CAMP PENDLETON — Most people are lucky to find one soul mate in their lifetime. Dana Kendall found two.
She met her husband, Jesse, a Naval corpsman stationed at Camp Pendleton, in 2001 when they worked together at a Walmart in Washington state.
Her second soulmate, Toni, a blonde and chocolate brindle pit bull, was brought to her in February 2009 when a friend saw a classified ad at pendletonyardsales.com.
“It was like when I met my husband,” Dana said. “Something clicked.”
That “something” was a shared experience as trauma victims. Kendall suffered an assault a few years earlier that left her with PTSD and anxiety issues. After adopting Toni, Kendall found scarring on her skin that revealed a life as a fighting dog.
It was also apparent that Toni was used as a breeder, left with emotional scars that included an inability to play. Her condition was further complicated when it was discovered that she had heartworm and wasn’t housetrained.
Kendall had the heartworm treated, then worked with Toni intensively, 2 to 3 hours a day, to build trust and teach her how to enjoy the company of other dogs.
“After 5-1/2 months, neighbors who had dogs started coming over and saying, ‘Can Toni come out and play?’” Kendall said. “Toni made me want to become a trainer so I could help other dogs.”
Kendall learned about Animal Behavior College (ABC) through a friend. The U.S. Department of Defense offers a Military Spouse Career Advancement Program that provides $4,000 in education benefits for military spouses to participate in three certificate programs through ABC: dog obedience instructor, dog groomer and veterinary assistant.
Kendall started the coursework from her home in February 2010, and passed the final exam in July. At that point she was introduced to Caitlin Davis of Vista.
Davis graduated from ABC in 2003 and went on to become a professional dog trainer. For the past two years she has served as a mentor for students in ABC’s dog obedience instructor curriculum, providing supervised, hands-on training.
“I met Caitlin at her home with a group of 12 people and their dogs, and we trained for about 1-1/2 hours a day for four months,” Kendall said. “In October, she began referring clients to me, particularly those living on the base.”
Davis said that Kendall was a natural teacher.
“She asked great questions and wanted to know everything,” Davis said. “Dana’s very keen to animal behavior, was great with clients and their dogs, and could be a great mentor herself someday.”
Since graduating, Kendall travels from Carlsbad to San Clemente and Temecula training dogs. The costs for the training can range from $80 to $106 per session, depending on the distance and the behavioral issues that need to be addressed.
“My favorite part of being a dog trainer is watching dogs grow from being incredibly shy and withdrawn to barking and initiating play with others,” she said.
In a few months the Kendall family will be transferred to San Antonio, Texas where they will live for at least three years.
“Eventually, I want to have a pit bull rescue group,” Kendall said. “These dogs need to have a champion and I want to be that for them.”
Today, Toni is considered fully rehabilitated and is a certified service dog and ambassador for her breed.
ABC was founded by Steven Appelbaum, a former security specialist and patrol dog handler and trainer in the U.S. Air Force.
He went on develop a course in basic obedience, which he offered through Petco in the U.S., and Petcetera in Canada, making it the largest dog training company in North America.
It was in recruiting dog trainers for his program that Appelbaum recognized the shortage of properly educated professionals that existed. This led to the establishment of ABC.
Despite the recession, Davis reports that business is good.
“A year ago a lot of people went out of business and didn’t come back,” she said. “Today jobs are coming back, and people have a little extra money. They want to spend it to care for their pets.”
For more information about Animal Behavior College, visit animalbehaviorcollege.com or call (866) 507-9874.