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By Connie Leinbach
Part-time islander Juan Galvis is in the business of saving dogs’ lives, but not in the medical sense.
His Durham business, The Pet Wagon, an animal care and dog-training center, arose from his quest to discover the keys to controlling the aggressive behavior in his second dog, Fuser, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, whom he had to euthanize.
“By the time I had him two years, he had put me in the emergency room twice,” Galvis said.
Fuser’s aggression resulted in bites and even a broken wrist, after which Galvis made the devastating decision to put his dog down.
“I was in so much pain mentally,” he said. “I felt I let the dog down and felt guilty.”
From that pain, he began researching dogs to understand their world, ultimately channeling that knowledge into his Dogability Dog Training.
A native of Colombia, South America, Galvis, 38, has an engaging personality and is an articulate speaker of English, his second language, as is his wife, Maria Sol Arenas, a native of Argentina.
At their home on Sand Dollar Road, passersby might notice four of the same kind of dog—Belgian Malinois.
When these and two other mixed-breed dogs aren’t zipping around the yard, one will see how all of them instantly obey Galvis’ commands. It’s beautiful to behold.
But don’t ask him for dog training tips because understanding and training dogs cannot be conveyed in a few sentences or even a few hours.
“You can’t just get bits and pieces,” he said shaking his head. “Getting a dog is easy. Knowing the psychology and management of them is a different world. The optimal way to help someone is to set up a program.”
His passion is all about helping dog owners understand their pets and have control over them to avoid the tragedy he underwent with Fuser.
Consequently, he and Maria created a wildly successful business.
But before that, his career took some hairpin turns.
At the age of 18, he came to the United States to pursue a professional golf career having been in the top 10 junior golfers in Colombia. A stint in the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla., led to his enrolling in Campbell University in 1997 to seek a berth on the college team and to study golf management and economics.
Campbell is where he met Maria, who, at the time, was the top woman golfer in Argentina.
Owing to injuries, both rarely play the sport anymore.
After college, while Galvis worked as a sales rep for Nationwide Insurance, his experience with Fuser led him to seek out the best dog trainers in the world.
First there was Michael Ellis of Santa Rosa, Calif., who opened Galvis’s eyes to what was possible.
But meeting Ivan Balavanov, a two-time world-champion Malinois trainer, unlocked the knowledge Galvis needed to propel him to a higher level—as a trainer and as a protection-dog sport competitor.
A visit to Balanavov’s website shows a video of him in competition with one of his dogs and the same kind of instant obedience as when Galvis commands his dogs.
Even his cat, ChiChi, obeys (most) commands
He credits Maria with the ideas of adding a dog hotel and then training to their initial service of mobile dog sitting and walking.
Business success allows the couple to make frequent trips to Ocracoke, bringing along their six dogs, one cat and a flying squirrel, Paco, whom Galvis had rescued from the wild.
Although two rescued tortoises have fled the couple’s menagerie, the newest addition is Paloma, a white dove Galvis rescued on the road and is rehabbing.
On the island, the couple indulges their passion for fishing and island life.
“My employees enjoy life, too,” he said about his business philosophy. “My key people are some of my best friends.”
Back home, his staff oversees 120 dogs per day in their facility and 10 dogs in training.
His staff trains the dogs in two-, four- or six-week sessions. Then Galvis comes in to finish up the work with the owners in a handler’s course.
Galvis takes their success in stride.
“I can’t believe how well we’ve done,” he said. “Money’s not the goal. I’ve helped so many people because it’s been done with honest passion.”
Training a dog is about safety and freedom for the owners, he said.
“I help people not to go through the pain I went through with Fuser,” he said. I’ve saved so many dogs’ lives now.”
Editor’s note: Since this story was published in the July print edition of the Ocracoke Observer, Paloma, the white dove, was, unfortunately, killed by a cat.