Q: How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?
A: I have lived in Hernando County for approximately 15 years and currently reside in Spring Hill. I grew up in Orlando and moved from there to Brooksville.
Q: Who are the members of your family?
A: My daughter, Heather, and her husband, Jeff, gave me four grandchildren: Baily, Katie, Gavin and Allison. They all live in Brooksville.
Q: Tell us about your career.
A: I am a certified master dog trainer and have been training dogs professionally for 22 years. I grew up with an absolute passion for animals, especially dogs and horses.
In 1987, I met a professional trainer from Germany who took me under his wing, and I apprenticed with him for approximately six months. He taught me a great deal about dogs and their behaviors and had me study canine psychology. I became a trainer for his business until I opened my own training facility in 1989 as Stillwater Dog Training Inc.
To further my education, in 1992 I attended a college-accredited school for dog trainers, National K9 in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated as a certified master trainer in the fields of basic and advanced obedience, personal protection, tracking/retrieving, utility training, disability assistance dog training and police K9.
In 2001, after the attacks of Sept. 11, I decided to put together a K9 team that would be utilized in the recovery of human remains for disasters and homicides, as this was law enforcement's greatest need. The team became the K9 Forensics Recovery Team (a volunteer, nonprofit organization) and consisted of myself as founder/K9 trainer/handler, as well as law enforcement officers from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, Hernando County Sheriff's Office, Tampa Police Department and one other civilian who worked as our team trainer/fundraising coordinator/technician.
Our K9 team has been called upon by law enforcement agencies throughout Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Aruba and Panama. Our services have been utilized by the FBI, FEMA, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Texas Equusearch. We are also part of the FDLE Child Abduction Resource Team and Team Adam for the Adam Walsh Foundation.
In 2005, I received the BayNews 9 Everyday Hero award. It has been an honor to serve our community and others needing our assistance in such difficult times. My K9, Ruger, and I worked our last disaster search together in October 2008 in Texas after Hurricane Ike, and I retired him in December 2008 at the age of 101/2.
Q: What kinds of activities are you involved in now?
A: I now offer dog training to the public at the Humane Society of the Nature Coast in Brooksville. I also teach separate obedience classes for our shelter dogs (with the assistance of wonderful volunteers) so the animals have a better chance of being adopted.
I also conduct all temperament evaluations for dogs needing to be surrendered at the shelter. This helps ensure the adoptability of the dogs that are housed there, and the turnaround time for them to go to their forever homes will be much shorter.
I am a mentoring trainer for the Animal Behavior College out of California and provide an apprenticeship program for their students wanting to become dog trainers.
I will soon be donating training of a disability assistance dog for one of our soldiers injured while serving in Iraq, and I am also working with a trainer in Texas to help acquire and train service dogs for disabled children. We are putting together a network of select, certified trainers throughout the United States who are willing to donate their training of a dog to help children who are so desperately in need, but whose families can't afford the astronomical price for a service dog.
Q: Do you have any special hobbies?
A: I play the guitar and I also sing on a praise team at my church. I spent many years riding and showing horses and water-skiing. I enjoy dancing and listening to music.
Q: What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?
A: When I'm not training or doing something dog related, I like to go for walks in the park or at the beach. I enjoy the different functions at the Lake House in Spring Hill.
Q: What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?
A: While I enjoy small-town living, I would like to see more of a variety of places for entertainment and culture.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
A: While I am very comfortable doing my job and meeting people, I really am a shy person.
Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1438.