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Injured ballerina's dogs inspire new business: tails of the unexpected
She was living her dream.
As a professional ballet dancer for seven years, Lisa Suswain trained a punishing six-days-aweek from 7.30am until 11pm to be the best.
By 16 she was dancing for the Royal Ballet School and worked for companies including London City Ballet and Vienna Festival Ballet to plie and pirouette in worldrenowned productions from Sleeping Beauty to the Nutcracker on stage and screen.
When she wasn’t training or performing, Lisa, who began dancing at the age of two-anda- half, would rub shoulders with celebrities at after-show parties or travel abroad for auditions.
But her successful career was dramatically cut short when she fell during a production in front of a packed audience.
The 32-year-old, who lives in the New Forest said: “There was an almighty crack. I carried on dancing for the next two days but I was in agony and had no movement at all so my stage manager took me to A&E.
“When I first got there they thought I had actually broken my back but X-rays revealed I had severely damaged my tendons and ligaments. I had to retire. It was devastating.”
Lisa, who was then miserable in various office jobs, had no idea the answer to her happiness would come from her panting pet pooch.
She said: “I remember sitting down with my husband Jim, and he asked me what I wanted to do. I loved my ballet career because it was something I enjoyed. I said to him ‘the two things I love are dancing and dogs’ and that’s when it came to me.” Lisa, whose mum and dad bred cocker spaniels which she would look after at her house when they went on holiday, said she was surprised when she could find few alternative options to kennels.
Six years later she is the managing director of her own award-winning home dog boarding company Wagging Tails- an alternative to kennels.
The dogs live with specially selected carers ensuring they spend their owners’ holiday in a loving family home.
The demand was initially so high pet owners began travelling to Hampshire from Scotland and Wales which led Lisa to franchise the business.
Now it’s so successful she has employed her husband and there are now seven franchises.
It has even been given the seal of approval by Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis, beating off big multi-national companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks in awards.
She now hopes to roll out her company nationwide and abroad.
Lisa giggled: “Looking at my dogs Bailey and Izzie now sleeping on the office sofa it’s hard to believe a snoring dog inspired my career move.”
And the entrepreneur has combined success with being a supermum.
She said: “I often feel people underestimate about how much women can achieve when they’re raising a family but anything is possible.
“Being a typical woman I can never do just one thing at a time so while recruiting and training my first franchisee I was undergoing IVF in Southampton and moving house.
“While I was pregnant I took on my next three franchisees and after the birth of my beautiful little girl Eliza-Grace, who is now 20- months old, I’ve taken on another three franchises.
“When I look back now I can’t quite believe how everything has worked out.
“It’s almost as if it all happened by accident just by doing something I was passionate about and following a dream and I couldn’t be happier.
“I used to live for dancing but it was non-stop. Now I work from home, the dogs are on the sofa, my husband is on the laptop and Eliza- Grace is building Lego blocks at his feet.
“Our morning business meetings are spent thrashing out ideas while walking the dogs with Eliza- Grace on her trike.
“I now have the perfect work, life balance.
“I don’t have to use childcare so I can spend time with my little girl and I can take her to her swimming and toddler classes but it’s really a juggling act.
“The moment she goes down for her naps I’m into work mode but I do feel lucky I get to have the best of both worlds.
“I’m mummy and I also get to see my business grow so I have a legacy to pass onto my daughter.
“Life is extremely different now since my ballet days but I have no regrets, only that we should have done this earlier.”
- For information go to waggingtailsuk.co.uk.
*Lisa was shortlisted for the Daily Echo-backed Natwest Venus Awards to celebrate women in business. For more information about the awards go to dailyecho.co.uk/business/ venus.
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