Originally Published at silive.com
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – ARROCHAR – Alice Marino left her well-paying, middle-management job at a prestigious advertising agency in Manhattan more than 20 years ago and never looked back.
“I decided that if I had to work for the rest of my life, it had to be for me,” she said last week.
So she took a personal inventory, leveraged her main passions and talents, and changed her life.
Ms. Marino loves her work on Staten Island as certified master dog trainer, animal behavior specialist, and personal trainer for people and pets.
“My dream as a kid was to become a veterinarian,” she confessed.
Growing up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, her family always had birds – parakeets and parrots – and Alice trained her first dog, Luvit, a Yorkshire terrier, when she was 12 years old. “We weren’t allowed to have dogs in our apartment building, so I’d take him outside in my grandmother’s knitting bag,” she recalled with a laugh.
Ms. Marino married early, at 19, to her childhood sweetheart, and Luvit stayed behind in her parents’ apartment, at the insistence of her younger sister. But more dogs – and other animals – quickly came into Alice Marino’s life.
The newlyweds started off with “a couple of cats, and then we got a Labrador Retriever,” she said. “And I was always around German Shepherds – my ex-husband’s family bred them – and his uncle’s pit bulls.”
One day her husband came home and announced a surprise. To Ms. Marino’s astonishment, it was a black-and-white mare quarter-horse – a jumper – named Gemini.
“I always wanted horses, and I started showing her on Staten Island and in New Jersey,” she said. “Then my husband decided that each of us should have a horse, which is how we got Fella,” a gelding quarter-horse.
On a trip to upstate New York, after the first frost, Ms. Marino fell in love with Cowboy Poco Sue, an emaciated Dunn filly “with a dark brown stripe down her back, and tiger stripes on her legs.” With winter fast approaching, and fearful about the horse’s apparent lack of care, “I had to buy her,” she said.
“I broke that horse,” Ms. Marino remembered proudly. “It was my first major training of a large animal – walk, trot, canter. I had no experience but the stable owners on (Staten Island’s) West Shore guided me.
“The first time I trotted on her, she threw me 13 times, and put me in bed for two weeks.”
The menagerie thus expanded in the early 1980s, before Ms. Marino went to work in advertising.
Ms. Marino and her husband divorced, and he took Gemini and Fella. “I was left with Sue, but it was either the rent or the horse,” she said. Ever practical, she gave away her beloved filly to a home on Staten Island where she knew the horse would be cared for and loved.
Ms. Marino, then living in New Springville on the West Shore, persuaded her parents – Rosalie and Peter Marino – to move from Queens and purchase a mother-daughter house in Dongan Hills. This was her home for the next 15 years.
Her new residence, at first, had no pets. But Ms. Marino soon adopted a young, black Great Dane, named Rocky. “He was 178 pounds, and the love of my life. He passed away in 1996, at ten years old, and I have his ashes upstairs,” she said.
Next came Mico, her beloved Shih Tzu, now 15 years old. When Mico turned seven, she acquired a Yorkshire terrier – Valentino Villain – “as a friend” for the older dog. “I got him right after my mother died in my house, as a Valentine’s Day present for myself,” said Ms. Marino. “I call him the Yorkshire terrorist.”
Rounding out the canine crew in her Arrochar home is Roxy Bear, a magnificent, gentle 7-year-old Rottweiler. “She was meant to be a friend’s guard dog, but that didn’t work out, and I adopted her when she was five months old.”
Ms. Marino launched her personal-training business – Bodies by Alice – in 1991, but not before investing time and money over the previous three years to prepare for it. She enrolled in an intensive program at New York University – part-time, at night, while she was still working in advertising – and graduated with a certification in Fitness and Nutrition.
She also studied at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in Manhattan, and earned board certification as a holistic health practitioner from the American Association of Drugless Practicioners. “I love education, and expanding my knowledge,” she said. “I wanted further education in nutrition so I could get involved in health counseling and life-style coaching,” she said.
How did she make the fledgling Bodies by Alice business fly?
“I went wild, and flooded Staten Island with advertising.”
The strategy worked: “Overnight, I was busy seven days a week, making house calls to individual clients all over the island! Most of them were stay-at-home moms, and single women with boyfriends.
“The men didn’t take me seriously at first,” said Ms. Marino. But as her skills were recognized through word of mouth, she attracted male clients as well.
DOGGIE BOOT CAMP
To mark the 20th anniversary of Bodies by Alice, Ms. Marino decided to launch Doggie Boot Camp in April – a unique and now wildly successful initiative that takes place most Sundays, except holidays, at Von Briesen Park in Fort Wadsworth.
“It’s like Bodies by Alice goes canine,” she said. “Dogs are exercise-on-a-leash for people, but there is more to it than that.
“I realized that so many people have problem dogs, so I wanted to start something for owners who could not afford private dog-training.
“It’s so rewarding. I’ve never trained a group of dogs this large. The truth is, I’m training the owners more than the dogs. If the owners don’t assume leadership, the dogs will take over. Owners need to take control, but also give praise and love.” Doggie Boot Camp is now an Island sensation every Sunday.
“I have a lot of regulars, but also new people and their dogs – and sometimes there’s a waiting list,” Ms. Marino said.
Reservations are necessary because she limits the Sunday sessions to a maximum of 30 dogs of all breeds and ages. “The fact that people keep coming back speaks for itself,” she commented.
Doggie Boot Camp is free of charge. A $10 donation is suggested, which satisfied owners happily contribute.
Ms. Marino also provides private dog-training in homes or outdoor location that owners prefer. “I can help with dogs of any breed, any age, and any problem,” she said.
The last scheduled session of Doggie Boot Camp at Von Briesen Park is November 20. “I’ll really miss it,” said Ms. Marino.