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Giving Back, Not Giving Up

Posted by Jon Kreye on
Giving Back, Not Giving Up

By: Jennifer Gorman

Let me tell you something only a few people know. I got a dog to use as a tool; yes, a tool. I was dealing with undiagnosed ADHD and bipolar disorder. If I wasn’t working, I would stay in bed all day and all night or just mope around the house; I was a terror for my roommate at the time. I didn’t care about anything, my friends, my house, myself. I just wanted it all to end. I could see no way out.

I decided that instead of self-medicating or something much worse, I should figure out a way to change things. I thought to myself, “What is going to force me out of bed?” The only thing that came to my mind was a dog. A dog? Well, this is going to sound strange, but I knew I wouldn’t want a dog peeing on me, my bed or the floors, and to combat that I would have to get up. 

A dog made it OK for me to walk around the neighborhood again, smile at strangers again, make new friends, hold my head high and laugh again. What my first dog gave me was permission to be me again. Nothing I ever did or said could make him upset with me, angry at me or even cold toward me. My family had dogs growing up, and they were fun, but I had never experienced that special unconditional love for a dog and from a dog until I was in my darkest space.  

I have owned many special dogs, but my first foster dog, Sir Ivan Fidoski McSlushee Pants, inspired Give Back Studio. Sir Ivan was my first foster dog from Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota & Wisconsin (GDRMW). He was an exceptional case with special needs: his breeding was atrocious with no regard for genetic factors, mental disposition or even what happened to him after the breeder received money from a new family. Ivan’s severe heart condition required close attention, and his anxiety — coupled with fear — made him a difficult dog to love. Ivan’s original family was not prepared to care for a dog with such complex issues.  

When my husband, Mike, and I took Ivan in, we soon found he would require a great deal of love and dedication to be ready for adoption. In the beginning, Ivan was scared of my husband and would bark and run away from him. With lots of patience from Mike, Ivan grew to feel trust and learned that he was loved and lovable. After a while, it became clear that attempting to place Ivan in another home would be quite a challenge, but more importantly, it would be traumatizing for Ivan and only set him back in his accomplishments. He had multiple strikes against him: a life-threatening heart condition and unpredictable anxious behaviors.

Enter Karla. Karla is the president of GDRMW and my point of contact for all things Ivan. Karla supported us in every aspect of Ivan’s care and beyond. One day, Karla called to talk about Ivan and how the rescue wanted to move forward with him. She spoke about placing him in a hospice foster home that was prepared to also work with his behaviors — I lost it on the phone. I started crying, exclaiming she can’t take him away from us — we would NOT support transferring Ivan to some unknown foster home. I didn’t even realize I felt that way until it came spilling out.

I have never heard Karla sound so relieved. She said, “I was hoping you would say that!” We lovingly became Ivan’s hospice foster home. Ivan was able to live his best life with us for one year and four days. He joined our family as a hospice foster and left the family as a muse for Give Back Studio.

One day in 2019 I was talking to my friend about Ivan and how he had impacted me. I described how I wished I could make dog accessories that were unique and stylish and that somehow honored Ivan. So, in a garage in Northern Minnesota, the idea for Give Back Studio was born: make cool bandanas, snuggle dogs, support artists of all abilities and give back to animal rescue.

I have always loved making things, effecting positive change and giving back through my art. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was given an opportunity to really dive headfirst into Give Back Studio: I lost my job working for a nonprofit that supported adults with disabilities. I was angry, frustrated and sad, and I knew I had to do something that would feed my soul. Give Back Studio was born from the love of dogs that have helped me and my desire to give back to the community in everything I do.  

In my first six months of business I was able to donate 20% of my sales to animal rescue, donated nearly 100 dog bow ties for rescue organizations to sell to supporters and raise funds, and donated more than 30 bandanas to various animal rescue organizations to use when fundraising and having adoption events. Give Back Bandanas are available online and in three retail locations around Minnesota.  We currently have three employees: Miss Piper Von Lotsa Shenanigans, Great Dane and model; Billie Jean Queen of Everything, miniature Australian shepherd and Lead Durability Specialist; and Beauty Baby, mutt extraordinaire and in charge of all things sassy.

I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Give Back Studio and how I can continue to grow the business and give back to the community in even more creative ways!

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Read more of our stories in Issue 19 of Lake and Company.

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