When Marie Yates wrote teen novel Reggie and Me about the incredible bond of a young girl and her rescue dog it inspired her to create a remarkable social enterprise
Her first book tells the story of Dani Moore, a rape survivor and Reggie, her rescue dog and while Marie was on tour promoting Reggie and Me, along with her rescue Rottweiler German Shepherd cross Reggie (he inspired the character), she had a lightbulb moment.
It celebrated the incredible human-animal bond and showed how rescue dogs and survivors of sexual violence could recover together - and Marie decided to make it happen in real life.
She founded Canine Hope, an innovative programme where survivors work with rescue dogs to prepare them for their forever homes and she’s helped more than 200 humans and 20 dogs.
Marie's first novel Reggie and Me
Marie's aim was to do something positive to help young survivors
The 37-year-old from Herefordshire explained: “At the time, I felt the message to them was that life was going to be really difficult and a lifelong journey of recovery.
“As a survivor, I wanted to dispel this. I didn’t want the book to be a big ‘woe is me’ story so I created a teenage character Dani, who is cool and who young people would listen to and identify with.
“The book starts at the end of her court case and documents her journey with her rescue dog Reggie by her side and her relationship with him and this is central to how she develops and recovers.
“She experiences all the things that teens do. When something really s*** happens people tend to think, ‘I’m done with the s*** stuff. That must be it.’ But the message in the book is that life still happens.
“You might fall out with friends or experience other teen angst, so a lot of it is exploring what teenagers go through. It’s written as Dani’s diary and I hoped survivors could read the book without anyone knowing what it’s about.
“The feedback was really good. It’s so moving when young women who have read it say things like, ‘It’s the little things Dani says - she gets it,’ and ‘It’s like Dani is in my head.’”
Marie and Reggie - her rescue dog and inspiration
The book was nominated for the 2015 People’s Book Prize and when Marie took Reggie to signings she noticed survivors were naturally drawn to him
Marie says magic happened when Reggie was in the room, and having qualified as a trainer, she began working on a programme, Canine Hope, where she would bring dogs and survivors together.
She said: “With Reggie, survivors really wanted to learn about him and said things like ‘oh, it’s just like me,’ or, ‘I felt like that as well.’
“Because he was a big powerful dog, the realisation was that if he couldn’t run away, how the hell were they supposed to run away?
“Then they’d look at him and see he was really happy and chilled and fine around people. Reggie was helping them focus on what he and they had right now and that life could be really good.”
Canine Hope started with Reggie, who sadly died earlier this year, but his legacy lives on
Marie has adopted another dog, Bear, a five-year-old Newfoundland Collie cross from Ruff Luck rescue in Nuneaton where volunteers saved him from a puppy farm and he joins her during sessions.
She also works with rescue centres taking dogs who need socialising to meet survivors. Marie shares the dog’s story and explains ‘cues’ such as ‘sit’ ‘paw’ or ‘stay’ and other training exercises and survivors learn about the science of recovery though the eyes of the dog.
Marie and gentle giant Bear
One of them is Bruno, a Staffie who needed his leg amputating after being kicked and stamped on by two men
Marie says: “Bruno helps people understand it’s the perpetrator who is to blame by explaining things through the perspective of a dog.
“When we talk about what happened I’ll say, ‘Did he bite them? No. Did he bark? No. Did he run away? No. Instead, when the police raided the house they found him cowering behind the sofa.’
“My own pet Bear is another big strong dog who was hurt through no fault of his own and wasn’t able to leave that situation. Because they’re so gentle, people feel secure around them.
“For a survivor, the experience, messages, power, emotion and fear surrounding what happened to them can be all encompassing.
“Just being with a dog or any animal really, all of a sudden, their entire thought process turns to them. They’re engaging with them, stroking them, and in our case, teaching them something.
“It helps them feel safe and this is a really big deal. For some of the people we work with it’s the only living thing they’ve touched safely for years. It’s refreshing to sit in a group and laugh and enjoy time with the dog.
“The sessions are playful and interactive. It’s different to traditional therapy, which has a place and is necessary. Instead of talking about the experience it’s asking people to think in different ways.”
Marie and Bruno - one of her canine colleagues
As well as her books and the Canine Hope programme, Marie has a Love Learning From Dogs merchandise range
Her face is on notepads, cards, mugs and postcards with motivational quotes to help with coping strategies like ‘We’re all a work in progress,’ ‘We’re not what happened to us,’ and ‘We’ve survived 100% of our ruff days.’
Marie said: “We wanted to create a dog who would live forever and Luna is so cute. The aim is to brighten people’s day and all the messages come from survivors from the programme. We plan to add resilience revolution boxes to the range and 100 per cent of profits fund Canine Hope.”
Her work was awarded a £11,000 prize from pet food brand Purina earlier this year as part of their Better With Pets initiative which celebrates social entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of pets to improve our lives.
It means Marie is able to deliver workshops across the South West region and she hopes to extend this across the UK, working with people affected by domestic violence, bullying, stress and other mental health issues.
Marie said: “To win the prize and have support from a global pet business is fantastic and to know that people believe in what we do and are inspired by it means to much to me. The extra funding means we can help more people.
“There’s a dog shelter and a survivor charity in every town in Britain and my aim is for Canine Hope to be able to work with all of them. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. I love seeing people enjoying themselves and the dogs benefiting. I just feel very lucky.”
A Team Luna Mug
The Team Luna Notepads
We have two sets of merchandise to give away
To help share Luna’s woofs of wisdom from the Love Learning From Dogs range, Marie is giving two readers the chance to win a mug and a trio of notebooks.
To take part in the competition, leave a comment below sharing the most important lesson you’ve learned from your dog.
Terms and Conditions: All entries must be living in the UK and two winners will be chosen at random on September 14th 2018.
Were you inspired by Marie's story? You might enjoy reading The 5 social entrepreneurs changing lives through Purina's Better With Pets scheme or Why Mary Burgess decided to recognise remarkable animals with the Animal Star Awards.