Everyone deserves a second chance: Client spotlight with Simone, Owner of A Dog's Behavior

by Nicole Gagnon in May 4th, 2023

Everyone deserves a second chance. In this case, dogs gave Simone—owner of A Dog’s Behavior in Washington, DC—a chance to turn her life around. For most of her life, Simone has been around animals, but for a brief period, that was not the case. During that time, she went through a rough patch and got into some trouble. Caring for and training rescue dogs is how she found herself again. This is not the typical story about how most people get into the pet care industry, but it’s something Simone is proud of and happy to share with others. There’s an important message to be learned, and one that we’re excited to share with you.

Getting involved

Many years ago, Simone got into some trouble that resulted in her incarceration. During her time spent in prison, Simone learned a lot about herself. Her involvement in the Pups on Parole program, started by Rachel Vosko, had a huge impact on her life and helped lead her to where she is today. The program focuses on connecting inmates with dogs from a local shelter to help rehabilitate them and prepare them for life outside the shelter. For many of the women who completed the program, it helped them prepare for life on the outside as well.

The program included about 48 women. Each was assigned their role based on their strengths and weaknesses. The goal was to help rehabilitate rescue dogs who have gone through trauma. The program included obedience, training, activities, and enrichment. Although it may seem like a no-brainer to some, Simone had some hesitations about joining the program. “A warden was actually the one that convinced me to join. They said they thought it would be a good fit for me and that I could benefit from the experience, especially since I was a role model inmate. I took them up on the offer and never looked back. I absolutely loved it and learned so much about myself. It taught me better discipline and control of myself. You have to have a certain energy to be around dogs, and it helped me channel my energy and maintain a calm and still manner, especially in stressful situations.”

It took about 2 years for Simone to complete the program from trainee to handler. “I learned so many things. My first job in the program was nutrition—learning about different things that go into foods, diets, and what is best for a dog. The second job within the program was more community building—doing a playtime activity out in the yard with up to 30 dogs running around. I did that for about 4 months, and that taught me a lot about a dog’s body language and natural behavior. Now, things that may scare others aren’t red flags to me because of that experience and what I learned. I feel body language is very important, and we can learn a lot about a dog from the things they tell us with their body language. My last job was facilitating the program. From being present during commands, working with trainees in training, and critiquing to see when others are ready and able to move on to the next role. At that time, it was so stressful because there wasn’t a moment you could really relax. The dogs and their stuff lived with each of us in an already small space. It was tight, and some had up to 4 dogs at a time with them in their space. That type of environment really helps a dog learn how to focus their mind and be in a small space like an apartment or condo and it helps ground them. Our return rate for dogs was very low, and I was very proud of that. The experience helped me become very well-rounded in caring for dogs.”

After a dog completes the program and passes their commands as well as behavioral and health checks, they go up for adoption at Rachel’s shelter. “They come to us in need of help. We give it to them, and then they leave us. It helped us learn to let things go. It’s very intriguing, some people have 6-7 months together with a dog, and you bond with the dog and become attached. Once they decide a dog is ready for adoption, you get 4 days to write a profile for the dog, and you are a part of the process of getting the dog adopted. It’s hard! You’re telling everyone everything you love about this dog, and you realize you’re about to lose these things—but for good reason—and hopefully, for them to live in that home forever.”

Even after completing the program, it wasn’t immediately apparent to Simone that this is what she wanted to do with her life. “I knew the feeling it gave me, but I didn’t know this is what I wanted to do even then. Everyone around me would say it. That’s actually where my Instagram name, @the_doggdiva, came from. and I stuck with it after the program. I’ll be honest—I didn’t want to do anything with dogs at first. I finished my last 3 years incarcerated not being a part of the program. Then when I was released, I did nothing with dogs at all. I worked in recycling.”

While still living in Vegas, Simone met someone from Baltimore, who invited her to visit and took her to see Washington, DC. “I immediately fell in love with it there and knew it was where I wanted to be. I put my two weeks in at my job and began a new journey in DC. That’s when I really saw the need for pet care. I live by a park, and the amount of noise and activity coming from the dogs there got my attention. I wondered if anyone may need any help and if I could get a job taking care of the dogs. I checked out Indeed and searched for something that I would be comfortable doing. I didn’t have a lot of confidence, so I wanted something that I already knew. I looked into doggy daycare, but I felt insecure about my background which is not uncommon for someone like me who has done time. I ended up getting hired as a daycare attendant, and then they asked me to start walking dogs too. After 3 weeks, I already had a schedule of regular walks. I got to meet so many dogs with so many different personalities and had so many cool conversations with them. It was really just my jam, and it felt really good. I really believe that dogs are meant to be outside, and I saw firsthand while incarcerated how regular outside exercise made a difference, and it proved that they needed to be outside as much as they could. Walks were a great way to do that, and I loved it.”

Unfortunately, there were some complications that resulted in Simone having to unexpectedly return to Vegas. Due to the unexpected nature, the company she had been working for didn’t want to take her back when she returned to DC. “There’s so much wrong with that situation. I came back, and I couldn’t get a job. The company I walked for hadn’t told their clients what happened or where I had gone. I started to get texts from my regulars about walks, and I had to be honest about my past and what happened. The response was overwhelmingly positive! They said okay AND?… It inspired me to put up a Rover ad and then a Craigslist ad and really start to hustle and give myself a chance on my own. That was just the beginning.”

Building the business

After using Rover and Craigslist to get her start, Simone decided it was time to take the next step. For Simone, that was implementing her own software platform, PetPocketbook. Used by pet care professionals across the country, PetPocketbook is an all-in-one app to help Simone manage her business.

“It was like a godsend looking through all these other apps and finding PetPocketbook! It really helped me get organized, and it made me feel legit when I got set up. It gave me some serious courage and confidence, and I started picking up clients so quickly after that. It truly was a confidence booster that allowed me to feel like I am a real professional business owner, and I’m doing this. The best thing is the automated invoicing. I don’t have to worry about it at all. They say the finances are where people mess up a lot, but PetPocketbook helps me keep track of so much. At the end of the year, it makes my life so much easier come tax time. I have everything I need all right within the app so I know I’m doing it right. Another thing I love is being able to add videos, and videos that look good. The Rover video feed isn’t great so having high quality videos that I can share with my clients is awesome. It makes a huge difference for me.”

Today, Simone and her business are thriving. She just brought on her first team member, and she’s excited to continue growing the business in the future. “We have hired someone! Today was her first training day, and she’s amazing. I’ve been wanting to be able to expand, and I’m so excited to be able to do that with my new team member! We have so many Meet & Greets lined up, and I’m so excited and proud to see A Dog’s Behavior being a thing. When hiring, I look for compassion, patience, and reliability. They have to talk to the dog—we talk, we laugh, we share. We treat dogs like they have feelings and with eye contact. I believe it makes a difference.” We asked Simone what’s next. “I’d like to be hands-on with family and pet. Not just the dog behaving well with me, but actually do training with the dogs and people. The people need training too. While participating in the Pups on Parole program, participants were given a packet about how to maintain their dog’s behavior, and if they had questions, they could always reach back out to us. I’d love to be able to continue that with my own clients.” 

Simone’s advice

“Don’t try to be like everyone else. There’s more than one way to train a dog. Others may look down on you for the way you do things, but you have to do what works best for that dog, and what works best for you. In the program, I’d have to get approval for different methods if I thought that the dog needed a different training method. I used my energy to train dogs and realized the less focused dogs do better with treats. Have a conversation with the dog to understand their needs, and you are never going to be able to do that if you’re always afraid of judgment from others.”

If you find yourself to be in a tough spot in life, Simone recommends getting involved in a program like Dogs on Parole. “Just do it! I used to try to recruit girls in there. People were always fearful of the dog and their smell or all the hair, but it’s so rewarding. I’d say go and get in tune with yourself and the dogs. Whenever you need to learn about yourself, you should do some sort of animal therapy. I think it’s helped me find who I am today. I always felt I had a special connection with animals. At a young age, my dad took me horse riding. Little black kids don’t ride horses, but I just hopped right up there, and it came natural to me. Any dog we had growing up was always a rescue, and they always took to me so well. And for a while, I lost that. I’m so happy I had animal therapy to being me back to who I am today. I am passionate. I am determined. I’m for the dogs. I am a dog person. I have turned clients down because they don’t want to listen to the best advice for their dogs, and I have such a heart for this that I can’t stand to watch it. It’s not about the money. It’s about what’s right for the dogs.”

Don’t be afraid to be yourself

If there’s anything we’ve learned about Simone, it’s that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Her positivity is infectious. She’s ambitious and caring. “I am a goofball, but I am disciplined now. There’s a time and place for everything, and right now, it’s discipline time. I have a lot I want to accomplish, so I have to work for it. I am not ashamed of where I have come from. I love myself, and I am who I am because of that. When I was locked up, everything they told me about how to handle things after you’re out is wrong. They say hide it. Don’t tell people. With that mindset, we’re trying to fit in a world that’s changed so drastically—whether it be 3 moths or 20 years, things move fast. I started out hiding my past, and it had to stop. Once I told people where I came from, people trusted me and appreciated that I didn’t lie to them or try to hide my past. First impressions are everything, so I initially am very vulnerable. I make it count, and I want people to know who I am without lying about it. You have a chance to write your own story, so start strong.”

Looking for a confidence boost and tools to set your business up for success? Book a demo with PetPocketbook to get started with a free 60-day trial!

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