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This article was printed in the"Latina Life" section of Latina Magazine March 2004.

Puppy Love

After years of working as a successful TV producer, Michelle Rivera let her career go to the dogs.

At her posh Beverly Hills-area boutique, Michelle Rivera offers the usual array of indulgent treatments; aromatherapy, luxurious massages, and stylish haircuts. But her clients aren't exactly your typical Hollywood starlets; rather they're the pampered perritos of VIPs like Christina Aguilera and the Prince of Morocco, who come to Chateau Marmutt (a play on the name of the ritzy Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood) for the finest doggy day care. The business, which débuted in 1999, now grosses $500,000 annually, and Michelle, 39, is working on opening a second Chateau Marmutt in the Los Angeles area.

BARKING UP THE RIGHT ÁRBOL: After graduating from UCLA in 1987 with a degree in communications, Michelle, who is of Mexican and Spanish descent, worked for 12 years as a television reporter and producer for shows like Access Hollywood and Fox Sports. She liked everything about her job except the long hours, which kept her away fro Gemma, her beloved German shepherd mix. In 1997, to provide Gemma with some exercise and socialization, Michelle made an offer to her neighbors: They could bring their dogs to play in her backyard, one of only a few on the block, whenever she was at work. Hearing from vecinos about all the fun Gemma and the other pups were having, Michelle realized "that people like me who work so many hours have nowhere to leave our dogs." And so the idea for Chateau Marmutt was born.

DOGGED DETERMINATION: With help from her father, an attorney and a small-business owner, Michelle secured a bank loan that enabled her to launch the business. But explaining to friends and family her decision to leave a successful TV career wasn't nearly so easy. "They asked, 'Why are you giving up your career to do [that]?'" she says, "I didn't know anything about owning my own business, but I knew I had a great idea, and I was willing to take the risk."

BEST IN SHOW: After spending months researching and analyzing the dog market, scouting locations, and comparing costs, Michelle realized that a high-end canine spa and day care center that offered massages for pooches and allowed them to roam in a huge play area would distinguish her from the local kennels. "I hired expert dog trainers and groomers and ordered the best collars, bags, gourmet treats, and fresh-baked biscuits," she says "And I made sure that the store felt comfortable – like a dog's home." Surprisingly she found her new business isn't so different from her old one. "Chateau Marmutt is my show," she says, "and I'm still the producer."

-Yuliana Gómez