Career Spotlight of the Month (April 2019)
Name: Melissa MacKinnon, RVT
Current Job: Owner of Unleash the Pawsitive, a doggy daycare and training facility in Port Elgin, Ontario
Q & A with Melissa
OAVT: Where did you go to school, and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Melissa: St. Clair College – growing up I always had a passion for animals and I knew I wanted to work with them. Once I found out about being a registered veterinary technician through high school co-op I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.
OAVT: Let's talk about Unleash the Pawsitive. What made you decide to start your own business?
Melissa: After having a bad experience with a trainer in a puppy class with our newest 10-week-old golden retriever puppy, I started looking for better training methods. Since I live in a small town there are not many options for dog trainers and none who offered positive reinforcement training. This is what motivated me to start offering puppy socialization classes outside of my RVT job during the week.
Our classes took off very quickly and with the high demand I decided to open the business full time, offering training classes in the evening and dog walking during the day. About two years later we had the opportunity to expand and start offering doggy daycare, which has grown very quickly over the last three years. We are now fully booked for daycare about a month in advance and we offer fun and obedience training classes during the evening 3-4 nights a week.
We also have a growing retail selection of our favourite products! At daycare we offer puppy-training programs and one-on-one training programs. We’ve had huge success with our daycare events including yearly Howl'O'ween parties, Valentine’s Pawty and our Doggy Prom! Our Prom event is probably the highlight of the year with owners making costumes, to promposals and pictures that usually take two staff members all day to do!
We try to go above and beyond with everything that we offer in our facility!
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you at work?
Melissa: We open at 6:30am and I’m lucky to have staff that start the day bright and early for me. Once I get my kids off to daycare I’m usually working upfront in our reception area taking care of most of the administration duties that are required with owning a business. It also keeps me in touch with our clients, which I love. We’re pretty lucky to have some of the best clients, who bring us treats regularly!
Depending on the day I may work one-on-one with a dog who’s needing some extra obedience skills and then usually I’m teaching classes until 10pm two nights a week. The classes I teach are usually puppy classes aged 8 weeks to 5 months, or our teenage class for dogs 5 months to one year. I teach adult manners as well. It’s definitely long days when I teach classes but I do love it!
OAVT: How has being an RVT helped your business?
Melissa: Being an RVT is exactly how I got into this business. Going to conferences, taking CE based in behaviour helped me develop my love of training. Once I got the training itch it was all I could do to help the puppies in our area become better trained. Being an RVT and having worked in clinics in the area made it great for referrals to classes. Without the local veterinarians, RVTs and staff I don’t believe my business would be as successful.
OAVT: What do you love about your job?
Melissa: I love that I still get the benefits of working with puppies and dogs and building amazing client relationships. Our clients are pretty amazing, some of them have been with me since I started almost six years ago, expanding the facilities, training new staff and having two children of my own. I’m just lucky to still be able to build these relationships in our business.
OAVT: What other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Melissa: I’ve worked in small animal practices in Burlington, Thunder Bay, Kincardine and Port Elgin.
OAVT: What advice would you give to other RVTs contemplating starting their own business?
Melissa: Take courses in business! Business has been something I’ve had to learn as I go which is difficult! I love dogs, I know dogs, but business isn’t something that really interests me so it’s definitely been a learning curve!
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is your passion?
Melissa: Puppies! Definitely getting puppies started off on the right paw (which is our business motto!). We love being able to help them socialize properly in a safe environment and also to help train the puppy parents with the best positive reinforcement training.
Photo credit: photos by Jill Schildroth Photography and Elle Photography.