WOMEN IN BUSINESS: Mutts receive thoroughbred foster care at Coleman’s Kennel | News
Kelly Coleman has gone the full cycle to land in the career she should really enjoy.
In her eighth year as the professional operator of Mutts in Motion’s dog training and behavior modification center in Indiana, Coleman seemingly built the business from scratch after her first career in the criminal justice system.
Coleman earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and worked for 11 years with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, in the totally no-nonsense job of a state probation officer who rode herd on society’s half-breeds.
Perfect background and training for a new job setting the unruly dog law?
Far from it when it comes to work processes.
Coleman said she was tired of keeping former inmates on the right track and was experimenting with becoming an animal control officer who would deal with almost any species that could potentially go astray. It wasn’t her thing.
She dropped the badges entirely to find a way, drawing on what she said she really had known her entire life.
This is evident in her conversations with them and in her guiding principle of instilling in them a peaceful, friendly character. The Mutts of Merit LLC brochure says “FORCE FREE” in capital letters. In Coleman’s training, not a single animal is pushed, pulled, or punished.
“All the friends I’ve ever had have been dogs,” Coleman said. “You have always been a constant in my life. They kept me on the ground and gave me direction.
“My mother teased me because I speak on the same level as dogs. I’ve always had that since I was little. I’ve never played with dolls or stuffed animals; I played with dogs.
The walls of the Philadelphia and South 13th Street training center are adorned with the diplomas and certificates Coleman earned in her formal dog training, including the qualification she treasures most – her graduating from college with Pat Miller, who teaches dog sports nationally Training field is known as the operator of the Peaceful Paws program in Fairplay, Md. Coleman is a certified Level 3 trainer under the Miller program.
Coleman downplayed the difference in running a “women’s business” (most animal trainers in the Indiana area are women anyway, Coleman said), but the founding of Mutts of Merit depended on the help of professional women.
She credited Connie Bence, owner of Helwig Insurance Agency, Indiana, with making the deal a reality — after a business program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania turned down her request for assistance.
“Connie is one of my guiding stars. One of my tribe,” said Coleman. “She took me and my crazy dream of doing this seriously. She helped me get the insurance, she helped me get everything I needed to make it happen. I wouldn’t be here without her.”
In addition to displaying her professional credentials, Coleman also has a rack of chains, shackles, collars, and other violent devices hanging on the wall.
“They are the instruments of pain that I have removed from the dogs that I have treated,” Coleman said. “You will never be attracted to a dog again.”
Coleman believes dog training is trending as she advocates around the world and in many US states, and that aversive methods and tools are being abandoned.
“I show clients a different way of exercising — a method that doesn’t require violence, it doesn’t require meanness,” she said.
“Some people don’t think our way is necessarily the right way because they believe in these tools. But animals don’t learn that way. That’s not how we learn. You don’t have to be mean to them. They do what we allow them.”
Frankly, Coleman said that most pets are easier to train than their owners. Understanding how to communicate and relate to each other is important for both the dogs and their humans.
“I can teach a dog anything. But can I train a human,” said Coleman. “My bachelor’s degree in education is the one I use the most every day. It’s what I do.”
Coleman regrets the lack of oversight in the animal care field.
“It’s an unregulated industry,” she said.
With the exception of veterinarians, no one is required to have formal training or certification in any area of animal care – breeding, rearing, training. None are required to demonstrate their competency and none are subject to review or inspection by any government agency.
Coleman said she wants that to change.
“I am a member of the Pet Professional Guild. We pay annual dues that fund lobbyists to go to politicians to regulate our industry,” Coleman said. “I pay money to be regulated.”
The Mutts of Merit Center in Indiana is used for one-on-one training and behavior modification, from basic social skills to anger therapy. This also includes a non-violent bathing and care room.
Coleman expanded the business in mid-2022 to include a three-quarter-acre dog park, “Mutts of Merit in Motion,” near her home in the Grandview neighborhood of White Township, southeast Indiana.
The fenced play area gives dogs space to let their energy out with few restrictions (a few trees, light poles, a gazebo, and some dog play equipment). The fences are lined with signs identifying the sponsors, and a sign attached to a post shows that the park is dedicated to Miller, Coleman’s mentor.
“Pat is one of the innovators of the force free training movement in the United States,” said Coleman. “She came to Indiana when I opened my dog park. I dedicated it in her honor because of her lifelong commitment to animals and kindness. It will take you so much further. You don’t have to be mean to them.”