My work with children
Over the past 40 years I have done extensive animal-assisted activities with children and young adults and have witnessed an improvement in their mental health. I have coached, taught, and advocated for 4-H, girl and boy scouts, children from the Department of Child Protective Services, and disabled and handicapped children. Some of the children were considered to be at-risk, due to their family situations, disabilities, or delinquency, and others were honor students. These children assisted me in the actual rescue effort, training, and grooming of the animals we saved.
The greatest lesson learned by these children is how to be empathetic. Learning to be empathetic is like learning a new skill for children who have suffered from abuse or neglect. The children I worked with, who helped me rescue animals, learned to be empathetic, and also learned the skills to read emotions, and know and understand how the emotions felt. Rescue dogs show emotions through specific body language such as barring teeth, growling, tail wagging licking, ear position and posture. Children also learn to read the dog’s body language which helps them understand human social indicators, and facial expressions. Many of the children I work with don’t have loving parents to hug and show them love. Animals show children love they have never experienced before.
In helping me with the responsibilities associated with animal rescue, the children I work with learn to think of something other than themselves. Children in less than desirable situations are only concerned with their own feelings and safety. Many of the children have the same home lives as the animals they help me rescue. One may think introducing children to difficult and even sad situations might not be in their best interest, however, doing animal rescue with children who have extremely despairing home lives, takes the children’s minds off what they are experiencing at home. The rescue dogs we save have a lot of baggage and show a range of emotions. The young people helping me offer the dogs a lot of one on one attention. Working with rescues is a great way to teach valuable job skills to the children as well enhance their well-being.
The children I work with:
- Learn empathy
- Learn to read emotions
- Relate to abused and neglected animals
- Relate to disabilities suffered by animals
- Have love objects
- Learn valuable life lessons and employment skills
- Be a part of something bigger than themselves
- Help our community and environment
- Forget despairing situations for a short period
- Enhance their well-being and mental health
Working in groups empowers people
In January of 1991, a few years after opening the kennel, a large puppy mill was discovered East of Elko in the mountains. It had been abandoned due the large amount of snow fall which prohibited the owners from returning. The deserted puppy mill was discovered by a cowboy from one of the neighboring ranches checking for stray cattle. He was able to get through the deep snow on horseback. The conditions were deplorable. The temperature had dipped to 30 degrees below zero and had lasted close to three weeks. Hundreds of animals were starved, dehydrated, and frozen. Piles of dead animals were left to compost. Sixty-seven dogs had survived along with several rabbits.
The travesty united our community. On a bigger scale, it united our state. It even made national news. People from our community organized fund raisers and came together to help me care for and socialize the traumatized dogs. Donations poured in from all over the country after word of the grizzly discovery spread. The dogs were all spayed and neutered, other necessary surgeries were preformed, and then came the daunting task of finding them all homes. The dogs were not housebroken and most had social and separation anxiety. The dogs were adopted and returned many times before they eventually found permanent homes. Long after the community had gotten back to the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life, I was still dealing with the most difficult animals. It took almost two years before all the dogs were adopted to forever homes.
I found group cohesion to be one of the success factors in this rescue. I witnessed how the tragedy of the puppy mill caused emotional sharing among members of the rescue group. What I learned during those years, was sharing an emotional tragedy as a group, creates group cohesion. Emotions abound within the group. Emotions ranged from empathy for the animals to rage at the people responsible for abandoning and starving the animals. A sort of bonding occurred between members of the rescue group. Negative experiences shared by the rescue group motivated people to bond with each other, which explains why after almost 30 years, I am still very close to some of the people in the rescue group.
Working in groups can cause:
- Group cohesion
- Emotional sharing
- Multitude of group emotions
- Development of long lasting relationships
My work with at-risk youth and young people suffering from addictions
Two summers ago, I agreed to hire a young man recovering from addiction. Shawn was getting out of prison and had nowhere to go. His addiction had cost him everything. He moved in and began helping on our ranch. He loved the animals. As a recovering addicted he wanted to do something more than help himself. He was looking for a purpose. We began going to the local shelter, and he began socializing the rescue dogs. The one thing most shelters and rescue groups have in common is their need for help. The people who run these organizations are not the sort to turn someone away simply because that person has had some troubles of their own. Shawn felt a part of something bigger than himself. The atmosphere in the shelter was filled with hope and love, and the suffering that the animals and shelter workers had gone through previously only made them more grateful to have Shawn there helping them. The shelter was a place of redemption and renewal for Shawn, where he could celebrate the wonders of God’s great creatures, large and small, and the environment of love and unselfish commitment they provided had the power to help heal his mind and soul. We volunteered at the shelter several times a week.
The benefits from working with animals has been proven many times over. I watched Shawn’s stress and anxiety level diminish. He became focused and alert. Spending quality time with non-human companions helped him recover from his addiction. Working with the rescue animals helped Shawn bolster his self-esteem, and he even had a reduction in the painful physical symptoms he was feeling due to his addiction. I learned there is no doubt recovering addicts in particular, can be helped immensely by spending time with other beings who will give them unconditional acceptance and love. Doing rescue work changed Shawn’s focus. Previous to doing animal rescue he was scattered and unhappy. We found there is something deeply satisfying about being able to help creatures who need us so badly. Working in shelters or at other rescue facilities and caring for animals with sad histories, is uplifting and empowering in ways that can touch an addict profoundly and deeply.
I have learned, most addicts think only of their own needs. Shawn was no different until he started helping with rescue animals. I learned in doing small acts of kindness and selflessness, Shawn came in contact with the best aspects of himself. This made doing rescue work incredibly valuable for him after spending so many years selfishly putting his own needs above those of everyone else. Shawn had spent years repeatedly using and manipulating people in order to satisfy his desire for relief from the symptoms of addiction, and besides his need to detoxify his body, he also needed to cleanse his wounded spirit and remove the contamination left behind by years of abusive and self-centered past behaviors.
The hard reality of working at the shelter was knowing some of the animals were being euthanized because they didn’t have the temperament to fit into a loving homes. Shawn met Max, a fear biting Chihuahua, that was due to be put down. Shawn spent an entire week working with him and was finally able to hold him. This success sent his self-esteem soaring. We brought Max home to help Shawn fight his demons. I learned, with the help of animal rescue, even the most broken and jaded person, such as Shawn, can rediscover his or her deepest inner sources of compassion, which is an essential step for any addict who hopes to ascend from the pit of despair and shame that dominated his or her existence for so long. I learned that before anyone with a history of substance abuse can hope to find lasting sobriety, they must first rebuild their self-esteem. Self-esteem must be rebuilt to the point where addicts actually feel strong enough to accomplish difficult things and worthy enough to deserve the happiness and peace that was denied them during their years of battling the demons of addiction. Showing Max the love and compassion he needed, helped Shawn feel worthy and confident as well.
I have mainly been talking about the animals, but human beings who choose to dedicate their lives to rescuing innocent creatures in need, also benefit greatly from their determination to make a positive impact on a world filled with too much sadness and despair. Above all else, I have learned, recovering addicts need something new and worthwhile to live for, and a commitment to caring for animals who have been cast aside by society, can provide vital meaning and purpose where before there was only dependency and hopelessness.
In working with recovering addicts I helped them:
- Find love, understanding, and redemption working in shelters
- Feel needed
- Think of someone else’s needs besides their own
- Find relief from the symptoms of recovery
- Find compassion and empathy which has been hidden for so long
- Find hope from despair
- Bolster self-esteem
- Find something to live for
- Become confident
- Find responsibility in knowing a helpless animal depends on them
- Learn life and employment skills
The following quote hit home with me, not just in helping animals, but helping the people who care for these animals. If I can help one person through a tough spot, my life will have been lived for a purpose.
I looked at all the caged animals in the shelter.
The cast-offs of human society.
I saw in their eyes love and hope, fear and dread,
Sadness, and betrayal.
And I was angry.
“God,” I said, “this is terrible!
Why don’t you do something?”
God was silent for a moment, and then He
“I have done something,” He replied,
“I created you.”
–Jim Willis, from Pieces of My Heart: Writings Inspired by Animals and Nature.
I grew up on a cattle ranch in Northern Nevada. I know how important animals are to human well-being. Some of the animals became an intrinsic part of my soul, so I understood how important they are to the people who love them. I began showing and training dogs in 1976. I also began offering training classes for the public and youth in 4-H. In 1985, while I was at a dog show, my house sitter allowed my old, blind Schipperke, Star, to wander off. I know Star was looking for me. The house sitter didn’t tell me until I got home. I found Star in the gutter of the main highway. I was devastated. I knew, at that moment, I had to have a safe and loving place to leave my dogs while I was gone. From doing obedience classes before starting the kennel, I was aware people other than myself drastically needed a place to come for boarding, grooming, and training. I vowed to open a boarding kennel that would take care of the animals that people loved, the way I wanted mine taken care of.
In the fall of 1985, I began planning my dream business. I had little business experience, so I knew I had to do my homework. I began by visiting boarding kennels around the country. Visiting successful businesses is important when planning your own business. I suggest doing it in a different town; businesses in your own town may consider you a competition threat. I learned from each kennel owners’ successes and failures. The kennel owners were all very open with me about what they would do different the next time, or what they did that was successful. They shared copies of their boarding contracts and other paper work they used. They also shared ideas pertaining to pet food, and ways to make extra money. I agreed with some of their advice but not all of it.
I needed a name for my business. I wanted a name that would get people’s attention and make them curious. My two young sons, Brett and Beau, helped me decide on a name. They had many ideas and we finally came up with the name Brebeau Kennels. It was a combination of both boy’s names, Brett and Beau. The name satisfied everyone involved.
Through the research I was doing, I realized how important it was to draft a mission statement and business plan. The first thing I did was create a detailed plan which organized my ideas, objectives, marketing strategy, and operation procedures. The mission statement sets the stage for the business plan. The mission statement illustrates the business’s goals and purpose. A well written mission statement identifies the business to outsiders, possible clients, vendors, the media, and others. I would need both the mission statement and business plan to give to my attorney and accountant to finalize planning, lending institutions I would be dealing with, and the media for advertisement which is important in opening a new business.
I created a list of objectives for the first year. First year projections need to be realistic, but are an important tool separate from your business plan and mission statement. I also tried to project my cash flow, and expenses (power, sewer and water, building and land payment, taxes and licensing). I had to know if my projected yearly income would cover my over-head and leave me with a profit and no debt. Be specific and not vague if at all possible. My goal for the first year was to get up and running, pay my expenses, and make a modest salary for myself.
In order to apply for my Federal employer identification number (FEIN), I had to decide on my options of ownership. Not totally understanding the importance of incorporating, I decided to apply as a sole proprietorship. Sole proprietorships are the simplest and least costly to structure, and get up and running. A sole proprietorship must be limited to a single owner or married couple. Because I wasn’t using my name, but a fictitious name, I had to file a Certificate of Conducting Business Under an Assumed Name with the Elko County Clerk.
The next step was applying for a tax identification number, or FEIN. Having an FEIN is a must in obtaining financing, and getting other permits and licenses. Setting up an account for federal withholding, social security and Medicare, would allow me to hire employees and collect the necessary federal taxes and withhold them from their paychecks. The FEIN number would also identify my business when filing my federal tax return.
I had to obtain a state and county sales tax permit. I planned on selling pet food and training supplies and would be required by law to deduct sales tax. One of the fastest was to get shut down is by not paying sales tax. I had to get workman’s compensation insurance which was required by law, and liability insurance to protect my interest in case of injury or neglect to the clients or their animals. Most states require workman’s compensation to protect employees in case of injury or even death. Required dollar amounts, and types of workman’s compensation, differ from state to state. I was also required to obtain a county business license. I set up a business banking account as well. Filing all the paper work involved in starting a small business is a tedious process, but it is imperative to the success of the business.
Government permits and licenses are designed to ensure the business offers safe services and products that won’t harm people’s pets, themselves, or the environment. They also identify the business as an actual business, and are a way to hold the business owner accountable.
With a wealth of ideas, I began drawing up some rough plans for the kennel building. In doing the rough plans, I decided what the kennel building needed to contain to be workable and we also created a realistic budget. Once I had the rough sketches, I enlisted the help of a drafting student who had taken one of my obedience classes. She did a fabulous job of drafting a set of workable blueprints and only charged me $100 since she was still a student. When starting out with a limited budget, it is wise to be frugal and save money whenever possible. I then traded obedience classes to an engineer friend for going over the blue prints and stamping them with his official engineer stamp. I was ready to build. The only thing I needed was property to build on. Finding property close to town that the city and county zoning, and building inspectors would approve of might be tricky. I began the search for the perfect property.
I knew how important location would be for my business. I had heard the phrase, location, location, location, time and time again. Finding a location, close enough to town to be convenient for the customer and yet far enough out to be able to comply with zoning laws would be very important to my success. I knew several people who had tried to open a kennel but couldn’t comply with local zoning ordinances. I learned the zoning laws in our area are extremely rigid and the zoning officials relish sniffing out minor infractions and enforcing their zoning ordinances to the letter. I learned, because of noise restrictions, zoning for a kennel had to be zoned light industrial. Knowing all the zoning and building laws before actually building and planning your business can save time and money.
A friend I grew up with was just beginning to develop a high-end industrial park on the outskirts of town. It was actually in the County, but had city sewer and water. No one had purchased property from him yet so he offered me an amazing deal if I bought two of the one acre lots instead of one. I told him I would take them providing I could gain approval from the County and the City water and sewer department as well as the zoning officials.
I knew I would be met with resistance, as others had, in an attempt to open a kennel that close to town and especially using city sewer and water. I knew I better be well prepared to present my case at the County Commissioners meeting. Meeting with building and zoning officials takes vast amounts of research. Being able to answer any question clearly and in depth is imperative to successful approval. I researched the effect of animal waste on a sewer plant. I called the state water and sewer engineer and he confirmed what I had researched, animal waste was compatible with the city’s existing sewer system. He sent a written recommendation to take to the meeting. I had done a lot of planning on how to curb the noise of barking dogs. I designed the kennel in such a way that only four dogs on each side would be let out at once. I knew it would be a continual rotation of dogs in and out, but if I wanted approval, I knew it was something I would have to deal with. Besides, handling the dogs more often would be better for the dogs. I knew I would need to present my business plan as well, so I got busy revising my business plan. I finally had a business plan I could present to my lenders as well. Planning is the single most important element in the success of a business, and the most important element in getting approval by the planning commission.
The meeting went well. I was able to answer and address all their concerns, I gained approval from the County and City as well. Now all I needed was financing.
I was in need of financing to get my business started. I needed money to purchase the property, build the building, and operating capital to see me through until I was making a profit. I realized I needed help selling my idea to lending institutions, so I asked my accountant to add his touch to my business plan. I had projected my yearly income conservatively, but it wasn’t proven yet. As I began my search for financing, I was met with resistance by all the lending institutions I approached. They had never lent money to a business such as mine before and were fearful It wouldn’t be successful. Obtaining financing is not always an easy task and should never be taken for granted. I had to resort to bootstrapping, which is defined by Tyson & Schell, (2008), in Small Business for Dummies as: “The internal generation of initial financing, using primarily your own personal resources, and sometimes complemented by various forms of equity investments or loans from family, friends, and relatives” (pp 78).
I was a woman under thirty which was also a hindrance. My husband and I took stock of our assets and took out an equity line loan on our house and property to secure the money for the business property. My father agreed to loan me the money for the building materials and working capital. If bootstrapping, it is important to repay all the money to yourself and your family to prevent hard feelings and hard times.
My husband, being a building contractor, agreed to do the construction in his off time. He also had a concrete license. He would do most of the work, but we still needed to hire specialty contractors. He secured all of the sub-contractors needed; plumbers, electricians, sheetrock, painting, tile, and sheet metal contractors.
Construction began in the summer of 1986. By late fall, 1986, The building was complete. Even though we were conservative in the construction of our building, it turned out beautiful. It is important to research several building options, and go with the least expensive if you are working on a tight budget.
I had pens and an arena outside to board and train horses. Never put all your eggs in one basket, my Dad always told me.
While the kennel was under construction, and for all the years after we opened, I taught obedience classes to help develop human canine relationships. I still teach obedience classes to this day.
I visited my attorney to help draw up the boarding and hold harmless agreements. Together we came up with a boarding contract which would protect me as well as the clients and their pets.
I knew the importance of keeping good records. I met with my husband’s bookkeeper and ask her if she would be willing to become my bookkeeper as well. She agreed. She would do a great job because she was a certified public accountant and kept herself current on all the laws pertaining to federal and state reporting, as well as all new laws passed by the Internal Revenue Service.
With technology constantly changing, it is important for a business owner to stay on top of new technology used in marketing and bookkeeping. When I started my business, computer generated bookkeeping programs were not available. I used a very efficient ledger program. Even with all the technical changes, the elements of success remain constant. First, offer a service or product customers want. Secondly, Offer the service or products with efficient operation and savvy marketing, and last but not least have a solid financial management framework. I was sure I was doing all three, and I was set to open.
I had to learn the bookkeeping and accounting aspects of my business. It is important for an owner to create, and totally understand, the method of bookkeeping used. It is imperative to monitor the accounting regularly. I had to become familiar with accounts payable, accounts receivable, cash flow, assets, liabilities and net worth. I also had to figure the cost of those goods, the percentage of markup on goods sold, amount of sales, and profit or loss. Since I would be doing retail sales as well, I needed to secure wholesale distributors, and learn more about retail business.
Being a perfectionist, I demanded the same of my employees. I trained them to be efficient, kind, and knowledgeable. I learned a lot about marketing my business and did so in the most effective and cost efficient manner. Between my bookkeeper, my accountant, my financial management team, and myself, I was set for success. With everything in place, I opened in January, 1987.
By having a soft opening in January, I had a month to get everything right before I had my actual grand opening. We had our grand opening in February, 1987 and it was a huge success. We had almost 1000 people attend. We took everyone on a tour of the kennel and served hot dogs and punch. Even though the free hot dogs may have been the draw, I got people there to see the kennel and I knew they would spread the word. Word of mouth can be the best, or the worst advertisement a business can have. The local radio station did a live broadcast, and the local newspaper did an article as well.
Running a successful business not only requires skill, and energy, but a bit of intuition. I realized I needed to please my customers and keep them loyal. it is a huge factor in a business’s long-term success, not only to attract new customers, but satisfy and retain the repeat customers. If you have a happy satisfied customer spreading good word about your business, it will attract more customers. On the other hand, a disgruntled customer spreading negative experiences about your business can certainly tarnish the reputation of the business. People believe what customers tell them about your business, whether it is good or bad.
I learned from my mistakes and took my customers recommendations into consideration. I realized customer service was a huge factor in customer satisfaction. I spent time training my employees on customer service. I explained to them, that even though they were busy, they were to look up and smile at a customer who had just entered the building. I taught my employees to tell the customer they would be right with them as soon as they finished what they were working on. If the task was something that could be completed after the customer left, I instructed my employees to put it aside and take care of the customer.
Customer service is simply solving customers’ problems or meeting their needs, in a friendly and efficient manner. I won the local Chamber of Commerce customer service award several times which was very satisfying for me.
Due to the fast growth of the business and the large burden of liability taking care of peoples beloved pets, my accountant recommended I incorporate. Being a sole proprietorship, I was personally liable for my business and my personal, nonbusiness, assets could be at risk. Becoming a corporation makes the business a legal entity within itself, and the owners (shareholders and stockholders), can’t be held personally liable for the businesses liabilities, risks or losses. I never purposely planned on being neglectful or being sued, but by incorporating, my personal assets, such as my home and savings, would be protected.
Brebeau Kennels soon became a very busy, fast-paced business. Finding employees that were willing to do such demanding work was not an easy task. I grew up on a ranch, but working at the kennel was the most physically and mentally draining work I have ever done. By the time I opened the Kennel 1987, I had developed, and been teaching, the 4-H dog program for eleven years. Most of the 4-Hers were animal people and well aware of the work involved in caring for them.
I hired a lot of 4-Hers to work for me after school and on the weekends. During the summer and when they weren’t in school, they worked for me full time. I also hired young people from drug court. These people were so appreciative to be given a chance and a job, they worked harder, and were more dependable, than most people who had never been addicted. I spent a lot of time, effort and money on my employees. We had informal meetings each week either over lunch or drinks after work. I showed my employees how much I appreciated them. I paid them well and offered incentives and advancement opportunities. My employees were very loyal to me and my business. A business is only as successful as the weakest employee. Most of my employees worked for me for years. Working at the kennel with the animals kept them from going back to their old way of life.
I developed an employee handbook which I gave to each employee when I hired and trained them. I tried to give examples of how to successfully complete all the paper work and answer any questions the employees might have before a problem developed. This was a huge factor in having loyal, responsible employees. If an employee is well informed and well trained, they are much happier and efficient employees.
As the years went by, my business grew and so did my staff. My policies and demand for good service by my employees stayed the same. It wasn’t long until our gross income was a high six figures.
Business had increase to the point I had eighteen full and part time employees working the kennel at all times. For twenty-three years the business I built from the ground up was a huge success and supported me and my two boys. I worked long hours, holidays, and was never able to take a vacation without the kennel on my mind. The kennel’s success didn’t come without sacrifice. My marriage failed and I wished I could have spent more time with my children growing up, but owning your own business has its advantages as well.
In 2010, I sold the kennel after twenty-three years. I paid off the thirty year note in fifteen years, so the kennel was mine, free and clear. I was able to offer financing to the prospective buyers which played a big part in being able to sell in a weak economy. I was able to carry the papers and charge 5 ¼% interest on the loan.
Opening my own business was the smartest business move I ever made. I must admit I made some mistakes in the beginning, but I learned from those mistakes, which was part of the reason for my success.
I also took over the family ranch in 2005 after the passing of my parents. I sold the ranch in 2010, because running two businesses concurrently was more than I could handle. But, in the five years of running The Baker Ranch I was able to accomplish:
- Produce high quality beef
- Produce high quality hay
- Researched the impact of disease and vaccination on herd
- Have become a steward of public lands
- Worked closely with United States Forest Service
- Appropriately balanced and fed proper rations
- Increased productivity by cross-breeding
- Increased productivity by selecting high quality bulls
- Managed rangelands, prevented erosion, exterminated noxious weed populations, and improved land by grazing
- Monitored birth weight, weaning weight, and daily gain of calves produced
- Kept detailed records on cattle, expenses, employees, and machinery
- Maintained equipment
- Procured buyers for cattle
- Managed ranch horses
- Managed stock dog
- Managed legal issues
- Tried to work in harmony with environment and address environmental issues as they arose
- Advertised and successfully sold the family ranch without the help of realtor