The Proper Pooch Groomed for Entrepreneurship

Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. We envision a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Artists, creators, makers, and small business owners strive to build something anew, something worth putting their stamp on – to promote and share with each other – and entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding ways to build in a way that hasn’t been done before. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed six individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.

The Cairo, West Virginia population is less than 300 people strong yet in 2018, two locals – Marilyn Pence and Amanda Fulton – took a leap and opened Your Proper Pooch, a dog training and grooming business located just 4 miles off Route 50.

“I believe that Marilyn and Amanda saw a need to help others train their dogs and be responsible dog owners. There are not many dog trainers left in the area. To take a chance in putting a training shop in rural Cairo, West Virginia was a risk, but as they say, ‘If you build it, they will come’ and that has truly been the case,” said their nominator for 2020’s MOV Entrepreneur of the Year.

“These two ladies are dedicated to their business and show up daily whether in person, at the training facility, or in conversations with their clients. They make sure they have what they need at the training center, whether it be lesson plans, equipment, paperwork, or even making sure the utilities are working,” said the nominator.

Pence, a former school teacher, and Fulton are both self-taught dog trainers who have worked with a variety of Humane Societies and animal rescues in various states. Fulton specifically worked with a Service Dog Training program in California.

“After attending obedience classes in nearby counties with our own dogs, we discovered that there was a serious lack of classes available to address specific behavioral issues. We also realized that there was not an affordable option for people in need of a Service Dog or wanting to train a Therapy Dog. We felt sure that we could fill this gap,” said Pence.

In starting Your Proper Pooch, the owners felt there was a need for what they could offer and no available resources for those who needed it in Ritchie County, the home county of Cairo. Services offered include confirmation classes, grooming, many levels of obedience classes, therapy dog training, and service dog training. 

“We are able to offer complete Service Dog Training for around $2,500 versus the average $20,000 that other organizations require. This allows lower-income individuals to have a service dog that they might not otherwise have,” said Pence.

“We are also able to train Therapy Dogs to get them out and working in our local hospitals, nursing homes, and schools. In addition to that, we train many dogs that have come from local animal shelters and rescues that might otherwise end up back in those situations due to a lack of training,” Pence said.

The year 2020 has brought its fair share of challenges for small business owners, but according to Your Proper Pooch’s MOV Entrepreneur of the Year nominator, they are amongst the many small businesses in the region who creatively adapted to meet their client’s needs while also supporting the local community at the same time.

“While they had to temporarily close their physical doors [due to COVID-19], they continued training and evaluating through the use of technology. They recorded sessions so that new clients could train their puppies virtually. They accepted videos from clients to evaluate a dog’s skills and progress so they could continue to move through multiple levels at each stage of their training,” said the nominator.

“This summer, Your Proper Pooch offered outside classes to a small group, again in response to COVID-19. They did not charge for these sessions, but instead asked the students to consider donating to the Cairo Volunteer Fire Department since they were unable to do any fundraising due to the virus restrictions. They are always thinking of their community!” said the nominator.

Starting a new business is no small feat, especially considering the challenge of working in a small population. As entrepreneurs who work for themselves, Your Proper Pooch owners enjoy the flexibility they have to meet people where they are and provide for their specific needs, like assessing a litter of puppies for the potential to become a Service Dog.

Pence shared that it can be difficult to relate to all people and situations but that as entrepreneurs, they have to be able to think on their feet to identify solutions to unique challenges. In reflecting on their experience launching and managing Your Proper Pooch, owner Pence recommends to other budding entrepreneurs that they do research first to assess the need for their business in a community.

“If there are several of the same businesses already, make sure that what you offer will be above and beyond what the others are offering,” said Pence.  

“We wish people knew that we were once in the same spot they’re in – we, too, were just learning to train our own dogs [when we launched Your Proper Pooch] and, looking back, we wish that a program similar to ours had been available to us at that time.”