Valerie and Barry Reid will tell you the secret to teaching a dog is obedience. Too many dog owners put “love before leadership” instead of the other way around, says Barry, co-owner and head trainer at Topsailstar Pet Center (70 Ruby Line). Valerie says it’s important to love your dog but to not treat it as though it’s human. She sat down with the Telegram to discuss the business, including bites, poop disposal, and rescuing an abandoned pit bull.
Who opened Topsailstar Pet Center and when?
Bruce and Cathy Dyke, they were the previous owners. They were here 13 years before we took it over. We took it over 2003.
What does Topsailstar Pet Center do?
We do boarding, grooming, doggy day care, pet supplies and training, obedience training, and breeding of poodles. Miniature, standard poodles.
What prompted you to take over the business in 2003?
I had a small business in Topsail. Pet’s Day Out was mine. I was there for five years, just doing grooming. I used to buy the food from Bruce, the Precise food to sell it in my store, and I always used to say to Bruce, “When you’re ready to sell, let me know.” And one day he phoned up and wanted to know if I was still interested, and I said yes, and it went from there.
Is Pet’s Day Out still going?
Yes, it is still in operation.
So what got you into the pet industry in the first place?
I always had an interest in pets, always growing up had dogs. Back in ’96, I graduated from the Career Academy. I did the animal-care course there, that taught you grooming and everything else, and I opened up my own little place first in Chapel Arm, and then I started working for Pam at — well, it was Pam’s Pet Parlour then.
Pam (Bonnell) had approached me to come and work for her, because I did my work term there with her while I was in school. She owned Pam’s Pet Parlour, which is now Pet’s Day Out. So I did my work term with her. When I finished there, I went back to Chapel Arm and opened up my own little place then. And she approached me and asked me to come work for her, so I did. I worked with Pam for a while, and she decided to sell.
How many people work at Topsailstar?
We have, right now, nine.
Any family members working for you?
Myself and my husband and my son work here.
How many times have you been bitten
by clients’ animals over the years?
Not many, actually. Not many at all. Few little nicks here and there, nothing serious. One of the girls got a nice bite the other day from a dog, but that’s the worst I’ve seen. I haven’t had anything serious at all. Just gotta make sure your tetanus shots are up to date, is all (laughs).
What’s the key to having an obedient pet?
Good training. That’s the No. 1 thing you should start off with. We run a really good obedience class here, and if you have control of your dog from the beginning, you won’t lose it.
Do you ever have somebody bring a dog in and you can tell that that dog’s going to be trouble in the kennel, to the point that you’re not sure that you should accept the dog?
No, because at our kennel here, we don’t mix the dogs. They all have their own individual runs. The ones that are mixed, people may own two or three dogs, and they’re in together. But if it’s an aggressive dog, we don’t even have to handle it, really. We can let it in and out through the little hole in the wall. If they’re that bad, we don’t even really have to handle it, so it’s not an issue, really.
Who came up with the name Topsailstar?
That was the previous owners. That was actually the name of a boat, Topsailstar. … I don’t know any more than that about it, but Bruce always said to us that it was the name of a boat, and he just named it. For what reason, I don’t know. We just kept the name because it was well known for the boarding kennel and everything, and we decided just to keep the same name.
What’s the best part of working in the pet industry? What’s your favourite part?
I did really enjoy the grooming, but I can’t groom anymore because I’ve got rheumatoid arthritis. But I really enjoy grooming. And for me personally, right now, I show poodles. And for the grooming of the standard poodles, I love it. But I also loving working the store, with the customers. That’s my thing, is the people and their dogs. Meeting them, greeting them. I enjoy that part of it.
Do you have a favourite breed? Is it poodle?
I’m partial to the poodle.
They’re very intelligent, very loyal, very obedient, easy to train. They don’t shed, don’t smell. (Laughs) What else can you ask for?
What is the worst part of the business? Is it poop removal, and who looks after that?
That’s the staff does that. (Laughs)
I guess when you own the place, that’s the staff job, to look after that.
That’s right. I’m sure that’s their worst part, but they know that when they’re hired on, that that is a big part of it. But we do what we can to make that easier for them.
Do most of the staff have animals of their own? I guess they know the territory.
That’s right. And the majority of them got animal-care courses, so they know what to expect. Barry’s the one who does the obedience training.
Has there ever been a situation arise where someone brings a dog in and you suspect the dog is being abused at home, being hit, and if so, what would you do about that?
We have never come across that. (Barry: Most people, if you’re coming here, care about their dogs anyway.) That’s right. If you’re paying $25 a night for us to look after it, the majority are not going to be a problem. But I would certainly address it. I would speak to the owner. If I thought that, I would certainly speak to them. But we have never seen anything like that. We’ve had dogs that have been left.
Really? What do you do when that happens?
We have the right — it’s in my contract that they sign — two weeks after they’re supposed to pick it up, if there’s no contact, I have the right to turn them over to the SPCA or humane services or whatever. We’ve re-homed them.
Why would somebody do that?
We had a pit bull here one time. She was aggressive to other animals. Not to people. Very aggressive with other dogs. But she’s a sweetheart. He was working in Alberta, doing the turnaround, gone for so long and then home. We have quite a few of those dogs, that the men work on the rigs and the dog is here when they’re away ... and this is one of them.
He was working in Alberta, and for the first little while he’d come back and get her, pick her up and bring her back again, and everything was fine. He just stopped coming. He was calling first, saying, “I have to stay for another turnaround so I won’t be there to pick her up, so can you hang on to her for another little while.” Yep, no problem. And then he did that two or three times, and after that I lost contact with him. All of his numbers were discontinued, and never ever heard tell of him again.
Ken (Reid, no relation), the other guy who trains with Barry, he took her and started doing some work with her. Barry started first, walking her and whatever, and brought her to as far as she could, being in the kennel, and we decided that she needed a home environment to come all the way and be a proper dog. And Ken took her into his home, with his two dogs, and worked it out, and now she’s one of the best dogs that he’s got.