Chatham excitedly enters the bright, sun-filled room. His blonde hair flows and his brown eyes shine as he prances over to Jenny Orn to say hello. His long, fluffy tail wags happily as he looks around for a treat.
Chatham is a 10-month-old golden retriever-poodle mix and a therapy dog for Teen Challenge in Duluth. Orn, the owner and operator of Liberty K9 in Barnum, is training Chatham.
“We take top notch care of people's pets,” Orn said. “I feel super blessed. I give credit to God and how he orchestrated this. I have the best customers and great employees.”
The 31-year-old military veteran didn't plan to train dogs for a living. She joined in the military, then landed her dream job in law enforcement.
When health issues forced her to leave that post, she said she had no idea what to do with the rest of her life. Her family helped her problem-solve and before she knew it, she was in Texas learning how to train dogs at Starmark Academy.
The academy opened in 2000 and accepts students from all over the world, with an average of 80 students each year, said Jennifer Ellerthorpe, operations manager.
The intensive 12-week program includes a variety of classes. Students learn health, basic grooming, search and rescue, service work, scent and kennel management in addition to how to train dogs.
Of the students who attended the academy during the same timeframe as Orn, Ellerthorpe said 93% graduated and 63% found employment in the field.
About half-way through her coursework, Orn decided she could run her own business. She interned with the academy for several weeks and then rented space to train dogs at another facility.
Eventually, she worked out of a garage on her family's hobby farm starting in April 2016.
“Starting a business from scratch seemed daunting at first,” Orn said.
She worked hard, but a little over a year later, she said she was feeling burned out by her nonstop schedule.
Orn was wondering what her next step would be, when she was recruited back to the school as a trainer. She accepted the job and moved back to Texas for a year.
“We don't have opportunities for new instructors available very often and when one came up, we knew she would be a great fit for the team,” Ellerthorpe said. “She was an excellent student and had gained experience in her own dog training business that she was able to share with new students. Jenny was also an asset to our team as the Training Department Manager where she oversaw the operations of the staff dog trainers.”
As time went on, Orn said she felt called by God to come back home and open a new facility.
She returned to Minnesota in September 2018. With the support of her family, Orn built a new training facility where an old barn had been.
Her first run at the business taught her there was a need for dog training and boarding in Barnum. As soon as her new space was finished, Orn was busy. The facility has 18 runs, 10 of which are indoor and outdoor, as well as outdoor play areas and a bright training area.
“I never imagined I would be here,” Orn said. “It happened so fast.”
Almost immediately, her family started pitching in.
Her grandfather, Leon Finifrock, came up with the idea that Orn's mother, Lori, should quit her job and become a dog groomer. Lori was stunned at first, but decided to take an online course to learn more. She is currently interning with a groomer as well as grooming some of the clients, Orn said.
Orn's father, Mike, is her accountant, and Finifrock helps with maintenance around the property.
The whole family lives on the farm.
“I couldn't do this without my family,” she said.
And of course, her dogs can come to work with her. Dunkin is a lovable American pit bull terrier-boxer mix who she rescued. Orn discovered him when she was on an animal abuse call as a law enforcement officer.
She tears up as she talks about how he came running out of the door to greet the officers. He was emaciated and had been abused.
The owner said he rescued the pup from someone else who had been abusing him. Orn took him from the owner and brought him to the local shelter. She visited him often, then adopted him as soon as he was ready.
Now 7-years-old, Dunkin works as a therapy dog.
“He’s incredible,” Orn said.
Orn usually takes six dogs in for training at a time. The average stay is 2-3 weeks, depending on the dog and the issue.
The most common reasons people bring their dogs for training are they pull on a leash while walking, they have bad manners such as jumping up on people or they don't get along with other dogs.
Orn said she loves to see the transformation in the dogs as they overcome their problems.
"I like to help families with a better, more controlled dog," she said.
Sarah Ramos has a husky-German shepherd mix named Eleven. As she got older, Eleven became more protective of her space and liked to run away from home.
When Eleven got excited and started nipping at someone who had done work for Ramos several times, she knew she needed help.
“When you have a dog, you make a commitment and need to be a responsible pet owner,” Ramos said.
She searched online and discovered Liberty K9. She said she was impressed the business was voted best pet boarding and daycare in the Duluth News Tribune's Best of the Best 2019 Northland’s People’s Choice.
Still, Ramos said she was nervous when she called. She ended up having a deep discussion with Orn that day, and said she knew she had found the right place.
“I wouldn't board my dogs anywhere in the past,” Ramos explains. “These are my children. I don't have kids.”
Ramos dropped Eleven off for four weeks of training. Online posts about Eleven's progress helped Ramos get through the long separation.
“Jenny posts updates on social media so you're always connected and not feeling like you’re without your dog for weeks,” Ramos said. “It was probably my saving grace while Eleven was gone.”
Ramos was still skeptical when Eleven returned home, she said.
The first thing Ramos did was to put Eleven in a down/stay position as Orn taught her before she took Eleven home. There were deer in the yard, and Eleven was a runner.
“She stayed by us,” Ramos said. “She quivered, but she stayed.”
Ramos kept Eleven on a leash for awhile when she was outside. Now she is fine with just her remote dog training collar.
Ramos also appreciates the DVD Orn sent home with her. The video shows Ramos how her dog was trained so she can reinforce the training at home.
Orn also offers grooming services, daycare and some retail at the new facility.
Two of Orn's employees went through training at Starmark Academy and graduated Friday, Feb. 7. Orn plans on having an open house later in the spring for people to meet them and see the facility.
Daycare space is limited and offered Tuesday-Thursday only. Boarding is $28 per night and daycare is $18 per day per pet. All dogs need to be current on rabies, distemper and bordetella vaccinations.
Pick-up and drop-off hours are 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. Saturday and Sunday hours are 8:30-10:30 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
For more information, check out the website at https://libertyk9mn.com/boarding-and-grooming or call 218-380-1925.