Paul and Jeleen Guttenberg did not plan to have their lives go to the dogs. But a Labrador puppy named Little Ricky Ricardo changed the course of their retirement plans.
"We just bought him as a pet," Paul Guttenberg said of Little Ricky. But the breeder they got him from told them, “You might want to show this dog.”
And so they did. And they soon learned what an exceptional dog they had in Little Ricky.
"When we showed him, he just started winning,” Jeleen Guttenberg said. “He climbed in the rankings really quickly.”
They had been breeding Labrador retrievers for years under the kennel name Union Hill Labradors. But Little Ricky's Best in Breed win at the 141st Westminster Kennel Dog show in February 2017 cemented plans to devote all their attention to the dogs.
"I felt like it was a sign that maybe we should just focus on breeding good dogs,” Jeleen Guttenberg said.
And becoming more plugged into the dog world included moving from Billings, Montana, to Colorado.
"In Billings, you have to drive eight hours to get to any dog show," she said. This area is more of a dog show hub, with shows in Denver, Wyoming, Albuquerque, New Mexico and more, Jeleen Guttenberg said.
The couple, who met in college in Missoula, Montana, have been married 41 years. They decided they wanted to open a kennel; it would provide a retirement income, they reasoned. Plus, “We thought it would be a fun thing to do for a new business, and we wanted to start a business,” Jeleen Guttenberg said. (They've had their own business before, a document shredding business that Paul Guttenberg ran in California.)
They found a property along U.S. 24 in Falcon, across from Big R, that was already zoned for a commercial kennel. To keep a close eye on the business, they wanted to live on the same property where their facility would be. While they had to build the kennel, there was already a home there; the 12.5-acre property also has a pond and 100-year-old trees, offering a pleasant retreat just a few steps from work.
"We love it," Jeleen Guttenberg said.
Falcon Kennel broke ground in early 2020 and opened in August. The facility includes 5-by-5 foot indoor kennel runs connected by doggy doors to larger, covered outdoor runs. The indoor kennels are equipped with heating and air conditioning –- and music.
"I'm a music buff," Jeleen Guttenberg said. "I insisted on having music for the dogs. I think it helps occupy their mind during the day."
The rapidly growing Falcon area is an ideal spot for the kennel, they said.
“There's a lot of demand for this type of business, especially with an indoor-outdoor facility,” Paul Guttenberg said.
When they envisioned the kennels, though, they had no idea they would be opening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dealt a hefty blow to the tourism industry and put a damper on travel plans.
"It's a very scary time to open a travel-related business, and dog boarding is travel-related," Jeleen Guttenberg said. "People don't board their dogs when they're home."
As with most other travel-related businesses, it's also a seasonal business, Paul Guttenberg said. "You've got your spring break period, summer's big, then Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. That's the big time; if a boarding kennel isn't full at Christmastime, they're probably not going to make it. But this year, people might not be traveling to go see grandma."
But there are also factors in their favor, from the state-of-the-art facility to the high-profile location, they said. Jeleen Guttenberg hopes the ski season will bring a bump in business as people drop off their dogs before heading to the resorts.
The pandemic, of course, has also had a huge impact on the dog show world. "It's sad that so many of the shows have been canceled," Jeleen Guttenberg said. When the shows do get back up and running, having the responsibility of the kennel "will keep us out of it for a while, but we'll send a few of our dogs once in a while with handlers," she said.
Jeleen Guttenberg said, The dog show world is "a really small community, especially within your breed. … Most people are really passionate about their dogs. When a dog passes, we all share it on Facebook and everybody mourns. When you have a litter of puppies, everyone congratulates you."
(For more information on Falcon Kennel, go to falconkennel.com. To learn more about the Guttenbergs' breeding business, go to unionhilllabradors.com.)
Paul and Jeleen Guttenberg opened Falcon Kennel in August.