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Pilot covers Happy Paws Grand Opening in University Shoppes

By Sandra J. Pennecke
Virginian-Pilot correspondent

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes three private animal shelters to help train a dog.

Well, not literally. But Happy Paws, a humane pet training center, is the collaborative project of the Chesapeake Humane Society, Virginia Beach Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Norfolk SPCA.

The center, which opened last month at 5660 Indian River Road in Virginia Beach, held its ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 27. The nonprofit was funded through a grant for more than $160,000 from the Alfred L. Nicholson Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

According to Tim Molina, Happy Paws manager and lead trainer, each of the three participating organizations refers pet owners who are eligible for reduced or free training.

Molina is a former canine behavior specialist at the Virginia Beach SPCA.

"I assessed dogs to make sure they were suitable for adoption," said Molina, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. "And I did behavioral modification for dogs that weren't ready for adoption."

"A lot of it is putting people on the right track," said Molina, stressing it's the owners who are trained, not the dogs. In time, Molina hopes to make Happy Paws a center for all companion animals, not just canines.

Happy Paws is the first nonprofit center of its kind in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, according to Virginia Beach SPCA Chief Executive Officer Dia DuVernet.

While the three animal shelters have some different philosophies, they all are devoted to the reduction of pet homelessness and keeping pets in their forever homes.

That's where Happy Paws comes into play.

"They target people who come into their organization and are in need of help because they may be relinquishing their dog," Molina said.

The grant primarily provided startup costs for the center, and will subsidize program fees for 24 patrons during the first year.

"Since Happy Paws is a self-sustaining venture, the more successful we are, the more we can give back to the community," Molina said.

Prices for services range between $29 and $139. Most of the typical six-week courses cost $99.

Centrally located between the three shelters, Happy Paws is also within biking distance to Molina's home, which he shares with his wife, Jennifer, their 2-year-old daughter, Harper Quinn, and two dogs - Daisy, a yellow Labrador retriever and Falcor, a Jack Russell terrier/Chihuahua mix.

Happy Paws offers behavioral consultations for aggressive and shy dogs, in-center or at-home behavioral modification, basic and puppy classes, and more. In time, Molina hopes to offer agility classes, too.

Norfolk resident Joseph Polansky brought his 8-year-old shepherd mix Bo to Happy Paws to help deal with his aggression issues.

"I wanted to have him evaluated to see if there could be hope or help," said Polansky, who found it difficult to take Bo out in public, especially around other dogs.

After just one session, Polansky said he saw a change in Bo.

"Tim worked miracles with him," he said. "It was really valuable because it showed me that Bo is capable of learning to socialize."

Polansky said he learned a variety of techniques to assist him in helping Bo react to situations differently.

Chesapeake residents Juliana and Nathaniel Dean also sought Happy Paws' help for their 5-year-old hound/boxer mix named Murphy.

With their first baby due any day, the couple wanted him go through basic training so he would listen better.

"We like the positive reinforcement that Tim suggests at Happy Paws," Juliana Dean said.

Sandra J. Pennecke,


What: Happy Paws Humane Pet Training

Where: 5660 Indian River Road, Virginia Beach

Info: 963-8661, 


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