Thriving as a dog mama with Chronic Illness: My Journey from M.E to Entrepreneurship

Thriving as a dog mama with Chronic Illness: My Journey from M.E to Entrepreneurship

I'm Melissa, the founder of Paws In Earnest. Recently, I had the pleasure of sharing my journey to the NatWest Accelerator Program, highlighting how I turned personal challenges into opportunities. I felt really daunted in giving this talk, but the feedback was amazing! Today, I want to share the key highlights of that presentation, and about dog parenting while living with a chronic illness.

Four years ago, I was an events coordinator, managing large-scale conferences, weddings, and filming locations for major companies like the BBC and Sainsbury's. My life took an unexpected turn in 2020 when I was diagnosed with M.E. (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), a debilitating illness that drastically impacted my energy and overall health. Overnight, I went from leading a busy professional life to being housebound, struggling with extreme exhaustion and unable to speak full sentences due to a stutter.

Enter Marty -

During this challenging time, my husband and I welcomed a cocker spaniel puppy named Marty. However, the joy of having a new puppy quickly turned into a daunting task due to my health limitations. I struggled to bond with Marty as I struggled to engage in basic activities like walking, playing, or socialising. This led to a downward spiral in my mental health.

In an attempt to find purpose, I created an Instagram page for Marty, sharing the realities of puppy parenting alongside my health journey. To my surprise, this resonated with many, and I quickly built a loyal following. This experience sparked the idea for my business, Paws In Earnest, initially a hobby venture selling personalized wooden products.

Pivoting to Dog Enrichment

The real transformation happened when I discovered the benefits of food-based enrichment for Marty. Enrichment activities provide mental stimulation for dogs, offering them an outlet for their natural hunting instincts and releasing endorphins that promote calmness and bonding. Inspired by this, I shifted the focus of Paws In Earnest to specialise in feeder-based enrichment toys.

Our first product, the Stopple, was born out of a personal need. I designed it to prevent the mess caused by runny foods in feeder toys, which was a significant issue due to my limited energy. The Stopple quickly gained popularity, leading to international demand and expanding the business beyond expectations!

Embracing Change and Prioritising Health

In 2021, I faced another major pivot when I was made redundant from my events role. Instead of seeing this as a setback, I viewed it as an opportunity to fully commit to Paws In Earnest. Despite the challenges, this decision allowed me to turn my business into a thriving enrichment brand with global reach.

Through this journey, I've learned the importance of prioritising my health. Here are my top four tips to reset each day and avoid burnout:

  1. Tea Time: Take a moment to clear your head while making a hot drink. Write down any thoughts and set them aside.
  2. Hobbies: Engage in a hobby for at least 15 minutes a day to enrich your own life. A hobby is like enrichment for humans, providing very similar benefits that dogs receive.
  3. Prioritise Recovery Days: Schedule time to recover and reset, especially after significant events or deadlines.
  4. Set Boundaries: Learn to say no and delegate tasks to prevent burnout.

Takeaways - 

To conclude, here are some key takeaways:

  • Prioritise your health above all else: You can't feed people with an empty fridge.
  • Turn challenges into opportunities: Not all hurdles are bad; they can lead to new paths.
  • Embrace change: It's okay to pivot and change direction. What seems like the end might just be the beginning of a new chapter.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Remember, even in the face of challenges, it's possible to find opportunities!

Warm regards, Melissa

A little note about the Natwest Accelerator program -

I have been on the Natwest Accelerator program for the last few months and its truly been invaluable! Its helped me connect with many other incredible entrepreneurs and I am so grateful for this support! 

Here are some of the amazing entrepreneurs I have met via this program:

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