Jan. 19, 2012
By Luke Baynes
It was just about a year ago that Jennifer Mignano’s career went to the dogs — and she couldn’t be happier about it.
Last February, Mignano founded K-9 Day Camp, a Williston-based business that provides respite from the boredom of an empty house by taking canines on adventure hikes while their masters are at work.
Accompanied by her faithful assistant Gina, a 3-year-old black lab, the 47-year-old Montpelier native and her dog pack romp the countryside and forests of Vermont five days a week.
The 2008 recipient of The Marshall Legacy Institute’s Leader of the Year award for her work conducting the Williston Girl Scout troop’s efforts to raise $20,000 to sponsor a land mine detection dog, Mignano has also been a caregiver for the elderly for the past 15 years.
Mignano (and Gina) sat down with the Observer last week to discuss the doggedly adventurous K-9 Day Camp.
WO: Why did you decide to start a camp for dogs?
Mignano: I’d been working for 15 years as a caregiver, and was starting to get a little burnt out, and (Gina and I) were walking out back and I was like, “Wow, this would be great if I had some more dogs out here, and wouldn’t it be great if I got paid for this.”
WO: How does the program work?
Mignano: I pick the dogs up at their houses, and I’ll round up three or four dogs and we’ll go find a place to hike for the day. … My whole goal is I want to pull in the driveway and I want the dogs to be excited. And they are — they go insane. So I try to time it so that after I bring the dog back home, they’re there for about two hours before the owners come so they’re not bouncing off the walls.
WO: How long do you spend outside with the dogs?
Mignano: If it’s rainy and cold out, my minimum that I guarantee people is two hours, so we’re out anywhere from two to four hours a day.
WO: How many clients do you currently have?
Mignano: I have eight clients right now. My goal in the next six months is to get that up to 12. But I only take one (new dog) on at a time.
WO: Do you find that Williston is a good place to have this type of business?
WO: Do you have any competition?
Mignano: What’s been so nice about it is it’s really an industry where people want to help each other — not fight each other for clients — because there’s plenty of clients. You can only cover a certain territory and be efficient with your gas and your time.
WO: Are there ever any personality conflicts between the dogs?
Mignano: I haven’t had any problems with dogs not really getting along. My very first dog I realized right away wasn’t going to work — too aggressive — so I had to let my very first client go. But other than that, every dog has gotten along with each other and I’ve been amazed at how they totally get the routine within a day.
WO: How do you decide if you’re willing to take on a particular dog?
Mignano: I go to the house first — for two reasons. One, I want to meet the dog and the owners want to meet me; but I also want the dog to see me at their home first before I show up and say, “Hey, let’s go in this strange car.”
WO: How do you gain a dog’s trust?
Mignano: One of my dogs was very nervous about the car. So I would get there and I would leave the car doors open and we would play at his house for a while. The first couple times, I would get him close to the car and then I would have to catch him and put him in. By the third time, he was jumping right in.
WO: Can you talk about the project you were involved with to sponsor a land mine detection dog?
Mignano: Back in 2008, I was a Girl Scout leader, and we got involved with a group in (Washington) D.C. that raises awareness for land mine detection. My Girl Scouts that year said, “let’s do something with dogs.” … Before we knew it, we were heavily involved in it and ended up raising $20,000. … Our dog was born and trained in Bosnia, and now works in Lebanon.
WO: What does the future hold for you?
Mignano: I would love to have maybe four to five more dogs in my camp. I’m not looking to franchise; I’m not looking to hire people. … My (youngest) daughter got her (driver’s) license this week, so my lifestyle is changing this week dramatically. That’s a huge change. … (My husband and I) are at an age where the possibilities seem endless.
Rates for K-9 Day Camp are $20 for a two-hour session and $35 for a four-hour session. For more information, visit k-9daycamp.com.