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Meet Leslie Doucette of Chattapoochie Dog Hiking Adventures

Today we’d like to introduce you to Leslie Doucette.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I moved to Atlanta in 2007 for a promotion into sales management for a pharmaceutical company, which required me to travel 4 days a week. The love of my life was the sweetest and most beautiful little four-legger I have ever known, Daisy, a rescued Greyhound. As any mother or father understands, we miss our children when we can’t be with them and want the best for them. I started using my weekends to try to make up for my busy work schedule and began hiking with her in the Chattahoochee National Forest. I saw how happy this adventure made her, and in turn, alleviated some of my guilt. When Daisy realized we were going on a hike, she danced excitedly, and actually smiled ear to ear. Greyhounds aren’t swimmers but even she frolicked in the cool, shallow waters of the “hooch.” I decided to get Daisy a companion and adopted her a sister, a rescue from the Atlanta Humane Society. Daisy’s sister was and still is a cute, rambunctious, and very vocal Treeing Walker Coonhound, unaptly named Grace. After our long hikes and swims, even my energetic girl lay quietly in the back of my SUV and both doggies slept soundly the rest of the afternoon! This business idea occurred to me for the first time in 2010, as I wondered how other people may appreciate a company who specialized in field trips for Dogs.

I began spending much of my spare time in nature and pondered a different life. I had spent 16 years attaining accomplishments and a nice income through building relationships in business, in both sales and management roles, and despite the extrinsic things that came with that, I stopped feeling inner joy from my work. So, a dream that began years ago, yet persisted in my thoughts, finally pushed me to make a significant life change. I was driven by my deep and sincere love for dogs and nature. Chattapoochie Dog Hiking Adventures was born by aligning my personal values and passions. This company is a true labor of love and the beneficiaries are Atlanta’s dogs, their parents, and myself.

As a result of my decision, I received a professional dog walker certification from dog*tec, where I studied under Mik Moeller and Veronica Boutelle, highly respected authorities on dog-dog issues, socialization, and rehabilitation. I’ve studied dog history, behavior observation, science, learning theory, screening, proper group composition, and pack walking. I’m also certified in Dog CPR and Wilderness First Aid through Pet Tech.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
There have been challenges in terms of being a first-time, new business owner, such as making administrative decisions, creating policies and standardizing processes. However, my clients have been instrumental in helping me hone processes and decisions by providing me with feedback, suggestions and ideas. Some dogs have barrier frustration or leash reactivity, so I’ve taken great care to utilize my training to prevent issues and to determine normal ritualization (dog communication) from situations that could escalate. It’s also very difficult to not accept a customer, if the dog has too much fear, for example. Dogs that aren’t well socialized can be fearful and this can turn into aggressive incidences. While I’ve not experienced even a single dog fight, it requires knowledge and skill to navigate and mitigate incidences because we aren’t the only ones on the trails.

Far and away my biggest challenge was the sudden, unexpected death of my Father, just three months after I opened my doors. I was lucky to have had a great parent in him during my childhood and fortunate to have developed a strong friendship with him as adults. He had come to Atlanta to spend time with me from Thanksgiving to Christmas for the last 2 years, and nothing was left unsaid. Our love for each other was apparent to all and my grief was so great. Death is never convenient, and the timing of this significant loss, was no exception. However, hindsight is 20/20 and I discovered that in other times of my life when I needed healing, nature was the best medicine. Nature and my love for dogs were incredibly helpful to me during that time. When I told colleagues and family members that I was going to quit a six-figure income job to hike dogs, nearly everyone thought I was a little crazy. My Dad was the exception. He believed in my idea and passion from the first moment I told him I was thinking about it. I was blessed to have been able to see him just two weeks before he died. One of the last conversations I saw him having was with a friend of his, and I was humbled by all the praise and pride he expressed to this man about me running down a dream. My dad died on 5/16/16, just over one year ago. Last July, as I was grieving, I met a man on a trail who was walking alone. Like my Dad who never meets a stranger, I stopped to chat with this gentleman briefly. I told him about my Dad’s passing and how I was struggling dealing with that and trying to build a company. He was so sincere and kind and encouraged me to push myself through the pain. He said, “Your Father had to be so proud of you and loved you very much. He would be quite upset if he thought you had stopped pushing. The best thing you can do to honor your Dad is to give this business everything you have.” That day was a turning point for me, as I believed it wasn’t an accident I had had this encounter. A little more than a year after opening my business, we are growing and profitable. I am so thrilled to have made this decision, and my clients (both dogs and people), make over-coming challenges well worth it!

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Chattapoochie Dog Hiking Adventures (CDHA) – what should we know?
We offer a first-class, lifestyle adventure experience for Atlanta’s four-legged family members. Our adventures include: Home or daycare pick up and transportation to and from Atlanta’s trails. Our hikes are a half-day and include play time with up to 4 friends, bottled water and snack breaks, positive reinforcement, quality exercise, fun and adventure. We take photos and make videos to capture each adventure. Swimming is a complimentary option (with parent approval, of course). Dog adventure companies have been flourishing for more than 10 years on the West Coast, in Colorado and Montana, and in New York. This mobile doggy-daycare concept is so much fun for the dogs, provides them with ample mental and physical stimulation, and greatly improves their quality of life. They are able to safely socialize with like-minded friends in a controlled environment under the care and supervision of trained, professional dog walkers. We work one on one with dogs until we feel it’s safe to put them into an appropriate play group. We are proud to have worked with a few mildly fearful dogs who didn’t have ample socialization prior to Chattapoochie Dog Hiking Adventures (CDHA), and over time, have successfully paired them with appropriate play mates. The door-to-door service makes this very convenient for the pup parents. As they’re dealing with their jobs, daily responsibilities, stress, commutes, children, etc., they can rest assured that their pups are enjoying an experience unmatched by other options. My human clients share a deep love for their dog children, recognize that as they crave new experiences and fun adventures, so do their dogs. We know that if everyone could do this themselves, they would. That’s where and how we can help. My clients have expressed total satisfaction from a customer service standpoint and are so delighted to come home to tired, and happy dogs. Furthermore, they tell us that they can tell the morning of their dogs’ scheduled hikes, they understand what the day will bring!

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I have had overwhelming support from friends, family members, prior business mentors, clients, and my own four-legged children, Daisy and Grace. My mom, brother, sister, 5 nieces and nephews are my biggest fans today, with my clients being a very close second. The school I attended for my certifications is the only authority and credentialed establishment in the regulated state of CA. My instructors, Mik Moeller and Veronica Boutelle, are renowned authorities on pretty much all things DOGS and I have frequent communication and guidance from them. I also had the pleasure of meeting Kath Allen, owner and operator of Hike Doggie in Denver, CO, and she and her team mentor us. I’ll be traveling to Colorado in July to work with Kath and one of the founders, Steven Hillen. I could not do this without the incredible support I’ve received thus far.

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Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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