School is out for the summer, bringing splash pools and a plethora of canine guests at Hillside to kick off our busy vacation season! With warm weather also brings positive changes within our work family. This month we are shining the spotlight on a very important employee who often works behind the scenes to keep our ship running smoothly: Marisa Carrara. Read through to learn about her journey over the last 3 years and to learn about an exciting development at the Camp Verde resort and spa facility!
A Verde Valley local, Marisa, was born and raised in Sedona. Growing up, Marisa's love for the cat and dogs in her life fed her dream to one day put her compassion for all creatures to use in their most vulnerable moments. After high school Marisa left her family and the Verde Valley to put her dream into action by enrolling in the University of Arizona's pre-veterinary program. Although fresh and exciting, her life in Tucson was not fulfilling enough convince her to stick around during school breaks, so Marisa found herself returning to the high desert often spending her entire summers enjoying the cooler climate. During one of these visits, she spotted an ad for a kennel technician position at Hillside. "I though it was a perfect opportunity for me as a pre-vet student to begin hands-on in the animal care industry, so I took a chance, knowing I would need to return to school in the Fall, and was thrilled when they agreed to take me on!"
Marisa's time at our resort and spa facility that summer left a lasting mark on her previous notions of employment life. "The mental and emotional therapy that working one-on-one with dogs of all breeds and temperaments is my favorite thing about working at Hillside. It is a fun and rewarding job being able to provide the utmost care and creating exciting experiences for our furry guests!"
Even the challenging portions of this line of work did not deter Marisa from returning during her school breaks. "When dogs come in for daycare or boarding for the very first time, they are often skittish in their new environment. It is very fulfilling to help them become comfortable through treats, petting, and playing. It is such an awesome feeling to watch a dog wag its tail at the end of the day and show equal excitement when they come back through our door for another visit."
In the last 3 years Marisa's experience at Hillside has encouraged her to continue working with dogs during the school year. Her time at two corporate-run doggie daycare centers in Tucson afforded her a healthy sense of perspective on what it means to offer quality care and great experiences for her four-legged clients. "Hillside is run so differently than other places. Their organized systems and personal "family" experience really adds an important element to canine hospitality. I was surprised at my other jobs to experience a certain "obligated" attitude from my coworkers. They punched in and punched out everyday but didn't seem to gather the same passion and enthusiasm for their daily work like the Hillside family of employees do."
At home Marisa enjoys the company of two cats, Winter and Geneva, and her dog, Molly. "Winter is the newest addition to the family, she is only 3 months old and is a wild furry of fun. Geneva was very similar when I brought her in three years ago from a free adoption event at the Coconino Humane Society. She has really mellowed out in the last few years and her very self-assured nature has earned her the nickname 'Queen' and 'Queen Geneva' from my friends and family. I happily share custody of our dog Molly with my sister in Sedona. She is a very spunky Doberman mix who has grown to be rather protective of us. She is very loose, loving, and silly when we're alone but gets down to business quickly when it's time to pay attention to the presence of strangers. It reminds me of the protection canines-in-training at Hillside K9 Academy."
In January of this year, Marisa's relocation to Camp Verde and consistent work ethic in her seasonal work at Hillside culminated to her transition from a seasonal employee to full-time member of the Hillside work family. In just the last 5 months she has provided a wonderful sense of stability and dedication to our daily operation, often filling in behind the scenes and going above and beyond to keep our canine care programs running smoothly. She has proved herself to be a forward thinker who is not satisfied with her work just being a "job" but rather a fulfilling career with constant room for improvement.
It is our pleasure and excitement to announce that, this spring, Marisa has begun training to fill a special management position at our Camp Verde Resort and Spa facility! Beginning mid-June she will work closely with our managing-owner, Jennifer, to oversee the daily operations of our customer care, daycare, boarding, grooming, and scheduling services. Throughout the summer, Jennifer will gradually make a lateral move to a more behind-the-scenes role, handling daily administration and will still be heavily involved in all goings-on at both our Dewey and Camp Verde locations. This exciting reorganization of roles will greatly increase the opportunity to bring more consistent and personal customer service to all of our clients.
We want thank Marisa for her unwavering dedication and compassionate care to the Verde Valley's beloved canine community, and hope that you will join us in congratulating her for the upcoming promotion during your next visit!
Hulking brothers, Enzo and Dante, arguably possess the signature intimidating look of their Cane Corso (meaning “body guard” or “protector” in Latin) Italian Mastiff breed. Their impressive super hero conformation complete with rippling muscles, broad head, and almost 28 inch shoulder height did not, however, represent these sweet boys’ temperaments when they arrived at the Academy in February.
Although very loyal and loving to their owners, Dante and Enzo were not so sure about other people, dogs, and most notably, loud noises. Leash tugging, fear aggression, and barking at the site of strangers made walks difficult and the dog park a far-off dream.
On day one of our doggie bootcamp program, gentle coaxing was used to introduce the “place” position (lying down in a designated spot, often a canine cot on our training field), but were met initially by both boys with nervousness and eventual all-out fear of the unknown request. When a new request was made, such as “sit”, followed by a physically guided placement to the wanted position, they responded with squinted eyes and a steep crouch position opposed to our handler, while digging their heels in the ground. It was decided that a slower pace would be more appropriate in this beginning stage in order to build trust and break their mind’s cycle of panic. The rest of Dante and Enzo’s introductory training session were spent bonding through walks around the property and gentle stroking and enthusiastic praises for following along.
Gradual and consistent introductions to commands, using treats and gentle yet firm corrections, combined with daily exorcise to clear the mind of anxiety, began to diminish the uncertainty of daily life at our Academy.
Our trainers were pleased to find that Enzo responded to treats enthusiastically which made for smooth progress into confidence of his new obedience vocabulary. Dontae, however, did not share the tasty sentiment with his brother and would accept treats, but did not feel motivated by this style of coaxing. Stronger praise and petting rewards were found to work much better in making him feel safe and focused on his handler.
Now that the vocabulary and comfort with their new daily routine was set into place, it was time to test their listening skills around surprise situations. With the help of noise makers, resident academy working dogs, and our friendly kennel technicians, our trainers began the process of desensitization to sudden distractions. Through consistent repetitions of their learned command combinations with patience and a steady influence of calm corrections, both furry students moved on to the next level: retention.
As the season began to change, bringing leaves and blooms to the resort’s rose bushes, Dontae and Enzo’s attitudes blossomed with the foliage. Virtually no corrections were needed in daily obedience training, and barking at new canine visitors in the kennel suite room subsided to a comfortable sniff and relaxed demeanor. It was now time to begin the next stage of training in order to test their patience and ensure retention of temperament upon their home-coming.
Enzo proved to be the more focused of the two mastiffs, and gladly gave our trainers his full attention during sit and stay holds, complete with lowling tongue and eager bright eyes. Dontae, however, being the quicker but more curious of the two, found the new spring smells in the grass more interesting than eye contact and often felt his job was done once he had followed his handler’s command. The presence of our kennel technicians often broke his focus and motivated him to eagerly greet the newcomers, rather than keep his mind on the task at hand. Deciding that his brother’s patience and newfound focus would be a good influence on him, our trainers decided that a little friendly competition would motivate Dontae into good canine citizenship. Joint sessions proved a success, as Enzo led his companion by example and come April, the brothers passed our final bootcamp exam!
Congratulations to Dontae and Enzo on completing Hillside K9 Academy’s most effective training program. We are always inspired by the sweet nature’s of students like you and know that no matter what issues a dog may express in uncertain situations, patience, consistency, and loving firmness will always conquer fear and anxiety. Good luck in your future ventures!
Stay tuned next week for our upcoming spotlight on Arthur, a two-year-old Rhodesian Rdgeback, who had a rocky start in his training journey at the Academy. Read about his newfound confidence and the joyful transformation of his fear-aggressive temperament!
The rose bushes are in bloom at Hillside setting the scene for new beginnings and springtime doggie makeovers! This April we are thrilled to announce the most recent addition to the team at our Camp Verde location, experienced groomer-in-residence, Daniela MacRae. Join us in welcoming our talented new family member by bringing your pups in a meet-and-greet and bath’n’tidy!
Las Vegas native Daniela is best described as a passionate animal-lover with empathy for all furry beings. “I have always had a few pets of my own, but that never has seemed enough. I really found fulfillment in fostering animals in need for friends and family for as long as I have been on my own. Since then I have fostered and rehomed more dogs than I can count.” Daniela hasn’t always been able to part with her foster children and a few have stuck around to help with future siblings. “My Boston Terrier-Beagle mix, Monkey, really captured my heart and has become very spoiled. She thinks she is human and loves everyone. Monkey sadly went blind about 5 years ago, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. She is now 8 and is still a puppy at heart.”
In 2016 baby Rilynne was welcomed into the world and Daniela left PetSmart to begin her new journey into motherhood. When it was time to go back to work the thought of working for a large company didn’t quite hit the spot. “I was very fortunate that my boss was caring and loving towards all animals. She always put pet safety and health first and I learned so much from her. The company standards, however, were more restrictive in terms of the age of animals that we could groom and what tools we could and could not use. It narrowed down the scope of services that we could offer and I found myself wanting to do more for my clients.” When a position at the local Pooch Parlor opened up Daniela leaped at the chance to work for a smaller, more personable business. Over the next year, Daniela blossomed into the welcoming local dog and cat grooming culture while continuing her passion for fostering. She often helped to rehome dog clients at the salon.
In her first 3 years of dog grooming, Daniela has handled dogs of all breeds, ages, and temperaments. Looking back, she fondly remembers a few moments where she felt she made a meaningful difference. “One day, Winston, a standard poodle came into the salon after going without a groom for a over a year. It took about 45 minutes of careful dematting, but I was eventually able to get him to a 7 length when he got on the table. That sweet boy almost fell asleep in the tub and was so happy at the end that he pranced his way out, like a whole new dog!”
One of the most important lessons learned by Daniela is the power of soothing and gentle care during a dog's vulnerable moments. “Tessa was an older blind dog known to be very jumpy and prone to biting during her grooms. She came in one day and was also matted head-to-toe. I worked with her for a while, taking my time to be gentle and found that softly talking to her and loving her through the bath and dematting really eased her fear. She didn’t nip the entire appointment and reciprocated my love.”
I have always felt that dogs are more loving and honest than people. They have such a pure way of showing appreciation and love for what I do for them, more than any other being can! It is difficult to keep that love separate from my work-life.
In March of 2017, single motherhood turned Daniela’s focus back to family. She decided that it was time to move her daughter closer to her mother in Arizona, so made the transition to the Verde Valley in hopes of finding stability and to provide more for Rilynne and her pets. “I was really looking for a position with benefits. When I was fresh out of high school I worked for a while at a bank, so I used that experience to begin immediate work at Credit Union West in Camp Verde.”
It wasn’t long before she began to meet members of the Verde Valley pet community. She soon connected with a couple who, as it happened, had also begun their animal care journey by taking in dogs for friends and family. “I met Shawn who was a client of my bank. After many days of over-the-counter chit chat, I discovered that he and his wife, Jennifer, owned a canine resort and spa just down the road. After I mentioned our shared passion he gave me his card and told me to give him a call if I ever wanted to revisit grooming.” This offer proved to be very tempting for Daniela. The more thought she gave to Shawn’s offer the more she began to miss working with her four-legged clients. “I have always felt that dogs are more loving and honest than people. They have such a pure way of showing appreciation and love for what I do for them, more than any other being can! It is difficult to keep that love separate from my work-life.”
We are so excited to announce that this month, Daniella has accepted our offer to be Hillside’s full-time resident groomer at the Camp Verde resort location! She has already brought so much passion for animal care and hospitality to the styling room and has shown impressive skill with timid and uncertain pups of all breeds and ages. Interested in bringing your pooch in for a groom? Give the front office a call to make your appointment today! 928-567-6304
We are so thankful for the family of dog-loving professionals that help Hillside’s day-to-day operations run smoothly. We strongly believe that a balanced staff of youthful and enthusiastic animal lovers complimented by mature service industry and dog veterans creates a bright and well rounded atmosphere for any business in the canine care industry. Therefor we go through great lengths to train fresh personalities in order to give ground-up opportunities to those dedicated to our cause. One of the youngest additions to our team shows a perfect example of someone who has seized this opportunity, and we would like to honor her commitment to her work in this month’s employee spotlight!
These days Lena enjoys getting to know the unique personalities of our clients' four-legged companions and fully appreciates their huge hearts and warm personalities. She fondly likens them to the many horse friends she has had throughout her life. “I believe both horses and dogs have similarly amazing qualities, especially their by-your-side nature. They both can sense your energy and how you feel at any given moment, and their unconditional love is always there to help you through things in life.”
We couldn’t be happier to have Lena on the Hillside team. Her compassion and pure kindness is a lovely addition to our family of dog-lovers, and we looke forward to watching her grow into her newly deepened love for dogs! Do you have a dog enthusiast in your life who would love the chance to turn that passion into a career? We're hiring! Send them here to apply today. We welcome people of all ages and from all walks of life, as long as they share our teams compassion for our guests both two and four-legged alike.
One of our favorite parts of working to provide canine services and trained dogs to the community is the flood of thank-you emails that we receive on a weekly basis. We love to hear from people with whom we have had a positive affect on their lives. Just recently, one very special email stood out to us, and we just had to reach out to them for a follow-up! Get to know Kristi and take a look at how Rossi has changed her life.
Kristi Knight is a Texas native born and raised in Weatherford, a smaller city about half the size of Flagstaff. Growing up, Kristi was fortunate enough to live with the same two canine companions from the age of 6 to adulthood, and still feels the compassion learned from that bond to this day. In July of 2018, Kristi decided to expand on that empathy for others through enrollment in the ASU Doctorate program with a focus on Occupational Therapy.
People often think of police Rottweilers and German Shepherds when they think of protection dogs. Temperament and training, however, is just as important... Any dog with the right drive and sense of loyalty to their owner has the potential be a protection dog.”
Despite her excitement to further her career, moving to the Phoenix area proved to be a bit of a shock. At more than a million and half people, compared to the 30,000 in Weatherford, Phoenix’s sprawling urban area changed her perspective on what it means to live independently while feeling safe. “Living in downtown alone I felt very uneasy – I had just moved into a city for the first time, started graduate school, and didn’t know anyone in Arizona.”
Enter Hillside K9 Academy. Just one month after her move, Kristi decided a protection dog would be the best option to ease her big-city anxiety. After an extensive internet search, she landed on Hillside’s website, and decided to pay the facilities a visit. Kristi showed drove up fully anticipating the need to adjust to living with a large-sized protection breed, compared to her childhood companions. “This is a common misconception that we hear often,” Hillside’s manager, Jennifer, shares, “People often think of police Rottweilers and German Shepherds when they think of protection dogs. Temperament and training, however, is just as important as pedigree, and size does not matter at all. Any dog with the right drive and sense of loyalty to their owner has the potential be a protection dog.” After a detailed discussion with Kristi about her lifestyle and needs, Jennifer offered to bring out the Academy’s available dogs for a meet and greet, beginning and ending with Rossi.
Rossi is a medium sized Dutch Shepherd, a relative of the German Shepherd, but slimmer and with a focused and more mellow disposition. She was one of the first puppies that Jennifer invested in when she and Shawn opened the facilities in 2014. “She has always been my favorite,” Jennifer says, “and although it was bittersweet putting her up for adoption, I was determined to find the perfect owner that would love her as much as I do.” Upon meeting Rossi, it was love-at-first sight for Kristi, “When Rossi was brought out, we clicked instantly. It was a match made in heaven!”
6-months later, Kristi and Rossi are now an inseparable pair. “Rossi continues to astound me with her intelligence, alertness and puppy-like joy. Since adopting her, I have felt absolutely safe, never lonely, and am always happy to return home. She made my transition easier and more enjoyable. Rossi is incredibly intelligent, poised and alert – she gets compliments daily on her good looks and obviously obedient disposition. And even at 4 years old, she picks up new tricks in under 10 repetitions!”
Rossi’s protection, alerting, and home security training is only part of her new life. As any trainer will agree, you can teach a dog a to be a driven working animal with and infinite number tasks, but they will always remain true their loyal companion and puppy-like nature. Kristi fondly sees the proof of this daily, “Rossi loves plush toys and carries one with her anywhere, and anytime I let her; whether we’re on a run, sitting out in public, or just out and about. She also enjoys sitting on my feet and knocks my phone out of my hands when she’s not getting enough attention.”
These days, when Kristi isn’t in school, she resumes her previous life of hiking, trail running, and hanging out in coffee shops with Rossi by her side. “She has brought an incredible amount of joy, security, companionship, and adventure into my life. The stability she affords me as a graduate student in a huge bustling city cannot be overemphasized. I am so thankful to have Rossi!”
The best part of this pairing, for us at Hillside, is that we still get to visit with Rossi during her regular grooming and boarding visits!
“It has eased my mind when traveling to know that Rossi is safe, being treated well by people she knows and is comfortable with,” Kristi shared with us, and we are more than happy to provide that for the both of them for many years to come.
Are you looking for your perfect canine companion? Check out the current trained dogs for sale on our sister site here.
Every month, we like to shine the spotlight on a Hillside family member, whether they are an employee or client who has touched our hearts and made daily life at our beautiful facility a bit brighter. This month, we are taking a look behind the scenes and introduce to you someone you not have seen in your visits, our Kennel Technician in the “Barn”, David McMurtrey!
3 years ago, we were fortunate enough to have been discovered online by a local animal enthusiast, David, who was looking for supplemental work with dogs. Since the day that Shawn, Hillside K9 Academy’s head trainer reached out in response to his inquiry for a position, he has played an integral role in the overall quality of life for our dogs in residence. Whether it is taking our canines-in-training out for exercise, making sure their kennels are clean, and keeping a very close eye on any concerning behaviors or health matters, David has always gone above and beyond in his daily work, with compassion and attention for detail.
“I have had dogs of all kinds since childhood. Not being around them or loving my own is an unimaginable thought.”
A Tucson native, David grew up surrounded by beloved working cattle and ranch dogs on his family’s property. Also the son of a veterinarian, he was exposed to the animal medical world through his mother’s work at a local private clinic. This sometimes-sobering daily experience combined with the closeness to his furry childhood companions led to many years of passionate animal work into his adulthood. “I have had dogs of all kinds since childhood. Not being around them or loving my own is an unimaginable thought.”
In 2011, David migrated to the Verde Valley to be closer to the majority of his family who have settled in this area over the last decade. He immediately began work at the Verde Valley Humane Society as a Kennel Technician and spent the next several years fulfilling his animal interests through care for local dogs and cats in need. “At the humane society I developed a strong set of organizational skills and really learned how important cleanliness is to the over-all well being of rescue animals. I work to apply this daily in my time spent at Hillside.”
Work ethic wasn’t the only thing that David picked up in his time at the shelter. He also gained an important companion, in the form of Athena. “Athena was 1 of 3 Belgian Malinois pups that were unfortunately shoved into a crate together and abandoned outside the shelter one day. Sadly, we saw this situation often, and frequently found loose dogs roaming the property with a food dish and belongings sitting by the front door.” Something about the lively spirit of Athena, however, spoke to David, and he brought her home to meet his Shepherd-Malinois mix, Ruger. Despite their very different personalities, through time, Athena and Ruger became inseparable. “Ruger is very much a clingy and needy dog. He loves to cuddle and is a big teddy bear. Athena is a bit ornerier and can be jealous for attention. In their dynamic, she has established herself as the alpha dog, which he seems to accept.”
[This] was not part of my plan, but sometimes animals just choose you... I think we are both resigned to the fact that we are stuck with each other for life.
Just last year this unique pair produced their first litter of puppies. David did not plan on keeping their offspring, as the two of them keep his hands full daily, and easily found good homes with friends and family for 7 of the 8 beautiful pups. “Keeping ‘Puppy’, as I fondly call him, was not part of my plan, but sometimes animals just choose you. The last remaining of the litter was so well behaved, and we already have developed a strong bond. I think we are both resigned to the fact that we are stuck with each other for life. Now he is almost 50 lbs. and has become an affectionate cuddler like his dad,” David shared warmly.
When not working with the dogs at Hillside, David spends most of his time with his four-legged family, often hiking, swimming, and exploring the area’s beautiful landscape. “Both at home and in my career, I truely believe that my passion for dogs will never end. I plan on doing this for the rest of my life.”
And we at Hillside are so thankful for that resolution! David is a stable and inspiring player in our daily operations, both at the Resort and the Academy. We look forward to many more years of growing alongside him in our service to the local dog community.
As anyone who has run a business knows, adding a new location is like doing a thousand piece jigsaw while piloting an airplane. Well this year we count ourselves blessed, because the last (most important!) piece of our Dewey location puzzle just happened to be in the right place at the right time; a talented, experienced, and sunny dog grooming veteran, a cherished thing in this area! We are excited to introduce Anne King, the newest addition to the Hillside family, who is now co-pilot for our new Boutique Dog Salon at the corner of 169 and 69 in Dewey, Arizona. Join us for the Dewey Dog Party: Hillside Grand Opening on December 1st from 9am-3pm!
Anne has been a lifelong animal lover. Born and raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, caring for and wrangling four legged friends has always been a part of her life. So it was only natural that in school she would actively continue her education in programs like Future Farmers of America and Farmer Union Junior.
After school, Anne’s life expanded, earning her the fond nickname from her father, “Gypsy,” due to her love for new places and wayward demeanor. A former military wife and traveler, she has lived everywhere from Oklahoma and Dallas, Texas to Germany and Idaho.
While living in Dallas in 2008, Anne had the goal to get her foot in the door in the animal industry. Little did she know that life would fling her head first in that direction. After accepting a position as an entry level dog bather at a chain pet store, Anne became grooming salon manager within just 1 year! Anne’s following birthday also offered another affirmation with the chance meeting of her future husband during a karaoke celebration. Also an avid animal lover and former dog trainer, it seemed they were moving in similar directions in life.
Years later, Anne accepted a position within the company in Idaho, but soon became restless in the corporate atmosphere. Not wanting to leave her work with furry friends, she accepted a grooming position in a local animal rescue clinic called Scraps, just over the Washington border. “I loved working with animals in need, comforting them with baths after sometimes harrowing ordeals was very fulfilling. Seeing the change in personality and light in their eyes after a good dematting and shave made it all worth it. It is amazing how life changing a simple groom can be for a dog. Not only did it increase their chances of adoption, but it also afforded them a lot more affection from those around them. ” she shared.
Before and Afters of Anne's Canine Clients at
HillsideCanine Resort and Spa, Dewey!
Just this month, Anne, her two children, husband, and two dogs made one last big move after selling their Idaho home, and settling down in Chino Valley. As fate would have it, her move to the area lined up perfectly with the expansion of our Resort and Spa, just a short trip away in Dewey! Hillside owner Jennifer and Anne have been working together closely since our soft opening this month to perfect the area’s first boutique dog salon at the corner of Hwy 169 and 69. Please join us for our grand opening tomorrow, December 1st from 9am-3pm for games, refreshments, and free nail trims!
This month we are shining the spotlight on another training success story from our clients, Gioia and Eric! We never tire of helping transform dogs into fully integrated members of our community’s families. We find it eternally fascinating how different canine siblings display diverse personalities, and sometimes, levels of mischief!
Gioia Cohen and her husband, Eric, first met in Alabama working in the health industry, and have been serving the Verde Valley community for over 12 years through Gioia’s nursing and music and Eric’s work as an Interventional Cardiologist. Growing up, they have both always had dogs and occasionally cats. “We were youngest children in our families, so our dogs were our best friends as long as we can remember!” Gioia shared.
Currently, they live with their children and two dogs, 7-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog Lizzie, and 3-year-old White Golden Retriever, Lucca. “Lizzie thinks she is a lap dog, although she weighs almost 70 pounds. When we first got her, I did not want her on the furniture, so I searched for the perfect bed to fit both of us, so that I sit with her.” When they found Lucca, whose mother’s name also happened to be Gioia, they knew they had to have him. “I mean, how can we not have a puppy from another Gioia!” she laughed.
“Our animals provide love, companionship, and warmth unimaginable, they make us laugh and feel loved every single day.”
Gioia and Eric can often be found cuddling with their furry loved ones, and when family relax-time is over, their children love to take them on hikes and take advantage of Lucca’s retriever instincts through daily ball throwing. “Our animals provide love, companionship, and warmth unimaginable,” said Gioia, “they make us laugh and feel loved every single day.”
The Cohen family have been Hillside clients for 2 years now, and we have been thrilled to get to know their two and four-legged family. “While boarding and grooming with Hillside has made our life easier, it is the training that has been the most valuable.” Early on, Lucca, the younger of the two dogs, was described as a gentle but rambunctious fellow. Although easily potty trained and taught to be mannerly with his food, Gioia struggled with his behavior around other people. His older sister, Lizzie, was more behaved, but really knew how to push her little brother’s buttons and exerted her influence to help him misbehave. “We solicited the help of Shawn in training Lucca in hopes that better manners would help neutralize the encouraged problem between the two. After a few week stay at their in-kennel bootcamp program, not only did he come home a gentleman, he was also healthy and happy!” The family was delighted at this transformation and it was apparent to them, during a customary follow up session before returning home, that a bond has developed between trainer and dog. “It was obvious that Lucca loved Shawn, and that Shawn cared about Lucca, too. I think that was the key in the success of his training.”
"...not only did he come home a gentleman, he was also healthy and happy!"
The Cohen family love the rural setting of the Hillside facilities. When asked how they would describe their visits they shared, “It feels like a happy place for your animals the minute you drive up. The thing we like best, though, is the care that the entire staff displays for our dogs. Jennifer and Shawn have a great team and the dogs are always so excited when we arrive there. That makes it so easy for us to take them no matter what service we are using, and isn’t that what all pet parents want?”
Thank you so much to the Cohens for letting us peek into the life of your beautiful family and for sharing your Hillside experience with us. We always love to see Lizzie and Lucca’s happy faces pull up to the front office and look forward to many happy years of service to you!
Jennifer and Shawn have a great team and the dogs are always so excited when we arrive there. That makes it so easy for us to take them no matter what service we are using, and isn’t that what all pet parents want?”
We love to hear the success stories from our clients and students at Hillside K9 Academy. It fills our heart to see the difference that our service can make in a family’s life and keeps us propelled forward in our passion to serve the community! Today we will spotlight one of our favorite stories, that of Benigne Dohms, her husband, and their working dogs.
Benigne’s dynamic story begins right after her husband’s job brought them unexpectedly from the University of Michigan to the desert of Tucson, Arizona. For many, the change of scenery would be a shock, but they immediately fell in love with the terrain, culture, and the ability to experience “The West.” After living there for a time, his career in exploration geology eventually transplanted them again to the foothills of California where he assisted in redevelopment of gold mines, and then again to Northwest Florida to oversee groundwater studies for superfund sites. When retirement began to appear on the horizon, there was no real question of where to go next, as their hearts longed to return to Arizona. In 2012, Benigne and her husband settled down in Payson, to a home that sits on a hill and has an unobstructed view of the Rim.
For Benigne, dogs have been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, and she has owned them since the age of 20. “Dogs have brought me smiles and laughter when I needed it. They have taken me on adventures and road trips to places I might not have ever seen otherwise. The regular exercise and long walks have kept me physically fit. Although a dog can’t talk, from them I have learned a different understanding of trust, unconditional love, responsibility, and the simple joys that gladden a heart. I have learned to try new things, overcome fear, and am better at accepting “failure” when tests, shows, or trials don’t result in a qualifying ribbon. My dogs are too often very good at embarrassing me, but I have also learned how to overcome humiliation because of them, and have gained patience, perseverance, and endurance.”
Later in life, Benigne’s passion fell on a specific breed, the Polish Lowland Sheepdogs, or more commonly known: PON. Over the years, people have often asked her Why this Breed?
“Around the year 2000 I was doing research for a newsletter article on Poland when I came across information on the breed; it was love at first sight the moment I saw a picture of these dogs, but being 100% Polish, I knew I had to have one.”
At that time, the PON was still a rare breed in the U.S., with long waiting lists for prospective owners. In September of 2005, after 5years of patience, she finally brought home her first, Olek, and life for her has not been the same the since.
Olek was named for her great-uncle, Aleksander Kosiba, an avid explorer, professor of glaciology and climatology, and published author of books about his expeditions to Greenland. “Amazingly, my Olek had the same mischievous and warm personality as that of his namesake!” Trained in advanced agility, and earner of over a dozen AKC and UKC titles, Benigne opted to not enter trials with him so as to have time for a wider variety of activities. To this day she does not regret the extra personal time she was able to spend with him as a result. “We sadly lost Olek less than two months after he was diagnosed with a very rare nose cancer; there had been no signs or symptoms, the cancer was found by accident and baffled veterinary medicine.”
The Polish Lowland is an extremely intelligent breed with an incredible curiosity about everything, has an expression on its face known as a PON Smile, is adaptable to city or country living, is playful, virtually non-shedding, and filled with personality. “For a perfectionist, idealist, competitor, and ADDD person like me, this breed was both a match and a challenge.”
These days, she and her husband are kept company by their current Polish Lowland Sheepdogs, Bisia and Taz. Between the two of them, they have earned over 32 working dog titles. “Bisia [the polish equivalent of Betsy] is our prized herding dog. She is the first of her breed to ear herding tiles from AHBA and is currently the most titled Polish Lowland in the herding world! Taz lives up to the description of the iconic Tasmanian Devil. He is the first Polish Lowland to earn Lure coursing titles and needs only a few more point for his AKC CH title and has qualified for Barn Hunt.”
Benigne loves taking part in the wide world of dog sports and appreciates all the different flavors of working dog skills required to show and compete. She also connects with the teamwork and relationship that comes with the territory. “I would have to say that Rally, Tracking, and Herding are my favorite things to do with my dogs. Rally is fun, upbeat, and interactive, typically done indoors. Tracking is a quiet sport, requiring complete trust on the part of the handler to go with his/her dog. As it follows a scent laid in a series of right and left turns over a course of 440 or more yds to find an article placed at the end of the line. So, to speak; tracking fulfills natural activity outdoors for the dog and is a great opportunity for handler and dog to bond. Both Bisia and Taz are preparing for their field trials this fall, but herding is perhaps the one sport I really enjoy because there is something very powerful, almost magical in seeing the natural ability of a dog come to life when allowed to interact with sheep or goats.”
Although very fulfilling, Benigne’s experience with working dogs hasn’t always been a breeze. When acquiring Taz from his breeder, they asked her what she wanted in a puppy. However, what she found in Taz was far more than the “energetic, outgoing, fearless, playful show quality” pup that she had envisioned. Taz was entered in a Puppy Class at 10 weeks of age and excelled with everything taught to him. A very outgoing dog, he even began introductory herding by 12 weeks of age. He was also taking a Handling Class to prepare for the show ring. Everywhere he went, he had a good time and showed it in exuberant body language and barking. “I was told to ignore the barking, he would outgrow it, it was his way of saying I’m happy. Looking back now, I see what was the beginning of ‘demanding’ to be noticed, to be paid attention to in all the places he went for classes or training.”
Between the ages of 7 months and 1 year, Taz spent most of the time in the Northwoods, on acreage, and generally away from people. This gap in adequate socialization, other than being with Bisia, brought out the extreme Alpha in Taz; and he was diagnosed by some as “reactive” and “aggressive”. Benigne soon found herself in a tight spot. “All obedience classes offered in Phoenix generally are evening classes, held in the winter months; living in Payson makes it burdensome to return home after 11 pm from such classes, and travel in snow or ice eliminated me from all of the training offered by clubs, or so I was told.”
As the barking and half-friendly sounds from Taz grew worse and worse, Benigne took part in fewer and fewer dog sports with him. By the time he was 15 months old, she had tried a variety of collars, leashes, and harnesses to reduce his pulling and tendency to lunge at people and dogs, and by age 2, had given in and was using a prong collar.
In late spring of this year, Benigne saw a post on Facebook for a group class at Hillside. All the features of the class mentioned in the announcement sounded like what she had been searching for. “Within 5 minutes after my arrival that first evening, Shawn instantly recognized what I needed help with and began immediately to work with Taz. No dog I have ever had has been as great of a challenge in good behavior training as this one, yet Shawn is the first person to break through to the canine level of Taz and help him become a better and happier dog.”
Benigne has since reached out and thanked the trainers at Hillside for the amazing difference that she has seen in Taz. We were so touched by her story, we asked if we could publish it in hopes that more of our clients will come forward with theirs as well! Do you have something to share about your experience with training at Hillside K9 Academy? For the month of September, we are offering $5 coupons towards daycare, boarding and grooming to anyone who leaves us a review on Yelp, Facebook, or Google. Just reach out and let us know your story and save instantly on services for your canine companion!
As the change of season approaches this September, we are excited to celebrate the 3 year anniversary of our close friend and Hillside Lead Kennel Technician, Lynda Zellner! Find out about Lynda’s hand in helping Hillside K9 Academy come to fruition, and how she came to be one of our most important family members.
Although originally from New Mexico, Lynda Zellner is as much an Arizonan Native as anyone around. After falling in love with the Northern Arizona landscapes and culture, Lynda's family put down roots here in the Verde Valley in 1972. Since childhood Lynda has lived in rural Camp Verde, and has never had an urge to leave.
In her adult Life, Lynda has made it a point to surround her with animals. For 20 years, she owned and operated an established Camp Verde grooming business, and developed strong ties with local dog owners from all walks of life. She gained the respect of her peers two and four legged alike, and although life has thrown her curve balls, her path has never wavered. After nearly two decades in the canine business, Lynda retired from entrepreneurship in 2005 to pursue a long-creeping passion: dog agility.
“I developed a taste for agility training after falling in love with the Australian Cattle Dog Breed. They are very high energy and work-driven dogs, with quick minds. Many people who own cattle dogs find them to be overwhelming, but really, they just need a job to do. Working agility really works out well for high energy dogs of any breed, as it keeps their mind stimulated and helps keep their bodies in shape.”
Lynda’s drive for agility training never showed signs of slowing, and she mastered the art quickly. Not much time passed before her home in Camp Verde developed into a full blown training facility as she added more and more equipment to her property. As soon as Lynda realized that this driven interest of hers was not going to pass, she invested in her first Aussie dog, Willow. It became apparent that this investment paid off as the two of them moved on to win countless ribbons and several titles in shows across the four corners.
Lynda’s accomplishments did not stop there, however, as her reputation began to spread. Soon members of the community began bringing their high-energy pups to her for training. “Ziva was my most memorable pupil. She and Willow often competed and received ribbons side by side. They became fast friends, and her owner and I still love taking them hiking and swimming together. They always have a blast.”
After Willow’s accomplished retirement from competition, Lynda’s next canine investment came in the form of JD. “I worked with JD for a few years, and he showed great promise!” Unfortunately, life had other plans, when JD developed hip Dysplasia, and was not able to enter into competitions. “I don’t think he minds his early retirement. He really enjoys being the spoiled baby of the family, and still gets plenty of exercise on the property.”
Lynda’s next pupils arrived in the form of Cleopatra Diamond, and Cheyenne. “Cheyenne is my youngest dog. She has been great, and is already beginning to compete at just 3 years old. Cleo is a rescue Cattle dog and still has a bit to go, but I am working with her diligently and have high hopes.”
To supplement her agility training, Lynda began work at Montezuma Veterinary Clinic as a kennel technician. There she met Shawn and Jennifer Tucker, who were regular clients. Lynda connected with Shawn through their shared passion for training, and the three of them became close friends. Shawn had many local training and boarding clients and was beginning to run out of room on their property. Thankfully Lynda offered her training course, which began their professional working relationship.
In September of 2015, Lynda left her position at Montezuma Veterinarian, and reached out to Shawn and Jennifer, who had opened the Hillside facilities nearby just a few years before. They were excited to bring Lynda, with her canine expertise, into the family, and have been so happy to work with her these last 3 years.
These days, when Lynda isn’t working with the other Kennel Techs at Hillside Canine Resort & Spa, she continues her work with Cheyenne and Cleo, and still trains many dogs in the community, often going as far as volunteering for field trips with Hillside clients like Casey, an Irish Setter who needed a bit of socializing. “When Casey’s mom was in town, we would take him down to the creek with my other dogs, and have loved seeing him grow and learn by example. He has come a long way, and adds to my daily drive to help our community of four legged friends!”
If you see Lynda during your next visit to the Hillside Facilities, feel free to say "Hi!" This spotlight, along with all of our September specials, event announcements, and more fun tid bits will be featured in our Monthly Newsletter. Not a subscriber? Sign up on our Facebook page!
Kaila Haas - Passionate animal lover and fan of the Hillside Canine Resort & Spa family!