"Valerie has such an inspirational history with animals which has never truly been showcased before, and that is why I have included her full bio to the Hikin' Hounds website. Her travels around the world working with exotic animals, learning new geography and habitats, and deepening her understanding of animal behaviours is just so fascinating it needs to be shared!" --Katheryn Jones
The wonder years
Originally born in the Netherlands, Valerie and her family immigrated to New Zealand when she was 6 years old and bought a farm, where they lived off the land in a self-sustaining lifestyle - back then it was called being a hippie! Valerie found her calling early on helping out on the farm caring for cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, a horse, dogs, cats and many other furry friends... Throughout her growing years, Valerie and her family traveled extensively and she was introduced to many cultures (and animals!) throughout different parts of the world. And, as if it were a scene from a movie, she even has a hippie, childhood story where she and her family travelled by van from the Netherlands all the way across Europe and the Middle East where they reached their final destination landing in India. It was no wonder why travel, animals, and a love of nature was born.
University, zoo life and early travels
After high school, her passion for animals lead her to Massey University where she obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mammalian Physiology and Animal Behaviour. After graduating she worked as a zoo keeper at Orana Park Wildlife Reserve where she helped care for all the resident wildlife but primarily focused on the primates and big cats. Working so closely with such magnificent creatures as tigers, lions, cheetahs, giraffes and lemurs led to a desire to work with these animals in their natural habitat. Valerie decided to pack her bags, travel to Asia and see what opportunities she could find to help preserve indigenous species and their habitat.
She spent the next few years traveling through India and SE Asia, visiting many national parks and making connections to further her dream of working with wildlife. Highlights included her time with the orangutans in Borneo, a camel safari across the deserts of Rajasthan in India and scuba diving in Indonesia.
Working with wildlife in Thailand
Valerie eventually ended up in Thailand where she joined the Thai Society for the Conservation and Welfare of Animals as a volunteer. Using her skills learned as a zoo keeper she worked at a sanctuary which housed bears, gibbons, macaques and many other species confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. TSCWA worked closely with the local keepers, educating them on diets and behavioural enrichment of cages and also built large outdoor enclosures for the bears so they could be free to roam and interact with each other in a natural environment.
Following that she was employed by Care for the Wild, an England based NGO which helped fund rescue centres and animal sanctuaries caring for abandoned, injured and orphaned wild animals. She liaisoned with projects in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, dealing mainly with the housing of rescued tigers.
She was then offered her dream position as a wildlife research assistant with the Wildlife Conservation Society. Based in Bangkok, she made regular field trips to Khao Yai National Park where she worked closely with local poachers-turned-conservationists to study the population and distribution of tigers. Spending weeks at a time in the forest, using camera traps and sign surveys, they spent a couple of years collecting data throughout the whole park on the resident tigers as well as their prey species.
As well as her passion for land animals she was also drawn to the underwater world and spent most weekends scuba diving off the coasts of Thailand. Over the years she worked her way through the PADI levels to eventually become an instructor and was then able to introduce new divers to the fascinating world of marine life.
the dog years in Vancouver, BC
In 2001 Valerie set her eyes on travelling once again and arrived in Vancouver, BC by happenstance. Falling in love with the local mountains and beaches, she decided to stay awhile and explore. Little did she know that taking on a job at a local dog walking company would lead her down an entirely different career path.
Dog walking combined her love of being outdoors, working with animals and put to use her animal behaviouralist degree. Making some great new friends and hiking up the local mountains with some very privileged pooches, her love of animals was ignited in a new way.
After gaining 5 years of invaluable experience working with a local doggy daycare Valerie decided to start her own dog walking company in 2006 and Hikin' Hounds, Dog Adventures was born. Valerie has been taking packs of her furry buddies on daily mountain hikes and beach walks ever since, what started as a temporary holiday job has ended up being her chosen career for the last 16 years. A lot of her four-legged clients join the pack as young puppies and then stay with her for their entire lives, the incredible bond she has created with them by walking them every week for their whole lives is the reason she does this. They are family.
In 2014, seeing there was a real need in Vancouver for force-free trainers, Valerie decided it was time to start studying to be a dog trainer as well. After much research she found the perfect fit with The Academy for Dog Trainers. The Academy teaches a science-based type of training that uses only force-free methods. It's an intensive 2 year course that is longer, more difficult and more comprehensive than any other course offered anywhere. Valerie knew that if she was to become a dog trainer that she wanted to have the most knowledgable foundation to work from. She graduated in the summer of 2016 and has been training Vancouver dogs and their owners ever since. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and she looks forward to expanding her training services even more in the future.