Business Profiles FS/New Skete
Links to Basic Information
How & Why
The story begins with a group of monks who built a monastery east of Cambridge in 1966, seeking to live a more explicitly monastic life within the Eastern Christian tradition. The monastery attracted a group of nuns and a group of 'companions' who were interested in the New Skete monastic way of life. The monastery's mission, specific to a way of living, translates into their business of training dogs, breeding German Shepherds, selling baked goods (cheese cakes and dog biscuits in particular), a guest shop, and hosting guests on retreats. Most aspects of the business, apart from the dog training, came as a need to support the monastery and the monastery's vision. Here, I will talk mostly about the business of training dogs, which have been the subject of television and radio, as well as featured in national and international magazine and newspaper articles. The monk's dog training series, Divine Canine, first aired on the Discovery Channel's Animal Planet in 2007. Consistent with their mission of responding to the Gospel's power to transform human living through prayer and worship and working with their hands, the dog training programs came from the monk's love for creation. God's mystery in their daily lives could be noticed through their relationships with dogs. The dogs root the monastery in nature, bringing the monks closer to the mystery of God - inherent in all things. After being given their first German Shepherd and after the adoption of many more, it came at a request of friends that they begin breeding them. From there, they wrote many books including How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend and Divine Canine. The idea is to incorporate the values of their monastic environment with the teachings of standard dog training exercises on and off the leash. Enhancing the overall relationship between human and canine is crucial. New Skete employs a philosophy of praise, fairness and discipline, set against a background of patience, repetition, and dedication in their training. They charge $2,995 for training.
New Skete, of course, has an alternative business model. The company is founded on a very particular faith and way of living. However, the skills that make them good monks, also make them good trainers: Patience & Perseverance. "The product" they are selling is a new relationship with mans-best-friend and the world we live in. I imagine, companies founded on faith run into significant challenges when it comes to customers. Though they are actively accepting of all beliefs and religions, their devotion to the church is a turn off to many non-affiliated dog owners, even despite their mastery in dog training. Some people simply want their dogs trained and don't wish for any kind of encouragement towards seeking the will of God or responding to the grace of Jesus Christ. Fortunately for the members of New Skete, maximizing financial gains is not a part of their mission or company objectives. Rather, they hope to support themselves in their demonstrations of living in peace and harmony for the harmony and welfare of all (including dogs). The nuns who run the cheesecake side of things started their business simply from the idea that it could support them financially, but not be so time consuming that there would be "no time to reflect" and "live the rest of your life". The nuns pray when they bake; they pray the farmers who grow the food for ingredients, they pray for the delivery man who delivers the ingredients, etc. The job requires of the nuns--who, I might add, are not at the beginning of their lives (the manager in the bakery is 80 years old)--that they remain active and figuring and planning. The nuns find a relationship between the actual making of the cheesecake and the concentration and meditation. In this way, they are not necessarily concerned with expanding their business (though they have marketers, etc.), but they are mostly concerned with expanding their hearts and their minds with their closeness to God and all its mystery. This is a similar case with the monks who run the dog training and dog breeding side of business. The monks have been training and breeding dogs for over 45 years. What could the future possibly hold for a company like this? There is little talk about expansion and growth and far more talk about CONTINUING their already established and mature practice. They, however, do have specific goals for the future of the business. They would like to expand their training to the training of PTSD service dogs and diabetes service dogs. They are currently raising money for a 6,144 SQ FT building to make this expansion possible.
The monks of New Skete attempt to bridge the old WITH the new and to witness the sacredness of all creation. Each day there are distractions and outside influences, but the monks and nuns remain focused on their mission. I see it in their businesses: clients wanting to train their dogs over the holidays, or customers wanting to pick up cheesecake orders on a Sunday. This is not a reflection on New Skete clients and customers; some are not aware that the businesses are truly run by the monastics. Would it be financially beneficial to the monastery to make allowances for these customers? Yes. Would they remain true to their mission? No. They receive many spiritual lessons from their work with dogs.
What does it mean to be a monastic community whose main source of income is dog breeding? The world is so overpopulated with dogs, most of them homeless and malnourished. Millions of dogs are killed each year because there are simply not enough homes. Breeding dogs is entering a very touchy business. The challenges the monks face, I am sure, include being accused of being neglectful of the homeless dogs overpopulating the world. For a business run by men who devote themselves unconditionally to God's creations and mysteries, breeding dogs can be contradictory to the mission.