About Us

-Melissa Ruthenbeck-Chiaramonte, CPDT-KA, Owner/Trainer

I’ve had a long-standing love affair with dogs going back as far as I can remember. I made my parents promise to bring a puppy home when I turned 10, they agreed thinking I would forget, and when I didn’t, we got Ranger!

I started working with animals when I was 12, volunteering at the local humane society – walking and spending time with the dogs. As I got older my passion for helping dogs evolved into working with shelters and rescues, and earning a psychology degree from Drake University, where I studied animal learning and behavior. After spending time working with veterinarians, rescues and well-respected trainers I became a certified by the Certification Council of Pet Dog Trainers, as well as an insured member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

Over time I realized many of the dogs in shelters are there because of solvable behavior problems and decided I wanted to dedicate my life to changing theirs. I’m currently the President of Basset Hound Rescue of Southern Californiawhere I also provide behavioral evaluations and treatment plans for the hounds who come into our care, and help my foster dogs increase their adaptability with training.

I have an extensive background in rescue work (as well as fearful dogs) and understand the specific needs of newly adopted dogs. I specialize in solving problem behavior, from aggression to separation anxiety and I also enjoy helping adoptive families work through issues and bond with their new family member.

Professional, experienced and certified, I use positive reinforcement based training techniques (treats, toys, praise), paired with learning theory to help you learn how to effectively communicate with your dog so you can live together happily.

I live in Mission Viejo with my husband, Paul, and our two rescued bassets, Wilbur and Mia, as well our foster hounds. In addition to continuing education in training and behavior I also spend time studying canine nutrition, vaccination and holistic care. In my free time I love to travel, spend time on the beach and in the yoga studio!

Need help choosing a trainer?

Pet Care Team

Rachelle French

I have been working hands on with canines of all breeds, temperament and size for more than 20 years. My 14 year-old-dog, Mozzerella, is a certified therapy dog.  I knew when I adopted him his overall demeanor would make him the perfect candidate for therapy work!

I have trained many dogs over the years to get their TDI, CGC and to go off to provide affection, comfort and support to people in hospitals, retirement, nursing homes, hospices, etc.

In college while completing a bachelor’s degree I worked in kennels, managed dog daycares, offered pet sitting services and realized I couldn’t get away from the thing I was most passionate about – dogs.  I started working side by side apprenticing with different dog trainers until I found my niche in the industry and went off to start my own dog walking training business in North OC to help families with specialized dog walks with a training focus. I recently moved to Lake Forest with my dog and husband; and joined Bark to Basics team to help educate your dog! I strive to help my clients and their dogs form a strong bond through clear communication and structure.

My training is mostly reward based. Food and play are huge motivators. I’m fond of clicker/marker training but don’t require you to use one. It is well known that punishment hinders the learning process, and you don’t need to be dominant or “alpha” to succeed!

When not helping clients to enjoy easier lives with their canine companions, Mozzarella and I frequently visit private nursing homes and enjoy weekend hikes. I’m also certified in Pet CPR and First Aid.

Michelle Montoya

Hi! My name is Michelle Montoya and I am so excited to be a part of the Bark to Basics team! I have an extensive background in animal care, including 13 years taking care of the animals at Disneyland.  I have worked with animals of all kinds, dogs, cats, horses, livestock, reptiles and exotics.

I have a variety of fur babies of my own, including Chihuahuas, a Pit Bull, a Cane Corso, a Sulcuta Tortoise and a beautiful mare.

I am so looking forward to meeting you and your fur babies!

Laura Widdows

Greetings! My name is Laura and I am honored to be part of the Bark to Basics team. I have been an animal lover since birth and appreciate your love and trust with your home and precious babies.

Speaking of babies, mine is my cat, Dobbie, who just turned 19 years old. He is kind to share his home with me in Laguna Beach. He chose me at the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter all those years ago when I first was a volunteer. I have always approached pet care as a team effort with tools of patience and love, and have been pet sitting for 18 years. I look forward to spending time with you and your loved ones.

Sophie Gattie

Growing up, I never had a dog. I would always go over to my neighbors house to visit and play with their dogs. I begged and pleaded with my parents to no avail, finally at 16 my friend and I started our own pet sitting service in our small town and I haven’t stopped since.

I love animals and believe in giving them all the love and care that they truly deserve!! I’m dedicated to the dogs I watch and love to go on adventures whether it be a long hike or walk around town. I have experience with dogs that need medication administered as well as dogs with severe anxiety.