How did you get into dog breeding?
I started breeding dogs commercially purely by chance. This is because I have always loved dogs and so I bought my first dog when I was 24 years old. It was not for breeding purposes but as a means of protection. My husband used to travel a lot and so I needed a dog that could protect me in case there were intruders in my home. However, the dog rather than being a protector would actually run and hide in the bushes anytime a stranger approached. I then decided to get a better breed that could protect me and this led me to the East African Kennel Club. When I first went there I was surprised to find that there were very few Africans and only one other woman. When I asked whether I could buy a dog I duly informed that I could not get one as ‘Africans’ did not know how to take care of dogs.
Even after I was rebuffed I did not lose hope but still continued attending the dog shows hoping to get a dog that I could buy. It was during one of these shows that I met a white man who on noting my interest in his dog promised to give me one after breeding. Six months later the dog gave birth and when I went for the puppy, I was informed that I had to buy one. This led me to taking up my first loan of Kshs. 30,000 to buy the puppy which was a tidy sum back then considering that it was in the year 2000.
After I purchased the dog, I realized that I needed to train it but I did not have the know-how. I started researching on the Internet as the information that I wanted was not available locally. Luckily I managed to get in touch with a big kennel in the Czech Republic which used to outsource dogs to the Police there. They sent me training materials after which I bought another dog and started breeding them slowly. I however encountered a challenge in that it was hard for me to sell my dogs as the clientele at the East African Kennel Club were mostly white and did not want to buy a dog from an African let alone a woman. However, some well to do Kenyans eventually bought my dogs.
Around 2002 things became a bit hectic for me as I tried to balance between full time employment and the dog breeding venture. This led to numerous warning letters due to coming in late as I did not have someone to look after the dogs. Things came to a head when my boss called me to her office and told me that I was just not cut out to be an employee and advised me to go out and follow my dreams. When i left employment, my parents who simply could not understand why one would leave employment to breed dogs did not talk to me for a whole year.
Shortly after I left employment one of my clients, a manager with G4S Security, told me that they were looking to replace their dogs and asked whether I would be interested in supplying them. G4S at the time used to import their dogs from South Africa and by the time they got here they used to be tired, blind and basically not quality dogs. At that point I decided to give it a shot and made a presentation to the directors at G4S. As luck would have it, I made the cut together with the Chairman of the East African Kennel Club back then. This was huge given the fact that such a big corporate had decided to entrust a woman with such a big responsibility. The company decided to buy 3 dogs from each of us after which they were to train them. After the training, G4S were to evaluate the dogs and pick the best for security purposes. I knew this was make or break for me so I really put in the work to ensure that it was my dogs that got picked as the best.
One year later, when G4S saw the work that I had put into training the dogs they offered to employ me in management. However, since I didn’t to be employed I gave them a counter offer. The offer was that I would set up their dog section and also set up a replacement programme for their old dogs. They accepted my offer and gave me a mandate to train their handlers as well as breed dogs for them. I eventually stopped working with G4S and approached Securex with an idea of outsourcing their dog section. Given her track record, Securex were more than willing to give her the business. When I got the job it quickly dawned on me that I could have bitten more than I could chew. I was pregnant at the time and had not set up the necessary structures for such a venture. At the time I did not have a vet so dogs would get sick and even die and I also did not have a good diet for the dogs. I eventually set up the necessary structures which include: a veterinary clinic, a training department and a finance department. It was these structures that enabled my company to be what it is today.
Why do you think you succeeded in the dog breeding business and what did you different?
When i started out most of the people who were breeding dogs were the elites and they used to breed the dogs as pets. In my case i had the Kenyan perspective of a dog being a protector hence i trained them as such hence their suitability for security work.
I brought in professional trainers from Croatia and Norway to come train my dogs and the dog handlers. I also send out my dog handlers to further their training in places like South Africa so as to ensure that my dogs are getting the best training there is.
I also invested in good dog breeds, did you know that not all dogs breeds can become good sniffer dogs? I learnt this the hard way so i make a point to attend dog shows in Europe so as to ensure that i always have the best dog breeds. I currently have 12 sniffer dogs the largest number in Kenya and i am also training 12 more.
What is next for Skaaga?
We opened up a pet shop in Karen called Pet World in February this year, this came about due to my experiences when I started breeding dogs. I needed toys for use while training the dogs but soon came to realise that the pet shops in the country did not have what I wanted. I had to fly out of the country, buy the toys in bulk and keep them till they were required. We have also embarked into the dog food business and I have already imported a dog food line from Italy which can be found at our pet shop.
How did you get involved with SheTrades?
I got involved with SheTradesKE through the 10,000 women Goldman Sachs program at USIU. The SheTrades initiative is remarkable in that due to the international contacts therein it can enable me to go global which in my case is having our dogs working outside Kenya. Also SheTrades can help me expand my business from just breeding dogs. I actually wish that SheTrades was in existence when I was starting out as this would have saved me the travel costs while doing research.
First published here