FLORENCE – If you keep your eyes open and your heart attuned to possibilities, wonderful and unexpected things can happen.
Just ask Shane and Jere Bear, longtime dog lovers who lived with eight canines on their property in Stevensville.
About eight years ago, Shane was selling concrete water fountains and opertating a house-siding business from his home.
While siding a Victorian house on the property of Old Farm Kennels on the Eastside Highway in Florence, Shane got to thinking: His back hurt from the labor; wouldn’t a new career be better? He and Jere love dogs; wouldn’t this be a great place to live and work?
Turns out, the owner was looking to sell the business and all that went with it, and it turns out, he was happy to make a complete switch-a-roo with the couple.
“We got the Victorian house and the kennel, and he got our house on Moiese Lane in Stevensville,” Jere explained. “We traded the business for our house.”
Jere still operates Concrete Jungle from the kennel property, and the place is filled with dramatic water fountains. But it’s the dogs and cats – and sometimes parrots, pot-bellied pigs and bunnies – that pay the bills, keep the couple together and bring joy into their lives.
For Shane, the kennel business is a different kind of work than the siding business, but it is equally challenging – and far more steady. The economic recession nearly swallowed his water fountain business, but it didn’t take a bite out of the kennel business.
In fact, business has been booming, and the couple has been able to reinvest in the property and create a more hotel-like life for the dogs they take care of.
For Jere, it’s work she loves.
“I’m driven by the dogs’ comfort,” Jere said. “I want them to have a pretty cush stay while they are here, and I want every dog to feel like this is their home away from home.”
During an unannounced, unexpected visit from two journalists last week, Jere was eager to show off her facility.
At mid-morning, every kennel was clean and tidy, the 12 large exercise pens had happy hounds that visited with one another through chain-link fencing, the cat kennel was filled with lazy felines who were free to walk around the large room but at this hour, chose to lounge in a variety of tiny houses.
Every dog had a clean bed to curl up on, and a small private outdoor run with shade attached to their sleeping area, accessible by a doggy-door.
“I just love animals,” Jere gushed. “Shane and I don’t have any children, but we have eight dogs of our own. And I know most of the people who choose to kennel with us love their dogs and cats as much we love our own and treat them like their children.
“For me, it’s so important that these dogs feel loved and welcome, and that they don’t feel abandoned by their families when they stay here.”
At any given time, Jere’s in charge of 45 dogs and during the holidays, the numbers can jump to about 109.
While Shane works primarily as the property manager, handyman and carpenter, Jere is the main animal caretaker, pet whisperer, biscuit giver and heart of the kennel.
Each dog gets a chance to romp in one of the fenced outside yards four times a day, which takes a considerable amount of energy on Jere’s part to quickly and calmly rotate the clients.
Like a pied-piper, Jere moves the dogs from pen to pen at a run, one at a time, with biscuits in hand to keep their attention and to reward them for following directions. It’s a dance that takes places every 20 minutes or so all day long, seven days a week.
At various times in the year, Jere hires high school students to give her a break from the routine, but even if she’s not the one doing the running around, she’s on site to make sure it gets done to her standards.
“It’s a lot of work and it keeps you in shape,” Jere said.
At 59, the fit and energetic dog tender looks years younger than her age.
“I just love having a job where I can walk across the parking lot and be there,” she said. “There’s nothing better than having a home business – and being surrounded by dogs.”
Reach reporter Betsy Cohen at (406) 523-5253 or by e-mail at email@example.com.