BY MAGGIE BEAMGUARD
If you’re going to run with the big dogs, you’ve got to wake up early. For Neil Copeland, owner of Seven Lakes Kennels, that means starting his day at 4 a.m.
After hitting the gym, he arrives at the kennels by 6:30 a.m. to begin training, followed by visits with clients, training evaluations, facility tours and dog field trips to town. He wraps up around 7 or 8 p.m. It’s enough to make anyone feel dog-tired. But for Copeland, it’s invigorating.
Copeland’s passion for dogs started early. “It comes from being with my dad. That’s the way I got to spend time with my dad when I was a kid.” They hunted together and raised pedigree dogs for competition.
“I started learning how to read dogs and how to understand dogs. When I was about 14 years old I became a field trial judge for beagles.”
A childhood spent in the wilds of Missouri turned Copeland into an outdoorsman. “In Missouri, you are either hunting or fishing,” he said.
He really began to hone his training skills when he took up waterfowl hunting and needed to train a dog with special skills.
“I started burying my head in books and videos and spending time with other trainers learning how to do that,” he said. “I just developed this skill to train hunting dogs, and that skill has led me all over the world.”
Eventually that skill landed Copeland in Seven Lakes, but not before pursuing a career first as an U.S. Army Medic and later as a respiratory therapist. Met with an opportunity to train dogs as a contractor in North Carolina, he knew he had to pursue his passion.
“I confided in all of my friends,” he said about mulling over the move. “I brought my wife and two kids here, dropping everything. I had a good job at the hospital and then just pursued my love for animals.”
In 2018, Copeland purchased Seven Lakes Kennels, which had been up and running for 23 years. “I’ve put my own flair on it and introduced myself. We draw customers from everywhere for training and boarding.” Dogs have come from Maryland, Delaware, Wisconsin and even Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.
The veteran-owned business is popular with locals too, voted as the top dog trainer in The Pilot’s Best of the Pines contest last year. The business also received recognition as second place winners for boarding and third place for grooming.
A self-described workaholic, Copeland says it’s all for the animals. “My clients love to come here because of the cleanliness and the customer service,” he said, “but they also see our passion.”
The animals come first, Copeland says, but he enjoys the clients too. “I really enjoy meeting new people and building relationships,” he said.
“So many dog trainers talk about relationships with their animals, but it’s the relationships with the people that help their success.”
He credits his background as a respiratory therapist with giving him a greater understanding of people. In that work, he saw people at their worst and witnessed the gamut of human emotion. “Being bedside and talking with those family members that are struggling opens your eyes. It kind of humbles you.”
“Some of those same emotions that I have seen at bedside are at play in people’s relationship with their pets. And given my experience of being able to not only train animals and feel that much emotion, I also can connect with people.”
It’s a dog’s life for Copeland who has found his calling in bringing out the best in both animals and humans. “I’ve been in the dog world for many, many years,” he said, “And I just try to offer the best experience to the customer with integrity and honesty.”
When evaluating animals, Copeland says he likes to be straightforward about their needs. Sometimes that means recommending that training happen at a later time or he might recommend a different trainer.
As an occasional contributor to The Seven Lakes Insider, Copeland shares his expertise with the broader community. His best advice to all pet owners is to offer their animals consistency and patience.
Copeland runs Seven Lakes Kennels with his wife, Lori. Far from Missouri they happily call the Sandhills “home.”
“I truly love this area, and I love this community,” he said. “And the business community of Seven Lakes is wonderful.”
Information about the services of Seven Lakes Kennels can be found at sevenlakeskennels.com.
Contact Maggie Beamguard at firstname.lastname@example.org.