Profile: Shelagh Begg, rescue advocate and “dog whisperer”

Shelagh Begg and her canine companions. (Dizine Canine Photo)

In 2008, after 18 years working in customer service, Shelagh Begg decided to quit her job to become a dog trainer.

It started with the rescue of her dog Bailey four years earlier. Bailey was a pit bull mix who she adopted from the Surrey SPCA through a foster volunteer.

“She’d been there apparently a year and no one wanted her,” said Begg. “She was an owner-surrender. She was brown – brown and boring.”

Initially she felt a connection with Bailey because she was energetic, athletic and friendly. Unfortunately, Bailey came with severe behavioural problems that often resulted in her biting strangers.

It was after she hired a private dog trainer to help her understand and manoeuvre Bailey’s fear-based aggression that Begg saw how effective and empowering dog training could be.

“It really took eight months to a year before we had this really amazing relationship where I knew [Bailey] and she knew me,” she said.

During that time, she had also made a connection with an entirely new community: HugABull. Introduced to the rescue organization through Bailey’s foster mom, Begg went from selling raffle tickets at one event to becoming a permanent volunteer and HugABull’s go-to dog trainer.

According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Canadian animal shelters in 2014 – 39 of them based in B.C. – had an intake of 38,000 dogs. Not only was HugABull able to help find homes for some of the most vulnerable dogs in these shelters, but volunteers like Begg allowed them to be set up for success by providing thorough training resources.

“[Shelagh] really provides a lot of value,” said April Fahr, executive director of HugABull. “Just being as qualified and as knowledgeable as she is that we’re able to provide really strong training support to the foster dogs and people in our communities.”

“She would go up to dogs on the corner tied up outside of a store. She was this sort of dog whisperer.” – Shannon Thomas, HugABull volunteer

“She became very passionate with the organization,” said Shannon Thomas, Begg’s sister and fellow HugABull volunteer. It was after four years of balancing volunteering, she said, that Begg decided to pursue her passion.

“Shelagh has always been strange, ever since she was a little girl,” said Thomas. “She would go up to dogs on the corner tied up outside of a store. She was this sort of dog whisperer.”

When the sisters’ mother passed away the same year Begg quit her job, she used the time during that emotional milestone in her life to move forward.

“I had the money from her that she’d left us,” Begg said. “I thought, you know I’m going to use that and invest it in myself, and not invest it in stocks or mutual funds and all that, because that wasn’t who she was.”

“I like working with people. I like teaching and I like empowering people to be able to work with their pets.” – Shelagh Begg, owner of Dizine Canine

After receiving accreditation as a professional dog trainer, Begg opened up her business, Dizine Canine. It was a combination of her ambition and willingness to constantly educated herself, as well as the support and guidance from her sister and brother-in-law, that allowed Begg to make a name for herself.

Begg said that the logistics of running a business is above all the hardest part.

“The more I put into it the more I get out of it,” she said. “But it can be challenging. No one is going to become a millionaire as a dog trainer.”

Despite this, teaching her clients and hearing their success stories are what keeps her motivated to train.

“I like working with people. I like teaching and I like empowering people to be able to work with their pets,” she said.

Begg is now the president and co-director of business development at HugABull, and continues her dedicated work as a trainer at Dizine Canine.

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