The first time I met Marie she made me cry. In a good way. We were at the Purina Better With Pets forum in Barcelona in June 2018.
Marie was one of five organisations invited to speak about their work with the chance to win £75,000 prize. As it was, everyone won which was brilliant.
(You can read about it here The five social entrepreneurs changing lives with Purina’s Better With Pets.)
Marie, 38, who lives in Herefordshire, talked about how brave dogs like Bruno, beaten so badly he had to have a leg removed, were helping survivors of sexual violence.
It’s an extraordinary concept but Marie and her co-tutors – a team of rescue dogs – are changing lives and that’s why I wanted to share her If I Can story.
Marie, can you tell me a little about what you do?
Okay, so I run Canine Perspective CIC which started because of Reggie and Me, a book I wrote about a teenage rape survivor, and the impact her rescue dog had on her.
We were lucky enough to reach the final of the People’s Book Prize, which took the message of resilience and overcoming trauma with the help of dogs mainstream.
I was asked to go and do author visits and workshops with a dog to talk about the book and the message. With the dog with me, magic happened.
I didn’t set out to be a social entrepreneur, but now I’m totally obsessed with social enterprise and creating social impact with the help of dogs, so that’s now what we do.
Canine Perspective is about training humans from the point of view of the dog, in resilience. And our social mission is our project, Canine Hope, where we do work directly with rescue dogs and survivors.
Before the book you had a normal job though?
I started life working in disability sports development. Then I went into the civil service, working for the Department for Education, and properly lost the will to live, because working in the Civil Service does that to you.
At that time, I was working voluntarily with survivors. I’m a survivor myself, which is no secret.
I was getting a little bit grumpy about some of the messages that I’ve been given, as well as other survivors, about it being life long journey of recovery.
I’m not saying it’s the easiest thing in the world to recover from and continue to live with, but it doesn’t have to be that way, and actually, I’m absolutely fine. I wanted to give an alternative message, one of hope and I did that in the book.
So the social enterprise evolved from the book?
Yes, I became a dog trainer so I understood what was going on for the dogs. Before, I had dogs of my own but I wasn’t educated or qualified in any way in dog behaviour, so that was important.
I learned everything I possibly could and continue to do so. Then I began dog training and behavioural work to bring money into the social enterprise to fund the workshops.
I started to treat it like a business, rather than something I fell into, and we became a CIC, a community interest company, a social enterprise.
And now we have different elements that bring in money so we can deliver the Canine Hope workshop to survivors and work with the rescue dogs.
What are the different elements?
We have Canine Progress In The Workplace, working with businesses, third sector organisations and social enterprises to build resilience in the workplace. and Canine Progress For Life for members of the public and available to clients of charities who’d like to build their resilience with a canine twist.
We do still have a small dog training element and a book coming out exploring our approach of looking at resilience, and looking at what we can learn from dogs as well as what we’re trying to teach them.
There’s our mascot, Luna, who is an awesome rescue dog, who owns Love Learning From Dogs, a merchandise range.
She has her own podcast and a children’s book coming out this summer. She’s our spokesdog for everything we would like to share on resilience.
Tell me about the product line
We sell things that will make you smile, like mugs and notebooks and postcards and prints. On them, we have slogans that have come from our Canine Hope programs.
One is, ‘We’re not what happened to us’, ‘Work in progress,’ ‘Luna’s to-do list,’ and they’re phrases and ideas that have come from survivors sharing what they’ve learnt from the dogs.
Can you think of a challenging time in your business?
The biggest hurdle for me was when I got myself stuck in doing dog training so that I could deliver the workshops.
I’d found myself in this real cycle of doom, almost. Because it was time for money, so you’re never going to earn enough. It all became too much.
I had to stop and think, ‘What am I good at? What was the whole point of this before I sort of went hurtling down this route that I still can’t think for the life of me why I did that?’
I was lucky, because I’d been accepted onto a startup course with the School for Social Entrepreneurs, which I cannot recommend enough.
It’s a year long programme, and I was taken through the decisions that I should have made six months to a year beforehand.
I realised it was all about the message from the book, which is about building resilience and learning from the wisdom of dogs. That has not changed but the way we deliver it has changed beyond recognition.
From there, I worked with an incredible business mentor and two amazing social impact researchers. So, for me, it’s about stepping up, asking for help and not being afraid to put your head above the parapet, and then magic happens.
How did you come to be involved with Purina?
Through the School of Social Entrepreneurs. One colleague I met during my course sent me a message saying she’d spoken to the team organising the prize which was looking at supporting social enterprises and charities.
The focus was working with dogs but in a way that promotes the human animal bond. So they had a very specific brief, and luckily for me, what we do fitted that brief.
I was interviewed by Purina, and was one of around 120 organisations involved and was lucky enough to make the final five which was the most incredible experience and we were given a prize of £11,000.
We have had a bit of criticism for working with Purina, because they are a corporate company but I do feel they practice what they preach. The are committed to the #betterwithpets ethos.
When you meet these very senior people, and the first thing they do is show you a picture of their dog and talk about this amazing story of how a dog has changed the life of someone else, that’s an ethos I’m proud to be supported by.
I’ve learned an enormous amount about the power that businesses can have in making changes for good and my experience of working with Purina is they really believe in what we’re doing.
So that was a game changer for you then, I imagine?
Yes, just to be alongside the other finalists and to be listening to what they’re doing and to be counted among them, that was really special.
Then to be told, ‘Actually what we think you’re doing is worth investing in and worth our support,’ that’s a really big deal. It’s a massive confidence boost.
I think a lot of people who have started a social enterprise that is based on something they’re passionate about have a little voice that says ‘go and get a proper job.’
That’s something a lot of people can relate to, including me!
Yes, my advice to anyone is just go for it! It’s the misfits that are changing the world. I’ve been lucky to have people support me and say, ‘Follow what it is you believe in.’
I also have business mentor, Gemma Went, who has helped turn my weird ideas into a tangible business.
Don’t be afraid of the fact that as soon as you start something new, you’re a beginner again, don’t be scared to ask for help and ask questions.
We’re not like people with ‘proper jobs,’ and a defined career path. So it’s about not being afraid that you’ll always be a beginner in something.
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve had?
Be honest about your failures as well as your successes. So when people are reading this, they’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s cool to be a finalist in the prize,’ and ‘These workshops sound like fun,’ and ‘These product lines and books are great.’
But we’ve had an enormous amount of failures along the way in order to get there. And I think the more people are open about that, it gives others the confidence to try it and do it their way.
It’s important to share the tough times as well as the good times. Because we all have them, don’t we?
We do, and quite often when you tell your family and friends ideas, they just think, ‘You’re taking a huge risk. You really want to do that? Do you honestly think people will pay you for that?’
Whereas, if you surround yourself with people who are on that same path with you, that is hugely powerful.
What’s the best thing about what you do and the thing that you most enjoy?
When I get a little bit of feedback from one of the survivors on our Canine Hope course.
You walk away and think, ‘That’s why I do it.’ When someone who’s attended one of the workshops says, ‘That made a difference to me,’ that’s a really powerful thing.
So that’s what I think of when I experience all the eye rolling and the doubters and the people who tell me to get a proper job. In fairness, those voices have quietened down over the years!
When the very person who you want to help says, ‘Yeah, I am now thinking about this in a different way’, it’s absolutely amazing.
The idea that came from your own little brain has actually made a difference and has just offered a new way of thinking. That’s pretty magical.
Ok, to demonstrate what you do in the sessions, please can you share Bruno’s story?
So, Bruno is one of the rescue dogs who’s worked on our programs with us. He is a three legged Staffy, and he is gorgeous.
Bruno was taken from a house by police. He had been stamped on to the point where his leg had to be immediately amputated. He offers a visual representation of the trauma that he experienced.
He’s fine now, his operation went fabulously and he is thriving on his three legs. The way that we talk about responses and recovery from trauma and the science of trauma with survivors is through the story of the dog.
When you’re working with survivors, there’s often a real feeling of blame and shame. Some of the messages, are, ‘Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you tell somebody? Why have you waited so long to tell people?’
Regardless of how fabulously positive the people around you are, those messages are still circling. And so, we look at Bruno.
Bruno has never been blamed from experiencing trauma at the hands of these people. None of the survivors working with him said that he should have run away or done something to put a stop to his abuse. Talking it through from the perspective of a dog is powerful.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, and I hope you have, it would be amazing if you could share it so more people are aware of Marie’s work.
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And if you are thinking of becoming a social entrepreneur, or would like to find out more about Marie, the following links might be useful.
Marie’s Canine Perspective website: www.canine-perspective.com/
The School for Social Entrepreneurs: www.the-sse.org
Luna’s Podcast in the Apple store: Luna’s Pawdcast
Purina In Society report: www.purina.co.uk
Marie’s mentor Gemma Went: gemmawent.co.uk/