Laura, 22, from Stockport, fell ill with chronic fatigue syndrome at the age of 19, and was unable to take up her place at the Royal Veterinary College in London. Then, a golden retriever puppy called Summer came into the picture. Laura had the bright idea of using her prior animal experience with horses and online research to train her new puppy Summer to be an assistance dog and support her with chronic fatigue syndrome and autism.
“When Summer was about 18 months old, I’d finished training her and had nothing more to teach her for assistance dog work. I realised I had all this knowledge now about training assistance dogs that isn’t easily accessible to other people with disabilities, and if it is there it usually costs a fortune for personal tailored support. I wanted to help other people with conditions who were finding it hard to access trained assistance dogs.”
Laura became a qualified and insured dog trainer and approached The Prince’s Trust to help set up her business, Wild Spirit Dog Training. She took part in The Prince’s Trust’s Enterprise course in January 2020, a free course that offers training, funding and resources to future entrepreneurs. Laura has also been matched with a business mentor for 1:1 support.
“The Prince’s Trust helped me with the organisation elements of setting up a business and taught me about finance, like the right way to do invoices. My mentor supports me with regular meetings too. Recently, they asked me how I judge the success of your business, and for me, it’s always how many assistance dogs I’m helping to train.
“Lots of people who could benefit from assistance dogs are left out of standard services, and that’s the gap in the market my business is trying to close. I work mainly with psychiatric and autism assistance dogs, for example."
Laura is balancing running her business with a BSc Biology degree and MSc in Animal Behaviour at Manchester Metropolitan University.
“Long term, I want to run Wild Spirit full time with it totally focussed on assistance dogs. I get so much job satisfaction from the business.
“If you’re a young person with a disability, it can be daunting to open a business. But it can provide you with so much freedom, and the enjoyment it can bring you is worth 100 times more than the money you make.”