Have you found your way into the pet industry as a second, third or fourth career?
Did you once dream of escaping your old job to follow your passion?
Karen Maher, a dog trainer and behaviourist and founder of Maher and Hound, felt the same.
After 20 years working in London in fashion PR, Karen ditched the city for country life and now works as a successful dog trainer, specialising in rescue dogs.
She featured in the Telegraph sharing the story behind her career change.
In this episode she shares some insights to her fashion PR background.
She talked about meeting actress Jane Horrocks who played Bubble in Ab Fab – the iconic show about publicist Edina Monsoon, played by Jennifer Saunders.
Plus how her own rescue dogs inspired her business Maher and Hound.
You can listen on the player link or read as a blog post below.
About Karen Maher of Maher and Hound
Karen worked in London for 20 years in fashion PR for huge names in the fashion industry such as the late designer Alexander McQueen.
Now she lives in the countryside with her five dogs – four of which are rescue, after being inspired by helping her own animals build their confidence and beat their challenging behaviour.
She has clients nationwide, working with owners on a one to one basis with their puppies and dogs and specialises in helping rescue dogs.
Karen also works alongside charities supporting dogs in the UK and overseas to help rehabilitate those who have been abandoned, beaten and left to roam the streets.
Karen’s early career working in Fashion PR
Animal lover Karen had planned to study Zoology but fancied a year of adventure in London and ended up staying for two decades!
Karen said: “I always wanted to live in London and experience London life but I always wanted to work with animals and planned to study zoology.
“When it came to choosing what to do because I loved art, the media and fashion I ended up moving to London for a gap year.
“My gap year lasted 20 years! But in my spare time I was always reading about dogs, and loved them.
“At the time I had a dog I bought at 23 – Nobby the Shih Tzu and he came everywhere with me.
“When I started PR Ab Fab had just come out and my friend’s PR boss was actually the inspiration for it!
“It really was like the TV show. In my first job Jane Horrocks, Bubble, from Ab Fab came in to select clothes for the set.
“To start with Ab Fab was probably a documentary of the industry. It was a lot of fun and crazy!”
From fashion PR to the pet industry
Karen explained that taking Nobby on jobs with her meant she was always seen as the Dog Lady and eventually realised this was her calling.
She said: “I have always loved dogs.
“One of my references when I first started this business was ‘I have never seen Karen Maher without a dog by her side’ and they’d known me for years.
“Working with my own rescue dogs gave me the confidence that there was something a bit more there.
“I had a rescue dog, Tiggy, before I started studying, she was used for hunting and ratting and over time we really connected and I helped to calm her down.
“By being kind and compassionate to her I rehabilitated her and we became soul mates. When she died three years ago it broke my heart.”
How the loss of a family member sparked Karen’s decision to follow her dreams
In the same year of losing Tiggy, Karen decided to leave her PR job and study dog behaviour.
She said: “I was told my Aunt was going to die in her early 50s after a terminal diagnosis, it was then I realised life is too short and I quit PR to pursue my passion.
“That was three years ago and I enrolled on an animal behaviour course that day. I studied with Sarah Whitehead at the Clever Dog Company, learning about aggression and that gave me the confidence to work with reactive dogs.
“That’s when the business really picked up.”
As a PR expert Karen has the following advice for pet business owners
Karen was able to stylishly brand and successfully launch her business Maher and Hounds thanks to her experience in PR.
And she believes that while as a petpreneur, your days may be spent in muddy boots and wellies, branding is still really important.
She said: “When I started the business, I really focused on my brand colours and making everything look good.
“On social media, my main platform is Instagram so how things look is important.
“With case studies, I use my own dogs and their stories, showing videos of their progress as rescue dogs.
“I explain how I work with them to build confidence and help behaviours like recall and resource guarding and this sparks conversations from owners who want to learn more.
“I pride myself on my discretion and being kind and compassionate to clients. Most of my work comes through word of mouth which is powerful.
How featuring in the Telegraph helped raise Karen’s profile
Karen featured in The Telegraph earlier in the year for sharing her story about swapping fashion PR for the pet industry.
You can read her story here: I quit my career to follow my heart and I’ve never looked back
And she would urge other pet business owners to use the media to raise awareness of their brands too.
She said: “There are so many media opportunities out there for the pet industry, you see so many pet sections in the media.
“Journalists are always looking for interesting stories, so I would urge more people to put themselves forward with stories and share helpful advice such as training tips.”
How you can be your own PR
Having worked in PR in the 1990s and 2000s before social media, Karen says business owners now have so many resources to help with visibility.
Karen said: “I think social media is a great tool to get your brand out there – I comment with tips and advice on any post I can help on.
“I try to post to Instagram every other day and do an Instagram story every day – ranging from walks with my own dogs to sharing charity posts
“I support other businesses so instead of it just being all about me it has a variation. Social media is an amazing tool.”
How PR has changed from the 90s to 2020
Karen believes making your pet business stand out online is important when working on your own PR.
With blogs, podcasts, news websites and our own platforms, it’s never been easier to be visible.
She said: “We used to think of press in terms of print but the first thing I asked the Telegraph when they did my interview was, ‘Is it going to be online?’
“Online is really great for hits and readers. Being in the press helped me get my niche business out there and gained me lots of enquiries.
“I love that I’m able to combine my PR knowledge with my pet business!”
Links mentioned in this post and episode:
Karen in the Telegraph: I quit my career to follow my heart and I’ve never looked back
Karen’s website: Maher and Hound
Follow Karen on Instagram: Maher and Hound
If you found this post helpful, you might like to read How to write a press release for your pet business or How to find stories in your pet business.