She was scorned and ridiculed over what many called a crazy business venture. Many felt pity for the woman who was obsessed with dogs. But this did not dampen her passion for dog rearing. From dog rearing, Mediatrice Bigirimana has become a successful businesswoman.
At the gate of Bigirimana’s dog farm in Rusheshe, Masaka, Kicukiro District, the faint sound of dogs barking can be heard. Once inside, a kempt garden with flowers welcomes you. The barking gets louder as you move along.
Dog rearing isn’t something many will think of as a ‘fulfilling’ career; perhaps it is because pets are not something many see as a potential business venture. However, Bigirimana, a widow who lives in Kimironko, Gasabo District has turned her dog rearing passion into a successful business.
Together with her husband Dr Alphonse Rutayisire, they started rearing dogs for sale in 2014. Unfortunately, Dr Rutayisire passed on last year in January. She has since been reaping big from what others may not see as a worthy venture.
How it started
Bigirimana says that after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, with the support of her husband, they took in a few stray dogs and along the way, realised their importance. In 1998, they started keeping puppies at home but it wasn’t until 2014 when they made it a business.
“We bought two puppies, female and male from Belgium at 800 Euros (Rwf700,000). We raised them and then sold them to people who wanted security dogs,” she says.
Today, Bigirimana has seven German Shepherds and three Labrador Retrievers under her care. She has sold seven dogs since she started the business. The price is set depending on various attributes; she sells a three-month-old puppy at $400 to 500( Rwf330,000-410,000). She at least spends Rwf700,000 on caring for the dogs every month.
Bigirimana’s business also created job opportunities for four people who are responsible for looking after the dogs; that includes feeding, training, and cleaning them, among other things.
On her farm, is Clinivetkgl Pets Ltd, a small vet centre for animals, mainly dogs and cats. Bigirimana’s late husband was a veterinary physician and he used to treat the animals.
After her husband’s death, Bigirimana took on his responsibilities but had to hire a vet.
Bigirimana notes that the veterinary centre provides the best care for the animals, and is keen on immunisation, internal and external parasite treatment and even surgery. They also offer dog training services as well as selling food and accessories for the animals.
Bigirimana also looks after dogs owned by other people while they are away for holiday, especially foreigners.
“I have so many foreign clients who live in Rwanda. We keep their dogs once they go to their countries, or elsewhere, for holiday or a visit. Some of my clients used to leave their dogs at their homes but on return, they would find the dogs hungry because the keepers would consume the money themselves instead of feeding the dogs,” she adds.
Bigirimana advises people to change their mindset and embrace dog farming as a productive business.
“Dog farming is a business like any other. People should change their beliefs. I like this profession. Dogs are so important and they need special care,” she says.
“My neighbours used to laugh at the business but they have come to recognise how beneficial it is. I hope that others realise that dogs are not enemies. The dog is a friendly animal, there’s a reason it is called man’s best friend, and it plays a major role in security. When people sleep, the dog stays watchful. They are used for security, like at airports.”
She adds that Rwandans should embrace local dog rearing so that ‘we do not spend too much money on buying dogs from foreign countries’.
Bigirimana boasts of significant changes since she started the business.
She says that the money earned is used to expand the farm by increasing the number of dog houses. The earnings also pay school fees and health insurance for her family, among other requirements.
And it’s not just her family benefitting from the business, but the people she employs as well, she says.
Bigirimana explains that before her husband passed away, they had formed the ‘Alphonse Rutayisire Foundation’, which aimed at providing veterinary physicians with more knowledge about dog rearing.
“In school, most vets focus on cattle farming. They do not learn much about dogs and what it takes to keep them healthy, that is why I invited a foreign trainer to help them,” she says.
Bigirimana says that her biggest challenge yet is people’s perception of the business.
“People do not understand dog rearing. This is a critical issue because they are supposed to be the clients. Also, we lack enough skilled veterinary physicians. Finding one is a real problem,” she says.