Jen Reeder—2018 winner in the solopreneur category for Women In The Pet Industry Network—has been a journalist and pet parent since 1994. I caught up with Reeder to talk about how she got the moniker “crazy dog lady,” about her WIPIN win, and to discuss the future of this soon-to-be-retiring president of the Dog Writers Association of America.
Q: What got you involved in the pet world?
A: I was already a journalist and had been writing for the World Wildlife Fund. It was after I adopted my first dog, Rio, in 2010 that I had more focus on pets and dogs in general. Rio changed my life. I was amazed by how joyful, in the moment, loyal and loving he was. We shared a special bond and that grew. Because of that, I started writing more and more about Rio and dogs in general.
I became the “crazy dog lady” after I’d written an article in April 2014 for the Huffington Post,: “I’ve Become A Crazy Dog Lady But I’m Okay With It.” That essay went viral and was picked up by Life With Dogs TV and others and was read by people around the world. It was then that I realized I wasn’t the only person who considered my pet a member of the family. After that I started noticing pet sections in general interest magazines, entire magazines and newsletters devoted to pets and I just took the crazy dog lady and ran with it. It was my niche.
Q: How did you turn your “crazy dog lady” passion into a career?
A: I was already a journalist. After that publication, though, I started pitching more stories that involved pets in one way or another. I’d been writing stories for the Animal Hospital Association and that connected me with some very cool veterinarians. I was writing about research being done in the pet health field.
I started writing articles about inspiring rescue stories and working dog organizations. I wrote for Modern Dog magazine and kept writing about the human animal bond.
My career in the pet field is so rewarding. I have met the nicest people through my work in the pet space. Once you’re established as a pet expert, people will come to you and think of you when they’re looking for a writer. Becoming an expert meant I wrote a lot of articles that got published, but I kept querying for new opportunities.
Q: Dog Writers Association (DWA) of America President… how did that happen?
A: Honestly, I saw there were three vacancies on the executive committee a couple of years ago and thought, “this could be fun!” I always want to get involved and give back to the community who has given me so much. I pressured my friend, Laura Coffey, a writer for the Today Show who’d penned a book called, “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets With Remarkable Second Acts” if she would serve with me. We both volunteered for a two-year stint.
This group is all volunteers and started in 1935 with only eight reporters as members. Today the DWA has more than 500 members in all forms of pet journalism from: photographers, reporters, bloggers, publicists, media personalities—just a huge group of dog-loving people.
Q: Now that your role as president of DWA is coming to a close, what will you do with your free time?
A: My time will be freed up so I can focus on my family and on our nonprofit, Rock 1 Kidney, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit fueled by the passion of kidney donors who want to inspire courage in potential donors by sharing stories of ways they are “rocking one kidney” post-donation. This was formed when my husband needed a kidney and I donated mine.
We recently moved to Denver and where we used to live, Rio had been a therapy dog who visited hospital patients. I’m looking for new opportunities for him in Denver.
Our other dog, Peaches, is a rescue as well. She is a senior poodle we adopted last fall. She was one of the sad stories that came across my volunteer desk at PawsCo: She was a senior and a cancer survivor--a stray who was missing twenty-five of her teeth and wasn’t expected to live for more than a couple of years. We have had her for a little more than a year.
When we brought her home, we were expecting a sad little dog who would just need a place to rest to live out the rest of her life. Instead we got an energetic little nut who spends her days doing gymnastics! We took her to a veterinary oncologist in New Mexico who said they didn’t see any cancer. We were so thrilled, we took her to a dog park to celebrate. She jumped out of the car and blew out her knee, so we turned around and took her back to the vet for knee surgery.
Q: What lessons have your dogs taught you?
A: Peaches taught me about courage, adaptability and resilience. Rio taught me the meaning of life—or ways to bring meaning to your life. He brings so much happiness to others just by being himself. He spreads love and joy and wags with his whole body. He makes himself and others happy—it’s a good reminder of how I want to try to live—to bring joy to others.
Q: Tell us about your winning status as Women In The Pet Industry Network Solopreneur of the Year
A: I was genuinely surprised and excited. I loved connecting with the other women who were nominated. It was such a positive and empowering experience and to be with so many women with such diverse jobs and businesses in one room was impressive. Shawna (Schuh, president of Women In The Pet Industry Network) has done such an amazing job of bringing women together to celebrate one another and their achievements.
Q: What’s on your horizon?
A: Right now, I’m planning the DWA banquet that will take place February 10 in New York City. We have Jill Rappaport from Animal Planet and Steve Dale from Steve Dale’s Pet World speaking. Denise Fleck, president of the Gray Muzzle organization will also be on hand and will have an exciting announcement. DWA will also have some big news on our young writers program and will recognize some of the young writers who have been involved. It is exciting seeing the great work these writers are producing.
As for myself, I want to keep pitching story ideas to magazines and other publications. I want to redouble my efforts for looking into publications, so I can continue to help educate people about dogs and cats. I had an article published in Family Circle magazine for senior pet month a year ago and within forty-eight hours the article had thousands of clicks: that make me think that these people were interested in adopting a senior pet because of my article. That is such a great feeling—to help a pet find a home.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to break into the pet writing field?
A: It is important to network with other writers. Join associations and pet writing groups. There are so many opportunities for writers to learn from one another. I’ve found that writers are generous with one another—offering tips on how to break into print, offering to critique a query letter, sharing contact information about an editor and more.
I’m so grateful to be in this line of work. Thankful for the opportunities people have given me and the encouragement I have received from other writers and editors. I also love that my career path has opened up opportunities to volunteer with organizations and meet wonderful people.
Editor’s Note: With a passion for helping animals, photographer Lori Fusaro lends her talents to the mission of the Best Friends Animal Society in Los Angeles, California.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.
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