traps, pennies in a can, squirt bottles, and a myriad of other aversive tools have been introduced to make our dogs stop expressing their needs. Enrichment is giving them dog appropriate outlets that are individualized to fill their needs. Basically, giving them their dogginess back. Heather, Savannah, Shannon, and I along with our Management and Caretaking team have been testing the Enrichment waters for the last year and a half. What we have seen has even amazed us. We knew that enrichment would help dogs gain confidence and increase impulse control but what we have seen has blown us away! Check out our video testimonials to hear what some of our clients are saying. Our website is updated with all of our new information so please take a look when you get a chance. A FB post has gone out on our FB Group and Page and I am starting this blog to keep you posted on things that go on at TDS. For those of you on our mailing list, keep your eyes open for an email coming to your inbox soon, like today. It will contain a letter from me and attachments containing our new pricing as well as information about our Enrichment Activities for boarding and daycare. I am excited, our team is excited, and we are ready to go! Above all...we could not be taking this next step if it weren't for all of you. You trust us to care for your dogs and to teach them...and you! For that we are truly grateful Thank you!!