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Justine Williams from Our Family Dog on why she created Mumsnet for puppy owners

by | May 5, 2021

With so many homes welcoming new puppies throughout the pandemic, there is a lot of concern within the pet industry about what the future may hold for some of those dogs.

Justine Williams from Our Family Dog created plan to help puppy and dog owners prepare for life after lockdown, and she’s keen for other pet professionals to collaborate and help too.

In this week’s podcast, I speak to Justine about the lightbulb moment that led to Our Family Dog, how we can help dog owners navigate life after lockdown, and how you may be able to contribute.

You can listen to this episode on the player link below or continue reading as a blog post.

Justine’s background

After spending the majority of her working life working in animal welfare, Justine Williamson created Our Family Dog, a resource for pet parents to support them through their dog ownership journey.

Justine was in the communications department of the RSPCA for many years, working on campaigns to improve the welfare of pets.

One campaign that really struck a chord with Justine was looking at why so many dogs find themselves in rescue centres.

The RSPCA undertook research to try and understand what the influencing factors were that cause many people to relinquish their dog to rescue.

Justine spoke to many pet owners about the issues they faced, and it became clear that there was a big mismatch between what they expected dog ownership to be like, and reality.

The lightbulb moment

Justine became fascinated with the human element of things when it came to the reasons why dogs were relinquished.

She explains that so often, advice is targeted at what the dog needs, but we need to tackle this from a different angle.
After talking to many owners, scouring Facebook Groups and forums, Justine had her lightbulb moment.

What was needed was a Mumsnet for dog owners!

Recalling her time as a new parent, she had spent lots of time online looking at Mumsnet to find advice and support.

And one thing that stood out was a lot of what she was experiencing was normal. It was par for the course.

Justine recalled: “They helped to normalise parenting. And that’s what made me think, ‘this is kind of what we need for dog owners. We need a kind of Mumsnet equivalent.’

She became interested in human behaviour change and studied for a postgraduate certificate at the University of Derby.

Justine said: “‘When you’re looking at animal welfare issues, there is no point in just looking at the animal.

“There is always a person attached to the issue that you’re trying to address. There’s always a person attached to the dog.”

Our Family Dog was brought to life in 2019.

The puppy pandemic effect

Throughout the pandemic, visits to the Our Family Dog website have soared.

There are just so many people with puppies and dogs who need good quality support and advice.

Justine talks about the mismatch between breed choice and owner’s lifestyles.

She explains:  “Quite often, a breed is chosen because of its appearance, or because it was the breed someone had as a child, or because their friend has one.

“This has led to many people finding life with a puppy inexplicably hard. The experience is not what they expected.

“Our Family Dog seeks to address this in two ways, with an e-learning course that helps potential puppy owners learn about choosing the right breed for their lifestyle, what life with a puppy looks like, and how to find a responsible breeder.”

Our Family Dog also seeks to support puppy and dog owners when they hit what Justine calls ‘the panic button.’

People try really hard, and they kind of tie themselves in knots, trying to do the right thing.

Our Family Dog provides empathetic support without judgment to help dog owners through those times, to get them safely to the other side.

Justine wants to help puppy parents to prepare with a roadmap out of lockdown. “We have time for people to prepare for the changes in their dog’s life. We need to help them to do that.

“If we don’t, then we may see an increase in the relinquishment to rescues, or worse, dogs being sold on privately. Where will they end up?!”

What Our Family Dog Offers

Our Family Dog currently offers an e-learning course for want-to-be puppy owners, email advice, blogs, and a supportive forum for dog owners.

But Justine’s on a mission to help puppy and dog owners to be better prepared so that there are more happy owners and happy dogs in the world.

She says: “With most of the pet industry being completely unregulated, Our Family Dog has looked for ways to signpost owners to professionals who will provide good quality, sound advice to owners in need.

“For dog training and behaviour, we refer to members of the Animal Training and Behaviour Council (ABTC) to ensure there is a good standard of advice that owners are accessing.

“And for pet services like dog grooming, walking, and petsitters, we refer to members of the Pet Industry Federation (PIF).”

By using these two referral networks, Justine hopes it makes it easier for dog owners to seek help from true professionals.

How you can collaborate with Our Family Dog

At the moment, the opportunities to share and support this initiative are to contribute expert blog posts.

Justine says if pet professionals would like to work with her to get in touch. “I very much believe in collaboration.

“If any professionals who are either members of PIF or the ABTC would like to share their expertise with our community, then I would love to hear from them.”

Find Justine on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @ourfamilydoguk

Or find out more about opportunities to work with Our Family Dog here, including link sharing, affiliate partnership, and more: www.ourfamilydog.org.uk/

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