NEW ORLEANS, USA – My story started back in 2005 when I was 17 years, a senior in high school preparing to go to college when Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans. I am Courtney McWilliams, the Canine Emotional Officer (CEO) of MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat, LLC. I started this business in 2015 because I was burned out as a Social Worker and I needed a complete change.
The Hurricane of opportunity
Many may think that Hurricane Katrina devastated my life but I say, it was the opportunity of a life time. Although I lost nearly everything I have ever owned, I also developed a strength that I did not know that I had. I developed courage and perseverance.
Upon relocating to Atlanta, Georgia, my mother became terminally ill, leaving me to care for two younger siblings, my mother, and my grandfather. This is when I developed a strong work ethic. I was forced to work two jobs to care for my family and put myself through undergraduate school. I attended Clark Atlanta University before transferring to Kennesaw State University. Although I was head of household, I still had the support of my mother.
Matriarch and sole provider
Shortly after my grandfather passed and my mother also passed away. Therefore, leaving me as the legal guardian of my younger brother and sister. That meant that I was now the matriarch and sole provider of the family, caring for my brother (11years old), sister (17 years old), and niece (6 months old). I was just 21 years old.
My mother passed away within a few short months of me graduating with a Bachelors in Social Science. I did not let that stop me from completing my degree. This actually motivated me to follow in my mother’s footsteps of becoming a social worker and helping the underserved. However this was short lived.
Dream Job Turned Nightmare
In 2013, I began what I thought was my dream job as social worker for the state of Georgia. Although I was burned out, I continue to work two jobs in social services to provide for my family. I even began working odd jobs such as pet sitting for extra income, but to be honest, pet sitting was more therapeutic for me.
Eventually I got tired and prayed for some relief and change which lead me to start the process of moving back home to New Orleans, La in November 2014.
After I moved back, I continued my work as a social worker and attended graduated school at Southern University at New Orleans, where I recently completed a Masters of Social Work. I remember sitting in class thinking, “I can’t do this, this is not who I am any more”. That is when I realized my love for dogs. I knew how therapeutic they were for me due to previous pet sitting gigs I had.
I began to relate the behaviors of dogs to two year old children which helped me to understand their behaviors. From this “ah ha” moment, I created MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat. MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat allowed me to combine my years of training as a social worker with my love and passion for dogs. It focuses on boarding dogs that suffer with anxiety or depression because these types of dogs are harder to board.
I know first hand how hard it is to board dogs that have anxiety as I remember vividly, in fall of 2015, needing a pet sitter for my dog, who suffered with severe separation anxiety. It was extremely hard for me to find a pet sitter who understood anxiety and emotions outside of dog trainers.
Being CEO at MaryMac’s Doggie Retreat
We help dogs overcome anxiety and depression through specialized enrichment activities. The dogs are kept in smaller group settings maintaining a 1 to 5 ratio. They have structured play time with best friends, individualized attention, and tailored activities designed to stimulate the mind while increasing confidence and self-control.
Now being a full-time entrepreneur, I am investing in my brand and see that the services we offer are needed globally.
I am also knocking down walls of stereotypes as you do not see many people of color working in the pet care industry. And, rarely do you see WOMEN of COLOR owning pet care companies. Although I was faced with many challenges and obstacles, I am a living model for young girls who are faced with growing up early and not experiencing critical milestones in their life due to becoming caregivers.
My desires are to continue to conquer my dreams and live life happy, healthy and whole at any size (preferably plus size). I want to continue to be a role model for those who need it.
Courtney’s Suggestions for 67 minutes #100YearsOfMandela
1. Help the elderly. Do small task around the house such as cooking and cleaning, or taking them out for the day to the park. This gives the elderly person a sense of belonging as many of the elderly population aren’t able to do the things they once loved due to physically disabilities.
2. Being a mentor to someone younger. As a previous social worker, I know first hand how many youth in my community are not fortunate enough to have a mentor. When I think about it, I had a few mentors at every pivotal stage in my life, therefore I make it my mission to mentor other young adults by showing them that how to carry themselves as ladies or gentlemen.
3. Exercising. Being health conscious is very important to me because being healthy is critical for anyone. Exercising on the daily basis, even if it is for 30 minutes a day can help you to build the strength and endurance to continue to do good work in your community. You aren’t able to help others when your health is declining. Being active or exercising regularly helps to fight off illness.
4. Volunteering. This term is very broad term, but volunteering is always a great way to do good within the community. I was raised on volunteering therefore it is one of my core belief. I often volunteer at animal shelters and homeless shelters.
5. Being true to yourself. Being true to yourself is the best advise I could give anyone. This allows you to be authentically you and happy. When you are happy and true to yourself, you are able to help others to become happy as well.
How can I make this world a better place especially when it comes to freedom? Ummmm this is a hard one. The first thing that I can think of is knowledge. Being knowledgeable grants you the opportunity to become the expert in that area, which will grant you the opportunity to fix the problem and ultimately the gateway freedom.