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Couple proves dogs are no problem when people are properly trained


Last updated 9/28/2016 at Noon

Kim Sparks, above, and her husband John founded Balanced Bullies Rescue & Rehabilitation, which specializes in saving dogs – pit bulls primarily – that are  on death row.

If John and Kim Sparks called their Sparks K9 services a people training company, they might not attract too many clients.

But the Sparks, who specialize in solving tough behavioral, obedience and aggression issues in dogs, would be revealing much of what their service is all about.

“You can’t just fix one end of the leash,” John Sparks said. “You have to work with both ends.”

So often, people buy dogs because of some romantic notion of having “man’s best friend” at their side. As many dog owners know, the canine crowd can be incredibly friendly, loving and loyal.

But dogs also can be disruptive, disobedient and, sometimes, dangerous. Link them up with humans who train them, usually unconsciously, in all the wrong ways, and you have an unhappy pairing and, perhaps, a potentially explosive situation.

That’s why John Sparks, a dog lover his whole life, decided to focus on the most difficult cases when he and his wife Kim started Sparks K9 in 2012. Boarding and training dogs on their five-acre property in Monroe, they offer private and group lessons, practice walks, clinics and other services.

“People over-spoil their dog. They don’t train it. They don’t teach it,” John said. “Then, before you know it, it’s sitting on death row,” Kim added.

It’s also why Kim launched their nonprofit companion service, Balanced Bullies Rescue & Rehabilitation, which specializes in saving dogs – pit bulls primarily – that are literally on death row, awaiting euthanasia.

“These are rescue dogs that come out of high kill shelters,” Kim Sparks said. “We take the challenging dogs, not the cream puffs.”

But dog trainers like the Sparks have proven that pit bulls are not naturally vicious and, instead, with proper training could be loving companions.

When the Sparks do rescue and train a dog, they are very careful about placing it in a new home.

“I have to find the right person,” Kim said. “We’re probably too picky.”

“We’re really careful,” John agreed. “Dogs are put in the wrong situation all the time.”

Dogs, he explained, like structure. “We can fix them if we can change the people who own them,” he said.

That neighbor’s yapping dog that keeps you awake at night? That is practiced behavior the dog picks up, reacting to a person walking by, some sound in the distance, or other stimulation, day in, day out.

Trained properly, with obedience being the first order of business, makes all the difference. “Then you don’t have to tell him ‘no’ too much, because you’ve shown him what to do,” John said.

Whether the dog returns to a home where it picked up bad habits or goes to a new home where the Sparks’ training is allowed to fall by the wayside, the bad behavior can be expected to return.

Their care in choosing owners and favorable outcomes when rescuing troubled dogs has resulted in a 100 percent success rate.

“We’ve never had a dog come back,” Kim said. “That’s why we screen people, and what sets us apart. We back the dog for life.

“If an issue does come up, we’re there.”

Shelly Smith, who works at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, said the Sparks’ focus on intense dog and people training ensures a successful outcome.

“Most of these dogs would never be able to be placed into homes because of behavior issues, or just breed discrimination, but after their training they are given a second chance at life and finding a ‘forever’ home,” Smith said.

“Their screening process is very intense; not just anyone can own their rescues. It has to be a perfect fit, which is highly important for a breed like this that is often misused and abused.”

“I always joke that if I was a dog, I would want to be owned by the Sparks.”

Clients echo Smith’s comments.

Former Mukilteo resident Bobbie Bassett said her vet recommended the Sparks, who helped her with a rescued Dutch shepherd/Aussie mix that was very protective of her but had issues with men.

Thanks to John’s training, “Nick loves both of them now, and can’t wait to get praise from John,” Bassett said.

Julie Vandercook of Marysville expressed similar experiences. She and her husband have a German shepherd that formed a bond with her husband, but not with her.

“She was strong enough, even at six months, to pull me anywhere she wanted when she was on leash,” Vandercook said. “She would bark at me and bite me and, ugh, she was just a handful.

“Now, it is hard to believe that she was ever a challenge.”

Pit bulls can actually be friendly, loving pets if properly trained.

While John Sparks travels extensively to work with other trainers, and the couple does a lot of volunteer work at the animal shelter in Everett, they don’t have much of a life outside of Sparks K9 and Balanced Bullies Rescue & Rehabilitation.

“We don’t take vacations,” Kim said. “Luckily, we only have to do it seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

That dedication has earned the Sparks accolades. In 2015, out of 92 trainers, they were runner-up on King 5’s Best of Western Washington dog trainers.

To learn more about Sparks K9 or their nonprofit rescue service, visit their website at


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