Rescue dogs, resilience and surviving sexual violence – Marie Yates

In this interview Marie Yates, author and social entrepreneur, talks about her teen-fiction book and her own experience of sexual violence and how rescue dogs helped her overcoming her trauma.

A great inspiration she is and a good example of someone who overcame trauma herself and is dedicated to help others equally by writing and inspiring.

1. Who are you and what was your own journey towards writing your teen-fiction trilogy?

I’m Marie and while I always wanted to write a book, the journey to writing the Dani Moore Trilogy started because I was grumpy! I’m a survivor of sexual violence and I have heard time and time again that experiencing trauma of this nature means that ‘my life is ruined’ or ‘my life is over.’

There’s no doubt that it is a difficult thing to recover from and that different people need to find different paths to help them to deal with what has happened, but there has to be hope.

It was when I heard a parent say ‘my daughter’s life is over now’ and I saw her daughter’s face as she overheard the despair that triggered my grumpiness. I wanted to know why there wasn’t a more positive message, something that acknowledges the gravity of the situation while offering hope.

I wanted to change that and share a new way for young survivors to learn about resilience and to have faith in their own ability to create the awesome life they deserve. I’m getting too old to be relevant to young people (!) so I created a teenage character, Dani Moore, who shares her story of overcoming trauma along with all the other trials and tribulations of modern day teenage life through her diary.

2. How did you notice there is a connection between rescue dogs and abuse survivors?

It was thanks to my own rescue dog, he was the catalyst for everything I’m doing today and he completely changed my life.

When I was thinking about how I could write the book and explore some of the ideas around being a survivor, the judgements from other people, the misplaced shame and some of the expectations around behaviour that come with the label, I was sitting with my dog. We were surrounded by screwed up pieces of paper and looking at him, it all became clear.

He was a Rottweiler / German Shepherd mix and I had experienced a great deal of judgement when I first adopted him. People only saw the label of his breed mix and when ‘rescue’ was added to the mix, it was considered that he was damaged in some way.

Rescue dogs, resilience and surviving sexual violence - Marie Yates

We’d both experienced trauma and we were expected to behave in a certain way because of the labels that had been placed on us, but in reality, we were fine. We were more than fine, enjoying life and embracing our friendship. I knew that there were distinct parallels between the ways that he was perceived and how he had overcome trauma and the ways in which humans could learn from that.

The more I learnt about dog training and behaviour, the more I could see that it was the perfect way to bring out the life lessons that Dani needed to share with the reader.

When the books became available and Reggie was the star, it became abundantly clear that with a dog in the room, magic happened. That was the start of the social enterprise, Canine Perspective CIC, and designing a programme to bring the books to life, working with survivors and rescue dogs.

3. What can humans learn from rescue dogs?

That’s a book in itself! The reason I love working with rescue dogs is because even though they have been let down by humans, like most of us have, but they are able to learn to trust again.

We work with rescue centres to ensure that they know the group we’re working with and they can decide which dog joins us. For us, it’s vital that the dog benefits too. When we’re working with a group of survivors and delivering our Canine Hope session, the dog is a co-tutor and loves interacting with the group, enjoys the training exercises and like all good tutors, has a nap when s/he feels the need!

We’re learning about how the brain responds to trauma, the fight, flight, freeze response and how the brain changes as a result of trauma. We’re then learning how we can learn the skills of resilience and change those pathways in the brain to help us live the life we want.

The way in which we train dogs, through force free methods, can show how these new pathways can be created and behaviours can change, all while having a lot of fun and enjoying the company of a dog.

4. How can people survive and move on after a trauma like sexual violence?

I believe there are as many answers to that question as there are survivors. Everyone’s experience is different and the way in which they choose to move forward is a personal choice.

We certainly don’t claim to have ‘the’ answer; we just have a new way in which to learn about resilience and something that we hope people will enjoy. Being able to laugh, to enjoy learning and to have fun in the company of a dog is powerful in itself.

5. What would you like to achieve with your books (the message) and what audience are you trying to reach? 

The books are written with a female, teenage audience in mind, but there are plenty of adult women who have also told me they enjoyed it, seeing their younger selves through Dani.

My aim is to offer a message of hope, to share with the reader that whatever they’re going through, they can take steps to create the life they want to live and they don’t have to be defined by anyone or anything. It is important to me that there aren’t any details about Dani’s assault as I firmly believe that’s not entertainment. I want the reader to be able to enjoy the story without worrying that they will be faced with details they probably don’t want to read.

Being able to talk about recovery in a safe way, to talk about resilience in the wider context and to share that life does have ups and downs, but that it can be amazing, is something I hope Dani’s journey can offer.

6. What was your biggest challenge writing the books?

Other than the trials and tribulations of actually writing, rewriting, editing and all that jazz, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. When you pour your heart and soul into a project, it’s a cathartic experience.

The biggest challenge has come more recently as I lost my muse last year, my own dog, Reggie, who inspired the story. I’m proud of his legacy, but talking about how all of this began is tough.

7. Do you have any mindful tips for people who have been experienced trauma?

If you’re having a tough time, that’s ok. If you’re laughing and having a great time, that’s ok.

There aren’t any rules about how you ‘should’ feel and allowing yourself to experience whatever you’re feeling, in that moment and in a way that’s safe for you, is ok. That has helped me to learn that the tough times will pass and the great times are there to be enjoyed!

8. Where can people buy your books?

You can find out more information about the social enterprise here and there’s a link to the books here.

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