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The Four

Women’s History Month: Stephanie Dehn, owner of Contigo Dogs

TRAVERSE CITY — Stephanie Dehn is a female entrepreneur who was born and raised in Brazil. But today, she owns a small business here in Northern Michigan and a personal experience with her own dog led her to where she is today.

“In 2020 I started raising a service dog, Poncho through Leader Dogs through the blind down in Rochester, and they gave me a nylon collar that he ended up going in the water and it tinted his whole coat, and I just hated it. It drove me insane. So, I started looking for waterproof webbing,” said owner of Contigo Dogs, Stephanie Dehn.

When she couldn’t find the right products for her furry friends, she took matters into her own hands.


“I want to say I started in April or May, started making some of the collars and leashes on my dad’s old press in the garage, sweating. The AC had blown out because we were living in Midland and the dam had broken, so all of Midland had flooded. So, everybody was having so many issues and I had just lost my job. So had my husband. So, we literally moved into my parent’s basement, and I was bored. So, I started doing that in the garage. I pad on paper, drew out what I wanted. I had a general idea of what I expected the collar to do. I wanted the material to be able to be strong enough so for every foot of material it holds anywhere from 700 to 1000 lbs. of force. Just because we work a variety of different dogs and not just through service dogs, but I fostered a lot of dogs too. So, we would get, you know, small dogs all the way to 150 lbs. animals that I wanted to make sure everybody could fit,” said Dehh.

After several months of trial and error to figure out the best way to get the product she wanted for her dogs, Dehn mastered making a quality collar that would soon turn into something much bigger.

“I started making collars and leashes for my own personal dog. And started selling it to friends and family, and people started really liking the material. It’s actually a patented product out of Ohio, so it’s really cool because it’s a USA made product but also USA made pieces,” Dehn said.

She then started selling the collars on Etsy and in pop up events throughout the state. All of these steppingstones led Dehn to having her own storefront in the Grand Traverse Commons called, Contigo Dogs.


When I started Contigo I wanted it to be something that brought the community together and I wanted it to be size inclusive. So, when I started making it, I really was trying out different materials and different types of hardware. So now we do solid brass and stainless steel just so that it does give that waterproof effect throughout. So, there has been a lot of attention to detail that has gone through the whole process. It’s been a slow and steady progression over the last three years, and it’s been so fulfilling,” Dehn said.

Stephanie is so grateful to be where she is today, but it wasn’t always easy to attain this goal as a Latina entrepreneur.

“It’s just one of those things where if you have the right community and setup, that can be super helpful. But unfortunately, a lot of people don’t. And especially as a woman in business, there’s not a lot of other people that you can lean on that can understand your struggles, everything from having kids to just going through your period like you have so many ebbs and flows, not just physically, hormonally, financially, but there’s also a lot of emotion that comes behind it. And that is something that you hear all the time as a woman. You’re like, oh, you’re extremely emotional or you’re extremely rude or whatever, but in reality, you’re just processing your emotions on a different level. And also, you’re just passionate,” Dehn said.

Contigo Dogs was crafted here in America, but Dehn tells me she’s taken a lot of her business mindset from her culture in Brazil, which prioritizes finding a healthy work life balance.


“It was never about money and has never been about money. It’s been about being able to give myself and my family and my partner the freedom to be able to do what we’ve always wanted to do. I think growing up, you know, seeing our parents hustle so much, and especially my dad is an entrepreneur and has worked with so many different businesses and watching him, you know, every day, you know, 9 to 9 and then afterwards trying to take care of kids is super inspiring. But aIso I think it creates a lot of other issues. So, to be able to find a work life balance and to be able to have a business that allows you to have that flexibility because time is money, and I don’t need to make a lot of money. But if I have the time to be able to spend with my loved ones, I think that is so much more important for me,” said Dehn.

Today, along with her hand-made collars, Contigo Dogs also carries all of your pet supply needs. And to make it even better, about 70% of what they sell in store is from other small businesses and 30% of that is Michigan made.

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