There is no doubt that Chege Kiuna, a retired teacher, loves dogs. They are all over his compound, he has built comfortable kennels for them and he even has a website dedicated to his business of investing in canines.

Kiuna has been in the business of breeding dogs for more than three decades but he did not go into that because of his love for the animals. It was born out of necessity.

 “It was for my family’s security. It started in 1984 when my family got attacked by thugs at night. I felt I would have been better prepared if I had dogs, so I bought my first two German Shepherds,” he says.

Those two dogs set him back KSh300 each, a hefty investment back then, especially considering he was on a teacher’s salary . But, for his family’s safety, it was worth the money.

In 1985, Kiuna sold the first puppies that were produced, each going for KSh1,500. That was how he began supplementing his income.

“I retired in 2007 from teaching. But from 1984 I was able to run the two -teaching and breeding – simultaneously without one getting in the way of the other,” he recalls.

In dog breeding, he says, one should have time to spend with the animals.

In the dog breeding venture, one should have time to spend with the animals

“As a teacher, I had a lot of free time from the classroom when I wasn’t marking books or making lesson plans or doing the actual lecturing,” he says.

Kiuna only breeds purebred German Shepherd dogs, mainly the Solid Black German Shepherd and the Dark Sable German Shepherd.

However, before 2006, he bred the Black and Tan, the most common colour in the breed. Because he breeds working dogs, he sells to individuals who need them for security as well as to institutions like the police, the Kenya Revenue Authority, and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Raised in the right way, Solid Black Shepherds double up as lovable family pets and tenacious protectors.

While it only cost Kiuna KSh600 to start his dog breeding venture in 1984, today, anyone willing to establish the enterprise will need a heftier investment.

His dogs cost between KSh30,000 and Ksh60,000, which is determined by the amount of money that has gone into raising them.

“We have to raise the puppy for about two months before we sell it. For each day the puppy feeds away from the mother, it eats about KSh1,000 worth of food a day up to two or three weeks. This is if you are giving it quality food for it to be healthy and physically appealing. After that, the cost of food can go up to KSh1,500 because the puppy is less dependent on the mother, and it needs more quality food,” he says.

Founder of Kiuna Dogs, Chege Kiuna, started his dog breeding venture in 1984
Founder of Kiuna Dogs, Chege Kiuna, with one of his dogs.

Apart from food, one should also consider veterinary bills for both a puppy and the mother. Vaccinations can amount up to KSh10,000 from Parvovirus, DHHP (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus), to Adenovirus shots.

One also needs to factor in finances for quality kennels, maintenance, grooming and getting someone to socialize the dog.

Still, doing all this does not guarantee that one will make a profit.

“If a dog is not sold by the time it is three months you will make a loss, even if you sell it at KSh60,000. Worse still, if you keep it for four or five months, as we sometimes do, that puppy won’t be useful to you because not many people want grown puppies. Sometimes you have to sell at KSh10,000, which is a heavy loss,” says Kiuna.

 Kiuna’s dog breeding business has however not been smooth sailing.

When he began the investing in canines business, Kiuna would sell about 10 puppies per year on average. In the 90s, as the number and knowledge of the enterprise grew, his sales grew to an average of 50 puppies every year.

Unfortunately, in the early 2000s, a mysterious disease began killing the puppies when they got to nine weeks.

A lecturer at the Small Animal Clinic at The University of Nairobi informed him the disease was called Fading Puppy Syndrome. The disease persisted from 2002 to 2009.

Starting out in 1984 also presented a few challenges. First, he did not have any information to refer to on what type of food to feed his puppies. It was trial and error. Secondly, dog breeders were mainly white and they did not share information with African breeders.

“Being a white man’s undertaking at the time, it was difficult to get people to trust me and trust that they could buy good dogs from me,” he says.

Information on how to keep the puppies healthy was also scarce and he routinely lost many puppies. Luckily, he lived next to the University of Nairobi’s College of Agriculture and Veterinary Services and doctors professors at the Small Animal Clinic (Dr. Kitaa, Dr. Maathai and the late Prof Bworo) would advise him how to get healthier puppies and reduce their fatality.

Today, Kiuna Dogs has 14 dogs. However, before the pandemic hit, the establishment had 25 dogs.

“We were fearful of how Covid-19 would affect the economy, and that meant we were worried that we would fail to get means of getting food for the dogs. So we had to cut the number down,” Kiuna says.

So far, Kiuna is happy with his dogs business and now that he retired from teaching, has taken up what used to be a side hustle into a full-time job.

He has a few tips for anyone willing to venture into the dog business.

– Before you get into canines breeding business, decide which specific breed of dog you are interested in. Each breed has its own needs and combining breeds can be a problem.

-Dog breeding should not be undertaken by somebody who goes into it thinking about making money. You may not make any money for the first few years.

-It should be done by somebody who loves dogs and likes spending time with them.

-If you don’t want to spend money on dogs, you will not get quality dogs.

-Dog breeding is not about producing numbers but rather about improving the breed by producing high quality specimen.

-Register all your dogs at the East Africa Kennel Club.