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!
Kaila Haas - Passionate animal lover and fan of the Hillside Canine Resort & Spa family!