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Sarah DeMerle is a certified dog trainer and founder of 716 Dog Pack, a Buffalo-based dog walking service that aims to enrich the lives of local dogs through the benefits of being part of a pack.
Sarah was drawn to dogs from an early age, but her parents hesitated to get her a dog of her own because she was allergic to them. Feeling safe and loved around dogs, Sarah would spend hours outside, petting her neighbor’s dogs and return home covered in hives. Recognizing the importance of Sarah’s connection to dogs, her parents got her a dog of her own for her 13th birthday. “I wanted to give back to dogs what they gave to me growing up. Pack walking is my way of giving back and helping dogs.”
A Buffalo native, Sarah graduated from Villa Maria College and Buffalo State College, and worked part-time at a dog day care and a small animal hospital. Thereafter, she accepted a full-time position performing academic administrative work at a local New York university that offered state benefits and job security. At one point, facing unexpected life challenges, Sarah returned to the healing power of dogs, finding strength and guidance in watching the award-winning television series, The Dog Whisperer. “I was so moved by how Cesar Millan worked with dogs and their owners, and how he trained with calmness and confidence. I’d watch with tears in my eyes saying, I know this is what I was meant to do!”
Overcoming adversity and her ongoing yearning to be with dogs inspired Sarah’s determination to follow her heart. She found a part-time position with state benefits, obtained certification in animal behavior at the Animal Behavior College, interned with Dog Days of Buffalo, and apprenticed at K9 Connections, while volunteering at Diamonds in the Ruff in Niagara County.
Pack walking has been very popular on the west coast for a long time, but when Sarah put her business plan forward, she was told there was no market for it in Buffalo. Nevertheless, she persisted, followed her dream, and created 716 Dog Pack. Initially, business was tough, but Sarah was able to resign from her part-time position and dedicate herself to full-time pack walking within six months. She says, “The first time I had a pack of dogs to walk it was a mess, but recalling advice from a friend, I realized the only way to climb a mountain is one step at a time.”
According to Sarah, the benefits of pack walking for dogs are undeniable, fulfilling their natural instinct to travel together and bond with other dogs. “Even territorial dogs learn to be part of a group in a neutral environment, and benefit from the much-needed socialization and mental stimulation it provides. They build relationships with each other and lean on each other. I’ve had aggressive dogs become balanced, and dogs that refuse to walk on a leash walk perfectly in the pack. Like people, dogs need a community.”
It’s been six years, and 716 Dog Pack has come a long way. Sarah has nearly 70 dogs under her care, and two dedicated walkers, one of which is her supportive partner Matt. She also fulfilled a lifelong dream of attending a Cesar Millan workshop in California this year. Working directly under Cesar Millan’s supervision at a workshop, she said, “Matt and I learned tools and techniques that encompassed a depth of care that requires a spirit, body, mind, and soul connection. Heeding Cesar Millan’s mantra — Better Human, Better Planet — has allowed us to present the best version of ourselves to the dogs we work with.”
Sarah acknowledges that part of being the best version of herself means taking care of her own health. She gets plenty of exercise walking the dogs — at least 10 miles a week, reads books on self-growth, plays saxophone, and practices meditation. She says, “We meditated every day at the Cesar Millan’s, and it was life changing!”
716 Dog Pack is thriving and so is Sarah. She plans on expanding and is looking for three more part-time employees. When asked what advice she would give others who want to branch out on their own she says, “Follow your intuition. I’ve had a lot of people doubt me along the way, but if you really listen to your heart and follow it, you’ll find happiness, because that is the path you are meant to take.”