Ken Reid’s life has gone to the dogs. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
After completing his social work degree at Memorial in 1998, Mr. Reid embarked on a 16-year career as a child protective services worker in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
He looks back fondly on that experience, one he credits with shaping his life and paving the way to his second career: Newfoundland’s very own dog whisperer.
DM: You have several degrees from Memorial – how does that translate to becoming Newfoundland’s dog whisperer?
KR: My social work background is key because the degree is heavily rooted in psychology. Many theories from the psychology world are grounded in work with animals.
Early in my career, I was working in the social work field during the day while doing dog training in the evenings, so it wasn’t a huge switch to go back and forth. A behaviour modification plan is a behaviour modification plan.
DM: When did your formal dog training career begin?
KR: It started when I got my own rescue dog, Morgan, when he was six months old. His previous owners said he was untrainable. I took him to obedience training and really took everything my trainer said to heart – I worked hard with Morgan, and he graduated top dog in that class.
We moved onto advanced obedience and he graduated top dog there. The trainer asked me to come on board and demo with Morgan and become an assistant with him, so I interned under him, and then eventually became a trainer myself.
From there I started teaching classes and got involved in one-on-one behaviour modification – which allowed me to get involved with a lot of other programs, including the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program and the SPCA.
The social work connection to what I do is also about advocacy, rescue and working with different non-profit organizations.
DM: You’ve had the opportunity to work extensively with people and with animals. How does it compare?
KR: I loved my work as a social worker.
As a child protective services social worker in rural Newfoundland, I dealt with just about everything in my career, including child protection, long-term and foster care, and community and youth corrections.
Of course, in smaller communities there are times you get called in to help whether it’s your job or not — and it teaches you to be very adaptable and open-minded. I feel that experience has prepared me to handle just about anything. I’m very proud of that background and the work I did over the years.
However, as a dog trainer I get a lot of satisfaction as well. It’s quite different going into someone’s home as a social worker because often they don’t want to see you, but as a dog trainer that’s never the case.
It’s very rewarding when you see a family who has given up all hope that their dog can be a happy member of the family and with help, get them to a point where they can turn that around.
DM: How did Memorial help shape who you are?
KR: I think that a lot of students graduate high school and say, ‘I’m not going to go to university because I don’t know what I want to do. I’m not going to spend three or four years wasting my time, trying to find out what I want to do when I can go and do a trade.’
But education is so much more than just sitting in the classroom and learning from a textbook. Working with your peers and being part of the discussions, listening to professors and learning from their ideas — from people that have been in their professions for years, there’s no substitute for that.
“As social workers we can do so much more than the traditional social work responsibilities.”
For somebody like me, from a smaller bay community that was very homogeneous, to come from that and then to become immersed in a university the size of Memorial, it really forced me to grow and mature and become the person I am today.
And quite frankly, I don’t think I’d ever be able to do the work that I do — in the way that I do it — without my social work education. My faculty advisor, Dr. Dennis Kimberley, who was there for my undergrad and my masters’, left me with a piece of advice I never forgot.
He always said that as social workers we can do so much more than the traditional social work responsibilities, that we have to resist pigeon-holing the profession. I guess this is my way of resisting.
DM: What’s the one thing you wish you could tell all dog owners?
KR: Live up to your responsibility as a dog owner. It’s not something you should take on lightly. You’ve got your dog for 10 to 15, with small breeds up to 20, years, it’s a huge commitment.
There is no perfect dog, and you get out of your dog what you put into them. But if you go into it with your eyes open and you say, ‘Yes, I want to make that commitment,’ and, ‘I am going to be a responsible pet owner, it’s the best thing in the world.’