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  • Writer's pictureGreat Companies

Sarah Macdonald : Winner of the 2024 Great Companies International Women Entrepreneur Award

Name: Sarah Macdonald

Business Name: Canine Comprehension

Location: Melbourne, Victoria , Australia

Establishment (Year): 2016

Category: Education

Profession/ Specialty: Education - Primary & Secondary / mental health advocate

Social Media : Linkedin     

Company Detail:

Canine Comprehension is a dedicated group of allied health professionals, social workers, and educators who share a common vision - to foster more balanced and positive approaches to learning, resulting in calmer classrooms and healthier communities.

At Canine Comprehension, they understand therapy dogs' incredible power to engage and connect with people, which is well-documented. Their animal-assisted interventions are designed to make a positive impact in various areas. They can improve behavioural issues, enhance emotional well-being, alleviate anxiety related to learning difficulties, and provide crucial support for young individuals on the autism spectrum. Additionally, they are here to lend a helping hand to students who require extra support to unlock their full potential in education.

Based in both Metropolitan Melbourne and Regional Victoria, Canine Comprehension offers dog-assisted learning interventions. With their passionate and experienced team, they are committed to making a meaningful difference in the lives of students and creating thriving learning environments.

Unique Selling Proposition or Competitive Advantage:

Youth tutoring and mentoring with a difference

Individual sessions: A transformative journey with individualised sessions, where mentors and therapy dogs collaborate to foster resilience, motivation, and positive relationships, paving the way for success. Their NDIS Eligible programs have a proven impact on learning outcomes, ensuring holistic growth and development.

School groups: Holistic Growth through collaborations. Targeted group programs enhance social skills, confidence, study, and self-regulation, while incorporating therapy dogs adds an extra dimension to nurture success through comprehensive development, fostering emotional well-being and resilience.

Challenges Faced During the Journey

Sarah had to learn the hard way how to manage her mental health challenges and be a CEO. Like many business owners, she thought the only key to success was hard work. So when she started Canine Comprehension she worked hard. 7 days a week, not a single holiday for 3 years! Her mind and body finally told her that enough was enough and she developed chronic Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which she still has to this day. She has days when she feels anxious and worried most of the time, not just in specific stressful situations, but in her everyday life. Her worries can affect every corner of her existence, her work, health, family, and friendships. Even minor things such as going food shopping or being late for an appointment can cause her to feel like she can’t cope. It messed with her motivation, her memory, and her creativity.

She has learnt that she has to prioritise her mental health - or she ends up with nothing left to give.

Her husband is a Firefighter (another job that carries its own stress) and two years ago they had the opportunity to relocate to High Country - Victoria. So they moved their suburban life to their dream property in the region where Ned Kelly once dwelled. Living with horses, goats, cats and far too many dogs makes her smile and gives her a positive focus away from work.

Work-life balance for her now means that although she still works hard, she chooses her hours. If the sun is shining she may take a few hours off and take one of the horses for a ride, or meet a friend for coffee. For the first time in her adult life, she doesn't touch a computer on weekends and knows what it's like to be able to drop everything and take a holiday. In fact, she's off to Europe in a couple of weeks to see the Northern Lights, a trip of a lifetime. Her business has ongoing, happy, wonderful clients, a clear structure, and a strong workforce. She has built a team that will not crumble without her - and she's learning to enjoy it.

Advice for Women Entrepreneurs:

Keep momentum up. Don't look for perfection, it will slow you down and you'll become scared of making mistakes. Mistakes in business are great. They teach you so much about where you should be going. Try not to make the same mistake twice though. Keep making different ones and keep learning from them.

Also seek the advice of a business mentor. She has had business mentors that have given her a totally different perspective about what is possible for her business but also for her work-life balance. Friends, family, and work colleagues are great to bounce ideas off, however someone who is outside of the company, who has experience managing and leading is really able to bring fresh eyes and give clarity.



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