Courtney DeDi’s parents weren’t keen on her having a pet when she was younger, going so far as to tell her that she suffered from allergies. But that didn’t stop DeDi’s love of animals from shining through.
“I was always the first kid to volunteer to take home the guinea pig, or hamster, or whatever kind of class pet we had,” DeDi says. “And then my mom would pick me up at school and I would be standing there with big cage and a smile on my face.
“She now says she wishes she would have let me have a dog when I was younger, because then maybe I wouldn’t have so many now,” DeDi says.
In 2010, DeDi’s love for animals inspired her to launch DiOGi Pet Services, a company that offers pet sitting, walking and training. DiOGi specializes in dogs with special needs or behavioral issues, but serves all animals, including goats, chickens and ducks.
“Urban farming is becoming such a popular thing in the city and I just felt like it was something that was neat,” DeDi says. “It’s something fun and new, and we’ve got some urban farmers on our team of dog walkers and pet sitters, so they’ve got the knowledge to help people set up their farms, and how to integrate new chickens into their coop, and all of that kind of stuff.”
Pet training is essential
DeDi has a passion for making sure pet owners are informed and educated, and admits that some of her knowledge has been acquired by trial-and-error.
“Mini pigs don’t exist – there’s no such thing,” she jokes. “I thought I was getting a mini pig. They said, ‘Oh, maybe 60 pounds.’ Now he’s 200, and he’s still growing.”
Even with more traditional pets, DeDi and her business partner, head dog trainer Emily Parker, see how often people find themselves overwhelmed by the prospect of rearing an animal.
“I think a lot of people get a dog expecting one particular personality, and then they get them home and three weeks later they’re a totally different animal,” DeDi says.
“It’s mostly shelter dogs, because when they’re in that environment they kind of shut down, and their real personality doesn’t come out for two to three weeks until they’re adjusted to their new environment.”
Another common misstep by new pet owners is “wanting their puppy to enjoy puppyhood,” and delaying important training until the dog is a year or year-and-a-half years old, DeDi says.
“They don’t utilize the time when their dog is like putty,” she says. “They’ll keep their puppy inside, they won’t take them for new experiences. I think people forget that umbrellas are scary, that skateboards are scary, so they kind of set their dog up if they’re not doing that socialization in that window of time when they’re open to understanding and learning. People often overlook that, and then they end up with a dog that needs further training because the dog is terrified of skateboards, and sometimes that leads to the dog being so anxious that they lunge and bite a skateboarder,” she adds.
Community building through nonprofit
In addition to its pet sitting and walking services, DiOGi also hosts a Puppy Adventure Club every Sunday for dogs that are between eight weeks and 3 years old.
“They come together and play, but it’s not just about socialization with other puppies,” DeDi says. “It’s also being introduced to scary things such as a pool, a skateboard, taking a bath – we make all of these experiences a positive so we really get the puppies started on the right foot in life.”
DiOGi has also developed a relationship with Atlanta’s film industry, perfecting an on-demand service that DeDi hopes they can expand to their general offerings.
“They’re the kind of people who need on-call, right-now services,” DeDi says. “Their schedules are so crazy that they don’t have time to plan. Let’s say filming happens, then they change the schedule up, and we have to be on set at midnight to walk their dog.”
Earlier this year, DeDi launched a nonprofit arm known as DiOGi Cares, which is intended to help lower-income Atlantans keep their dogs if financial or behavioral issues arise.
“The main focus of our group is to keep pets in their homes,” DeDi says. “So what we do is we go into lower-income areas of Atlanta, pass out food, talk with people, create that kind of community relationship so that they feel comfortable with us. Then we also offer free training classes for people in lower-income areas, to come and participate with their dogs.
“What’s been really great about it is that we’ve seen wild, wild dogs the first day,” she adds. “People are just like, ‘I want to get rid of my dog. I’ve thought about it many times,’ and then by the end of that session they’ll be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know my dog was that smart and could do all those things.’ It happens a lot. Our clients will be like I can’t keep their dog, and we help them.”