“Being in the middle of it, it seems overwhelming,” Macey says about his dual-life. “It’s like this will never happen. But Pam had a corporate job and Wayne had a corporate job, so it is possible.” When he thinks back on the work holiday, Macey’s biggest takeaway has nothing to do with start-up costs or customer relations.
“You can make a living and you can be doing what you want to do,” Macey says. “I think that’s the purpose of Vocation Vacations: to show you that yes it is possible. If you want to do it, you can do it.”
The inspiration impact is key. Kurth and his colleagues are proactive in searching out excellent mentors, and they frequently turn away people who aren’t a good fit. Not just anyone will do, Kurth says. He wants to help people “change their lives,” which means finding mentors who will inspire “vocationers.”
That often translates into finding mentors who themselves took a mid-life leap of faith like Kurth. Lisa Collins is a classic example. For several years, the 32-year-old Chicagoan worked in finance by day, but her nights were all about dogs. She began as a volunteer in the dog adoption room at the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago, and quickly advanced to a dog-training apprenticeship and leading classes herself.
Dabbling in training turned serious when she was laid off from her day job about three years ago. “I got the kick in the butt to go and try the dog stuff full-time,” Collins says. Soon after, she launched Collins Canine, which offers a variety of positive-reinforcement behavioral and obedience training geared to average dog owners.
When Brian Kurth approached her about a mentorship late last year, she knew she had something to offer. “I get about one email a week asking how I became a dog trainer,” Collins says. She signed on with the company because an immersion-holiday seemed like the best way to answer that question.
Vocation Vacations is always adding new canine-centric opportunities. Last October, the company launched an experience with a pet detective, Kat Albrecht of Pet Hunters International based in Fresno, Calif. Albrecht uses many of the tools of traditional law enforcement to find lost pets (including snakes). The two-day mentorship costs $999 (plus airfare, lodging and food), but includes working with specially trained detection dogs, developing leads and interviewing witnesses, participating in mini-stakeouts, and much of the on-the-job training required for certifying Missing Animal Response Technicians.
In January, Vocation Vacations launched a mentoring opportunity at the Paw House Inn in Rutland, Vt. This 1786 farmhouse oozes rustic charm and dog-loving details that routinely fuel retirement fantasies in guests. The eight-bedroom bed-and-breakfast is tricked out for pups, with dog beds in every room, an off-leash park with an agility course, and an indoor dog daycare center so owners can enjoy nearby fun (like skiing at Killington or Okemo Mountain) guilt-free.
The mentors for this dream-job holiday are innkeepers Jen Fredreck, 34, and Mitch Frankenberg, 38. Five years ago, they didn’t have the benefit of Vocation Vacations when they made their leap. Fredreck was an attorney working at a law school and Frankenberg was a financial analyst when they decided to trade in their fast-track New York existence for a wholesale life-change.
Though Frankenberg took an online innkeeper class, “there was a lot of trial and error. We learned from our mistakes,” Fredreck says.
“It’s not the glorified, romantic ideal,” she admits. “Until you actually own an inn, you’re not going to know what it’s like.” The $899, three-day mentorship offers an owner’s-eye view of the business, covering everything from how to prep gourmet breakfasts day-in/day-out to dealing with dogs of different temperaments. The overriding theme is hard work and plenty of it.
Still, there are times, Fredreck says, when she’ll be out in the snow playing with the dogs, her husband and their 18-month-old son, and she’ll pause to appreciate the special life she’s been able to create. “It’s a fantastic family business,” she says. “We couldn’t be more thrilled.”