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Want Meaningful Work and Money? Lessons from Animal Lovers Who Found a Way to Have Both

“At a time when many of us work mostly because it pays, to find meaning in what you do can be a radical stance,” says Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do with My Life?

For animal lovers there is perhaps no more meaningful work than that which involves either healing animals or employing animals to help people.

There are countless ways to take a love of animals and turn it into a livelihood. But you don’t have to want an animal-related business to learn from those who took a dream and ran with it – lessons that can benefit anyone who wants to make a living doing what they love.

The Business of Healing Animals

Just as there is a boon in businesses catering to the needs of older adults, creative entrepreneurs are finding ways to serve the aging or disabled pet market as well.

Leslie and Eddie Grinnell with their dog Buddha

Leslie and Eddie Grinnell didn’t plan to start a business. Leslie was a potter and Eddie worked as a mechanical engineer. Their entrepreneurial journey began in 1989 when their beloved ten-year-old dog Buddha lost the use of her rear legs due to spondylosis and disc disease.

That’s when Eddie began tinkering with a cart that would support Buddha’s weight so she could heal. His contraption worked so well that their vet began referring patients in need of carts for their own disabled dogs and with that Eddie’s Wheels was born.

Located in the picture post-card village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, the company has made thousands of carts ranging in price between $300 and $600 for grateful dog owners from all over the country. Business was so good that a few years ago they expanded into a several thousand square foot facility.

Saturday is an emotional day at Eddie’s Wheels. That’s the day owners arrive for their pet’s first test drive. As you can imagine there are lots of hugs, tears, and gratitude.

Of his work Eddie says, “I was a highly paid engineer well respected on several continents and have to say nobody ever said thank you. And today every day starts with someone saying thank you.”

Using Animals to Heal People

Sometimes it’s people who heal animals and other times its people who find a way to use animals to help or heal people. Roberta Wilmore is in the second group.

Roberta grew up riding horses in rural Pennsylvania. But in her 30 years riding she said she rarely saw another black face at the riding centers where she worked or rode.

So she made it her mission to do for the equestrian scene what Arthur Ashe did for tennis by helping to support a multicultural and multiethnic environment in equestrian sports for all children.

Today the non-profit organization Children’s Equitation Center’s mission is to “stimulate, support, and encourage the involvement of children of color and other underserved urban children in the equestrian world and to find a place for them in horse related activities.”

Roberta is not grooming children for equestrian careers as much as she is using horses to teach the power of will, courage, focus, and discipline – something she herself epitomizes.

Today her non-profit operates on a beautiful 62 acre farm in the rolling hills of Ashfield, Massachusetts where she runs programs after school and on weekends, holidays, and during summer vacation.

Eddie’s Wheels and The Children’s Equitation Center are just two of five planned stops on the Work at What You Love Workshop by Profiting from Your Passions Entrepreneurial & Site-Seeing Adventure happening August 18-21 here in Montague, Massachusetts.

Each offers important lessons for anyone seeking to make money doing meaningful work. Here are four:

Lesson 1: Pay attention to trends.

No matter where your own interests lie, there are always associated trends. For example, according to a USA Today analysis of the 2010 US census report there are now more U.S. households with pets than with children. It’s also estimated that their owners spent $6.4 billion spoiling them.

Before you decide on a business take the time to find out what the trends are. If cooking is your thing there are numerous trends you can capitalize on including the growing organic and raw diet movements, increases in childhood obesity, or interest in cooking vacations.

Look too to see if interest in your passion — and therefore the number of potential customers or clients — is declining, growing, or remaining the same.

Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to expand.

If you would prefer to remain a small one-person operation, I support you one hundred percent. On the other hand you shouldn’t be afraid to grow either.

If you don’t like managing people then partner with someone who does. If you need capital, then work with a local Small Business Development Center or a provincial organization like the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs to help craft a plan for getting a loan or investors.

It was only by growing that Eddie’s Wheels was able to service more dogs. As importantly, expanding also gave the company’s 16 employees the chance to know the joy of doing meaning work as well.

Lessons 3: Sacrifice is not a dirty word.

Someone once said, don’t itch for something you’re not willing to scratch for.

It took Roberta 10 years to save enough money to purchase a farm and she didn’t own her first horse until she was 52.

Starting and running your own non-profit or for-profit organization takes considerable time, effort, and patience. If you don’t understand this then I highly recommend you stick to being an employee.

However, if you’re willing to do what it takes to create a more meaningful work life doing what you love, the sacrifice will pay you back in spades. Just ask Roberta.

Lesson 4: Wealth is a relative term.

Obviously you need to make money. The question is, at what cost?

There are plenty of entrepreneurs and executives earning seven and even eight-figures. I applaud them for their hard work and dedication. Look closer though and you’ll find that many barely have time to say goodnight to their kids.

Coco Channel once said, “There are people who have money and there are people who are rich.” Roberta’s organization relies on donors to keep going. And Eddie is the first to admit that the couple will never be rich.

But all you have to do is stop by the horse farm and see the kids interacting with the horses or watch the video of injured dogs being given the gift of mobility to see that Roberta and the Grinnell’s are already rich.

Information Will Set You Free

Realizing any dream begins with gathering information. Or as I like to tell my clients, you don’t know enough right now to be excited or scared.

If you want to start a non-profit then do a search for foundations that offer grants. Lesser known foundations like Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation support “innovative endeavors leading to better circumstances for low-income youth and their families.” While the Bernice Barbour Foundation funds organizations that are dedicated to animal health and welfare.

If you want to manufacturer a product like the Grinnell’s did, then search Thomasnet for suppliers and manufacturers.

Most importantly keep learning and asking questions – starting right now:

  • What don’t you know now that you need to find out to take your dream to the next step?
  • What additional lessons did you gain from these stories?
  • If you could talk to the Eddie, Leslie, or Roberta, what would you ask?

Are you ready to take your own radical stance and find work that provides both money and meaning?

Once you start thinking outside the job box and you make the mental shift from “finding” a job to “creating” opportunities, you will discover the possibilities for profiting from your passion truly are endless.

There are 2 comments. Add yours.

  1. Janet Eisenbise

    I was very touched by your newsletter article, and could relate to your feelings about cleaning out the old family home. I am in a similar process in caring for my mother who is 92. I’m glad your dog is doing better, and it just cracked me up that you named her Cokie Roberts! Another NPR fan!

  2. Valerie Valerie

    Thanks Janet you are very kind to write. Yes it is really hard to let go of the past and my family saved so many things from my great grandmother’s grandmother so we’re talking history!

    Cokie is actually a boy — his name was Pokie at the shelter and I changed it but not so much as to confuse him and added the Roberts more for fun! And yes a huge NPR fan.

    Thanks again and all the best with your mom – hope she is well.

    Valerie

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