How Leo Charley & Me became a business.
Why I set up Leo Charley & Me dog accessories.
The dogs in my life.
Dogs have been a big part of my life since the day I was born.
The first dogs I fell in love with were two big black Afghan Hounds, Zoe and Zelma who belonged to my lovely Great Aunt Flo. They were the most gentle and calm dogs who let me climb all over them, give them lots of cuddles and steady myself with their tails when I was learning to walk.
My Godmother who lived next door to us had several dogs throughout my childhood. All of those dogs became part of our family providing essential doggy company. There was Winston a Cocker Spaniel, Jasper a Lakeland Terrier and Sam who was meant to be a Border Terrier. He looked like one but was the size of a Labrador and was a really lovely boy.
When my grandma died we took in her Yorkshire Terrier, who strangely was also called Kim. I must say it became rather confusing when people called our name as both the dog and I would come running.
Honestly, who names a child after the family dog!
Scamp, a Westie, was the first dog I actually owned. I bought him on my 16th birthday. He was the best of dogs. He slept at my feet and was my constant companion. It was really hard to leave him to go away to do my nurse training but we would go on long walks on my days off.
Leo came into my life first.
Owning a dog has always been on my wish list but raising three children and working almost full time as a nurse prevented us from being able to have one. My husband and I would often offer to dog sit for friends and family with dogs if they needed to go away without their furry friends and this provided us with the occasional dog ‘fix’.
We regularly talked about getting a dog and planned to do so when we retired. However at the age of 54 I became quite unwell with an autoimmune condition, Sjogren's Syndrome. Treatment for this initially involved trying several potent drugs which often caused terrible side effects that were worse than the condition itself. One medication caused me to develop an enlarged heart which then resulted in a leaky valve. Whilst waiting for assessment and treatment from a specialist I was stuck at home feeling absolutely miserable, scared and very vulnerable. I rarely went out and became a bit of a recluse. I became concerned that if things got worse I might not get to retirement age, so my husband and I did some serious thinking about how we were going to cope with this.
This brought about quite a change in mind set. Working as a school nurse was no longer my main priority so I cut back my working hours to try to reduce my stress levels, pain and tiredness.
Part time working opened up whole new world of possibilities and we decided that we could now get a dog. It must have been fate because at that precise time, one of my closest friends who had a beautiful Labrador, Fleur, told us she was having pups. We were incredibly lucky to be able to see them when they were only 4 days old. Every one of them was absolutely adorable and I fell in love with a tiny ‘red fox’ pup no bigger than the palm of my hand.
Leo officially became ours in May 2016 and he changed all our lives for the better.
This wonderful dog gave me my life back. He filled the empty nest left by my 3 grown children who now live in Manchester and London. He became my constant companion, a protector, a comforter and a personal trainer all rolled into one. He demanded walks and playtime, giving me a new focus to my life. He still makes me laugh every single day with his funny antics.
Leo has been an incredible addition to the family. We all love him madly. Walking him was obviously a necessity and this ensured that I got out of the house every day, come rain or shine, regardless of feeling vulnerable. Strangely with him on the lead by my side I didn’t worry as much. We spent every afternoon out in the fresh air walking for miles, which helped me feel better, fitter and more relaxed. Exercise can be beneficial when you have rheumatoid arthritis as it helps to ease the stiffness.
When he was about 12 months old Leo became quite fearful of other dogs after he was bitten by an off lead dog whilst we were walking on the canal towpath.
In the following months he became quite reactive towards some dogs, so much so that walks became very problematic. Some dogs he was fine with whilst others would set him off in a torrent of wild barking and leaping about.
We had some 1:1 help from a local dog trainer who suggested that he had become a pessimistic and fearful dog who needed to have his confidence boosted. We thought long and hard about how we could help him and realised that he was happiest in the company of other dogs he knew and trusted. This led us to consider adopting a female dog to keep him company and help him increase in confidence.
Charley sparked the idea to create ‘Leo Charley & Me’ washable fabric dog collars and accessories.
After months of searching we found the perfect dog, a beautiful, black, working cocker spaniel. She lived with a Spaniel Aid UK foster family. We applied to adopt her and sent off the forms waiting with our fingers crossed. About a week later we had a telephone interview with an invitation to visit her.
We jumped at the chance and drove to meet her near Lancaster over 110 miles away. She immediately sat on my feet and looked up adoringly at me and she loved Leo! He took to her straight away so following a thorough home check a few days later we were able to collect Charley within the week
She is an adorable, active, bouncy, noisy, ball mad spaniel who loves mud and water play but is never happier than when she’s lying on someone’s feet in front of the fire. She has such a sweet nature and a delight to have in the family and she has bonded with Leo so well that neither of them like to go anywhere without the other.
When Charley arrived she kept the name she was given as a puppy but everybody then presumed she was a boy. To fix this I wanted to put her in pretty floral collars but didn’t like anything available in the shops. It was apparent that collars needed to be washable as Charley is the proverbial ‘mucky pup’, loving to roll in anything she finds when we are out on walks. Both Leo and Charley love to swim so more often than not you will find them wet.
The inspiration behind the Leo Charley & Me. fabric dog collars and accessories.
These two dogs together brought about an unexpected life change for me too. They provided the inspiration behind my business, Leo Charley & Me.
I was taught how to sew as a child by two very special great aunts, so when I wanted cute floral collars and accessories for Charley it was the most natural thing to make them myself. Not wanting Leo to be left out I made some for him too, but he looks best in stylish tweeds and checks.
These collar, bandana and bow creations were quickly admired by friends and family who began to ask me to make for their dogs too! This was the 'lightbulb' moment when it occurred to me that I might actually be able to start a small business.
Leo Charley and Me dog accessories was born.
The idea grew and I began to go to local fairs and dog shows with my little stall. Then, in May 2019 I was lucky to be able to apply for a stand in the Enterprise Zone of our local Staffordshire County Show. This really increased my confidence as other people, besides friends and family, really liked and bought my creations. Filled with excitement and trepidation in equal measures I decided to take the leap and leave my school nursing job to concentrate on Leo Charley & Me, full time working from home.
It has been a massive challenge, 39 years as a nurse doesn’t prepare you at all for creating a pet business. There has been a huge amount to learn about social media, websites, marketing and accounts.
Running Leo Charley & Me dog accessories is a dream come true!
So here I am, at a time in my life when many people are thinking about retiring, starting a new venture.
It is so exciting!
Every day I am lucky to experience the joy of working in a business that I have created myself. There will be at least one and sometimes both dogs at my feet whilst I plan my work around their walks, playtime and cuddles.
We are as a family incredibly thankful to Spaniel Aid UK who saved our gorgeous girl Charley. This is why we donate 15% of all our takings to them so they can continue the important work they do rescuing and rehoming spaniels all over the UK and abroad.
Every purchase you make will result in a contribution to SAUK, so please have a look at our website and help us to make a difference to dogs in need.
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