Until last year, Shannon Ming was working in the financial industry. She had opened an independent insurance agency, but wasn’t finding the fulfillment she wanted.
“It was going OK, but I lacked the passion,” Ming said. “I just wasn’t happy, so I took a step back. I wanted to completely rework my life; I just want to live with passion.”
On a hike with her dogs one day, she thought, “If I could do this for a living, that would be great.”
That idea led to the opening last fall of Canine Adventures, which offers customized dog walking, in-home pet care and limited boarding for dogs in Ming’s home.
This spring, Ming will offer a new service — six- to eight-hour mountain hikes for dogs. The first one, an extended hike on The Crags trail near Divide, is scheduled for May.
Ming’s family moved to Colorado Springs from New Jersey when she was 12. She graduated from Air Academy High School and earned dual science degrees in psychology and biology.
“My parents brought us out because they wanted us to have a better life,” Ming said. One of her favorite activities was hiking with her dad and the family’s dogs. She’s been walking friends’ dogs, dog-sitting and fostering dogs in her Village Seven home for years. “I never thought about getting paid,” she said. “People were just asking me to do it.”
Her dad passed away last year — another reason why Ming felt the pull toward a dog-walking business. She even started dreaming about it.
Once the idea took hold, she started taking pet CPR and first aid classes, joined a couple of pet-sitting organizations with ongoing training in dog behavior and generally researched “just how to be the best pet sitter that I can be.”
The CPR and first aid training were not required, she said, “but it’s something I wanted to make darn sure that I knew how to do.”
She took out an insurance policy specific to pet care businesses because she wanted her clients to have peace of mind.
“I wanted to do it professionally, like I did my insurance business, so I’m fully bonded and insured,” she said. “There are dog walkers that don’t have insurance but, coming from the insurance world, there was no way I was going to do that.”
She found that many pet sitters take dogs for shorter walks.
But “with my own dogs, if they don’t get a good, long walk, they’re just not happy,” she said.
So she developed a program whereby dog owners can schedule walks from 30 minutes or less to two hours, depending upon what the pet needs and the owner wants.
Her experience owning her own business was helpful as she organized the new one, Ming said, in areas such as marketing, communications and email lists — but she’s had to bone up on using social media.
Ming set up her website so clients can easily get information and sign up for walks. She begins each new client relationship with a complimentary meet-and-greet session during which she and the owner determine what each pet needs and set up a schedule. Ming currently is supplementing her training with a wilderness advanced first aid course in preparation for the expanded hikes this summer. She plans on having at least one other person accompany her and the dogs on longer hikes.
Those hikes may evolve into adventures that include owners and lunches at dog-friendly restaurants. For now, Ming is looking at offering them once a month. Ming said she can board one or two dogs in her own home but has to limit the number she can take in at this time.
“You need a special license to have over four dogs,” she said. “As we grow, I am not opposed to having a building and doing on-site boarding.”
Ming plans for that growth to be gradual and based on building a relationship of trust with her clients.
“It matters who you have watching your pets,” she said. “It means a lot to me that people trust me with their best friends while they’re gone.”
Ming said her new business has changed her world. “It’s completely different from insurance,” she said. “It’s fun, and I’m getting to be with dogs and help their people have that feeling of trust and peace of mind when they’re away.
“When I sit down and start marketing and calling people, it’s with joy and happiness and excitement. I just feel like this has been my calling. And better late than never.”