Owner & Lead Trainer
The longer I work with dogs, the more I see that we are very much the same. Motivated by positive and negative results. We do what works, what gains results and, more importantly, what our environment supports because it keeps us safe. I see over and over again that we try to fit dogs into two categories, good or bad, rather than appreciating what makes them unique and walking their journey with them. When I stop and think about it, I realize we humans do this to each other too! Instead of seeking understanding, we stigmatize “bad” dogs, as well as their owners. But we all should have a chance to learn and do better everyday. Sometimes we need guidance and knowledge to make a different choice rather than the one we are comfortable with. Our behaviors are learned patterns, and if they work then why not repeat them? It takes courage and support to trust that the different choice is safe and someone is advocating for us to be successful.
Growing up I found companionship in the company of dogs. Whether caring for my own childhood dog Sadie or walking my neighbors’ dogs, I was always happiest when I was with dogs. They were my safe space.
I left home after high school, seeking my purpose. I decided that I wanted to help misunderstood teens, which ultimately led to a bachelor's degree in Social Work. But during this time I continued to gravitate toward dogs, and decided to foster-to-adopt a dog from a pitbull rescue. And this is how I met Sara, who would forever change my life.
Sara’s story was the stuff that ASPCA commercials are made of. Like so many pitbulls, she had been handed a raw deal, experiencing far more suffering in her first 2 years than any creature should in a lifetime, eventually ending up in a high-kill Miami shelter, hidden away from public view, and destined to be put to death through no fault of her own. Sara opened my heart, but she also opened my eyes to a world that enraged me. I sympathized deeply with the plight of these misunderstood pitbulls, being labeled and discriminated against, abused and damned for surviving and poured all my free time into volunteering with the organization that had rescued Sara, doing everything from walks and vet appointments to home checks and vaccinations.
Sara taught me about love and acceptance, but she also taught me that love isn’t enough on its own. In hindsight, my story with Sara was the same one that I often hear from my clients now. For a few blissful months, we were in love and everything was wonderful. But as Sara settled into her new life, she became protective on leash which resulted in me being fearful to take her on walks. And so the cycle of leash reactivity began! I knew I was in over my head and sought help, but all the classes I reached out to wanted nothing to do with reactive dogs and ongoing private training was well outside of my limited college student budget. I was so frustrated! But I was determined to help Sara. It was important to me that she not be labeled and stereotyped by what people saw on the outside. And so, fueled by my extensive shelter volunteer work and my love for Sara, I began a rigorous self-education on dog training and reactivity.
Then one day I received a call that put me squarely on the path I’d been flirting with (though I didn’t know it at the time). A local doggy daycare and training facility was looking for a manager. I was being offered a real job to work with dogs! In addition to learning pet first aid, food and nutrition, and all about dogs in play and groups, I learned how to manage people and a business. Despite how much I loved this job though, I knew that I needed to make a change. I longed for a deeper connection with nature, and Sara desperately needed more space. So after college graduation, on little more than a whim, I loaded everything I owned into a U-Haul trailer and Sara and I set out for the Pacific Northwest.
We arrived in Portland, Oregon in September of 2012. I landed a job in Social Work (because that’s what you’re supposed to do with a new degree - get a job in your field, right?) and spent a year intimately learning about our system of learned helplessness. But more than anything, I learned that my place wasn’t with teens as I thought it might be. It was creating positive change with dogs and their people. So I ditched the Social Work job and founded The Balanced Dog.
And the rest, as they say, is history.