Meet Steph Du Preez, Manager of Behavior Services
by Lee Chambers
Steph Du Preez’s interest in animal behavior study came about when she and her mother hatched a plan to bring a dog into her parents’ home. “I was working at an animal hospital and there was this stray dog that nobody claimed,” she recalls. “She was just hanging around, and I convinced my mom to come meet her. She fell in love with the dog, but knew it wouldn’t be easy bringing her home because of my dad. She took Dad on a vacation and instructed me to move the dog into their home while they were away, and that’s when she told him what he was returning home to.” The dog, a Rottweiler mix, had some behavioral issues, and as Steph worked with the dog, she discovered her calling.
Hired last September as Dakin’s Manager of Behavior Services, Steph’s primary duty is to work with staff and volunteers to ensure that all Dakin animals receive exemplary behavior care, which includes enrichment, evaluation and rehabilitation. She conducts evaluations of incoming dogs to assess their behavior and determine if they will be suited to virtually any adopter, or if they have complex issues – medical or behavioral – that will require special attention and/or specific future home settings.
“One of the reasons I was hired was because of the large population of dogs with behavioral issues that are brought here,” Steph says. “Most of them need at least some behavioral work. It can vary from them being excessively fearful and shy, to being overly mouthy, to having a lot of energy, to reacting to other dogs on leash. Dakin is amazing in the lengths it goes to in caring for them as well as elderly pets who are surrendered to us who need medical care involving dentals, grooming, urinary issues and more.”
A Massachusetts native, Steph was no stranger to Dakin when she was hired. More than a decade ago she completed an internship in humane education here while attending UMass. She went on to work in a veterinary hospital, in private practice as a dog trainer, and at a shelter.
When she accepted this position at Dakin, she and her husband Jacques were living in California. They are now settled in Westford, but are looking to move to the Pioneer Valley. In November they welcomed their first child, Alice, who shares their home with three cats and two dogs.
With all the challenges she faces in her career, Steph is quick to note the most rewarding moments. “That would be when I get to see a dog who has issues come out of their shell or show different behaviors that lead them to be adopted and have a really happy life.”