In this together
Carolyn Marshall works evenings and weekends in her tiny home workshop.
A new local business born out of loss and love is designed with a community-minded approach to do good
LWhen both her pets died within two weeks of each other, Carolyn Marshall needed a way to move past the grief. Her new business venture comes with the desire to do good and help others in her community. It’s also been a means to help her work her way through the pain.
“I know lots of people lose pets and I know it’s horrible for everybody, but that was sort of the impetus,” says Marshall. Their spirits live on in her new business, Finn and Lucy Premium Pet Gear, selling her hand-crafted leashes, collars, and accessories.
When her family’s beloved yellow lab Finnegan turned three, he developed a limp. Despite a diagnosis of elbow dysplasia as a puppy, he loved nothing more than a wild romp through the forest. “We thought we were getting him ACL surgery for Christmas,” says Marshall.
“My vet called me and she said ‘I don’t know what to tell you but it looks like he has bone cancer.’” Marshall was shocked. “This wonderful surgeon in Bedford, Dr. Draper, got us in at the last minute on the 23rd or 24th of December, and did the bone biopsy. In January he got back to us and said it didn’t show any cancer. We were elated.” But Finn’s limp kept coming and going.
Eventually the only options were to amputate the leg or to euthanize the dog. “Because we didn’t have a cancer diagnosis, we didn’t want to euthanize him. He was a young dog. He didn’t fit the model, it’s usually older dogs who get cancer.”
A tough decision: they decided to go with the amputation. “Of course then they biopsied it and it was bone cancer. They said it will come back eventually. But it was miraculous, when he walked out of the surgeon he was a different dog. It immediately got rid of the pain. And he learned to get around on three legs.”
His family had about six more months with him. The cancer returned and spread to his lungs. They lost Finn days after his fourth birthday. Two weeks later, their perfectly healthy five-year-old cat Lucy died unexpectedly, while curled up in a chair at home.
“Come January, once Christmas was over, we were all just so miserable. Crying every day. This was a way to heal and get through it and get past it,” says Marshall.
The product is hip, with patterns ranging from cupcakes, to beers of the world, wine, super heroes, and lots of other fun, pop culture references. Marshall releases new products every month. There are over 50 options currently on the business website, and she takes custom orders as well. “It’s more about an expression of what you love, than it is ‘let’s get a pretty plaid collar,’” says Marshall.
She sews and makes everything herself. “With a big order, it can take up my entire weekend. It certainly took up a lot of my weekends just to get enough of a sampling ready,” she says.
“Most of the designs I’ve printed on the collar have been things where I try to share something loving or positive and I use the expression a lot, ‘wear what you love,’ because it’s a depressing world to live in.”
She has half a dozen wholesale customers, including the Canadian Sea Turtle Network, Joggins Fossil Cliffs, the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, local shop Petstuff on the Go, her veterinarian’s office, and her hairdresser. She’s in discussions with a national charity about working together as a social enterprise. Her dream is to have a business where others can earn a fair working wage, with products hand-crafted in Canada.
“My deal with everybody is I’m not going to make any more money than you are,” she explains. “If I’m going to make $8 a collar, then I’m going to let it be so that you are making $8 a collar. I believe it only works when we are in this together. It has to work for both people.”
Marshall makes it clear she’s not looking for this business to be her main source of income. “But I’d like it to be a main source of income for other people, if that makes any sense,” she says. “I would like other people to be able to do the sewing, to have enough wholesale clients so there’s steady work for somebody, at least one person if not more, and then grow it from there.” Marshall says she has lots of ideas for product expansion, including harness designs and bandanas.
Marshall’s full-time job is with Bloom Non-profit Consulting Group, providing fundraising consulting services for charities. She’s been working with business partner and friend Anne Melanson for over 15 years.
“She has a constant personal commitment to deliver,” Melanson says. “She knows what she’s good at and runs with those ideas. The nature of our career is working with the charitable sector. We’ve spent the majority of our career working with the community, with educational institutions, with missions that alleviate poverty. She has a commitment to the community-minded approach to do good. She participates in and subscribes to that ideal.”
Melanson believes Marshall can turn her business into a social enterprise where people can benefit economically or gain workplace skills. “We’ve seen over the years, the part of the charitable sector that incorporates social enterprise is a successful model for organizations, and she is going in that direction,” says Melanson. “She’s an ardent pet and animal lover, it’s a perfect fit. It ticks all the boxes of who Carolyn is. She’s an accomplished seamstress, loves animals, loves animal owners. This is something that makes a community contribution and she’s having fun with it.”
Kathleen Martin is executive director of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network. She shared her thoughts on Marshall’s venture via email. “I met Carolyn through her work with Bloom. She and her partner…consulted with me on a fundraising strategy for the Canadian Sea Turtle Network,” says Martin.
“We kept in touch after the consulting project was finished. I was so sorry to hear when Carolyn lost her beloved pets Finn and Lucy and have such admiration for how she took a difficult and sad situation, and anyone who has ever loved a pet knows how much a member of a family they are, and turned it into something wonderful.”
Marshall is adamant she wants her company to make a statement. “The tagline that I’m using now is ‘we’re in this together,’ which is kind of my philosophy about all of it, whether it’s all of us together on my street here in Halifax, on the planet, or with the people that I work with,” she says.
“Carolyn is committed deep in her soul to making the world a better place through her work,” says Martin. “I am not surprised in this latest venture that she is constructing a company that centres on building not just her business, but also on building our community. It is this kind of choice—insisting on looking at things through the lens of connectivity—that helps heal the fractures we can all see in the world right now.”
Positivity, fun, and something to smile about is the message Marshall says she is trying to convey.
“It’s really an endeavour of love. It was born out of love for my pets, it’s an endeavour to try and spread some love in a fun way without being all preachy,” she says. “I spend a lot of time on social media and there’s a lot of shaming of people and a lot of preaching to people and I just want there to be some fun and some happiness and some joy. And some love. We need more of that. It’s a scary world we live in, with all that’s happening south of the border. And that kind of stuff spreads. I think it’s really important for those folks on the love side of the coin to do everything that they can to spread it.”
This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.