I had the pleasure of interviewing Guillermo (Memo) Roa, a certified therapy dog trainer who has trained a chocolate lab named Molly to respond to direction in both English and Spanish. Together, the bilingual team provides free animal therapy services to homeless children in New York City shelters and to adults who have special needs. The certified therapy team is currently accepting corporate sponsors so they can visit more people in need. Roa holds many high-level dog training credentials including an American Kennel Club (AKC) Tester Certification and an Animal Behavior College (ABC) Trainer Certification. He owns GR Pet Services on Long Island, New York where he provides training for dogs (and their owners).
Thank you so much for joining us Guillermo! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born in Bogota, Colombia and raised in a beautiful close family. When I was little, I spent most of my free time surrounded by nature and animals where I developed my love for all kind of animals, especially dogs.
My life growing up was very pleasant. I went to high school and college, got married and had two sons. I had a family business, a house and a lot of friends and family. I was blessed.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell the story?
Everything was great in my life until the drug dealers and illegal groups started to increase their power. They corrupted part of the government. Bombs, kidnappings, and threats started to be part of daily life in my neighborhood. Most of the kids who attended school with my sons had private body guards with armored cars. The economy collapsed forcing difficult times for my business. I started to worry about my family’s safety and our future. So, I decided to start a new life in the United States.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I did not have a problem with the visa because I visited the US a few times before. I moved to this country knowing that I would have to start from zero. I had no knowledge of the English language and survived with little money for few months.
I came with the idea to work hard to provide a better future to my family. I started cleaning offices at the beginning and then washed dishes in a deli. Even though I did not know how to speak English, I was willing to learn and try to be understood. It was not easy. A lot of times I felt rejected but little by little I started to improve and that opened new opportunities for a better position at the deli. I was working 70 hours a week.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share the story?
First, I want to thank my wife who was the person who has believed in me and supported me. She was the one who encouraged me to study to be a dog trainer and do what I had always dreamed of; work with animals.
My two sons, Juan Guillermo and Nicolas, are my inspiration and my strength. My parents who raised me with values such as respect, and honesty. I am grateful for my family in Colombia who supported my decision to come to this country, my family in the US, especially my uncle Alvaro (RIP), who helped me become stable in this country, Pat Iavarone who trusted in me and helped me to become legal in US and of course June Bleich, Molly’s mom and my partner in providing therapy dog services.
We know that US needs improvement. But what are three things that make you optimistic about the US’s future.
My family and I are very optimistic about the opportunities we now have in this country. We are thankful to be living and working during a positive time for the economy. Coming from a much smaller country with less opportunities, we have a positive outlook about the United States. We hope that there will be better times for everyone. Looking ahead, we are optimistic for the unity of countries and a better immigration system.
Some of the biggest names in business, VC funding Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or in the U whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with and why?
Cesar Millan because he is someone who I can relate to. He was a Mexican immigrant who moved to the United States speaking no English with only $100. After persistence and a long journey, Cesar built a name for himself. He became very successful and is known globally as ‘the dog whisperer’. Cesar is an inspiration as he started from zero and helped a lot of people with his love for dogs.
Work with Love. I feel happy being active and productive, no matters what kind of job. I started cleaning dishes, then I was the butcher manager and now I have my own business. Work dignifies man. I had the pleasure of interviewing Guillermo (Memo) Roa, a certified therapy dog […]