A ‘pawfect’ expat experience
Where to begin? We are both ex Met Police officers and after being assaulted on duty and having 14 brain operations, my husband was told that he could no longer have any time off to visit me in hospital or deal with our two children 5 and 8 at the time. With no other available alternative he had to retire to take care of me as I had just had brain lung and heart surgery as a result of the injury. Darryl had 25 years service and now no pension until his 50th birthday, he was 46.
Darryl had been a supervisor overseeing the running of the bomb detection dog unit based in central London and had also been a general Police dog handler for 10 years with a huge knowledge of domestic dogs as well. We turned this knowledge and skill base into a business in the UK over a period of 4 years from at first one in home session to group sessions on Saturdays and Sundays the experience of which all played a huge part to our ultimate goal to emigrate.
Due to my injury I had had a lot of complications in pregnancy and gave birth to our daughter at 26 weeks it was touch and go for a very long time but we were very lucky to bring her home, unfortunately challis was profoundly hearing impaired. As we trudged through the red tape and bureaucracy of the UK the education system we found that it was going to be increasing difficult for challis to remain in main stream school, not because of her lack of hearing but the lack of equipment available and teacher child ratios. Challis has pitch perfect speech and you wouldn’t know that she was profoundly deaf to speak to her. Darryl had family in Texas and seeing the level of education that would be available for her in the US we made our decision to move to to the States.
We found the most amazing “headmaster” like lawyer in London who ordinarily would not take on individual cases working mainly for large organizations. We had an interview with him and forged a plan, we suggested buying a franchise but he was adamant that we had a very strong business plan and great business strategy and wouldn’t hear of us doing that. We sold the house, planning to put all our savings into our future abroad. Our life savings were committed to a lease on a commercial property that we would turn into a daycare, boarding, training and grooming facility. We visited only a couple of times to make sure that everything was in place before the big move and were slightly nervous that we were setting the whole thing up in a recession the like of which had not been seen since the 1930′s!
We left the UK in September to set everything up and returned in December to show the embassy what we had done and to see if they would grant us a visa. The day before we were due to fly back out our house sale fell though we were left with no money to live on. Our decision was to go with no collateral safety net (we had already got a car and paid for a “wrap” along with one month’s rent on an apartment) but all income would have to be spent on the mortgage on our now empty UK home until we could find another buyer, and the market was in VERY bad shape. The overriding need of our children pushed us to go and we took a leap of faith arriving in Lake Mary Florida with 8 bags, two children and our daughter’s service dog, a Boxer called Sophie.
The unit we had committed to lease fell through as the city wouldn’t agree to permitting and we lost $20,000 deposit that should have been returned according to our agreement but the landlord refused stating that we should sue him for it if we wanted it! We didn’t have the money to enter into a legal battle so had to let it go.
By now we were in our boots and all I could see all around was foreclosures and for lease signs where businesses were going under quicker than they started. Here we were in a foreign country Aliens viewed as trying to take their business and money – no wonder we were ostracised.
We worked out how far we could go with the amount of gas we had in order to advertise but most places have very strict laws about soliciting which made things VERY difficult. We knocked on every veterinary clinic we could find but all the doors remained shut at that time. For the first time in their lives we heard the children say “my tummy hurts I’m hungry” and it was at that point the church brought us some food . No one believed that Darryl could actually make a bad dog good in just two hours (in the UK he was a household name but here in the “state of scammers”, he was seen as just another scammer trying to con people.
We persevered and finally got a tiny break when the church offered us a field they owned to hold a free group dog training session. 40 people turned up and although only a few continued for payment it led to us being seen in the community. In Lake Mary every ones knows each other and reputations are everything. With so much free time on our hands we held charity events for people who couldn’t afford clothes and were living out of cars and a few weeks later were approached by a guy who asked if we’d help out at a fund raiser as he’d been watching us for some time.
It turned out he was a leading doctor from a very large animal hospital and after weeks of talks we all sat down and signed papers to become business partners. “Simbadoc LLC”, named after Darryl’s Police dog from who Darryl had learned so much and the Doctor’s shortened title. 2 years along we are in the middle of a $1.5 million build out for a dog training day care and gym right next to our business partner’s hospital, we have four guys and one lady who are now out working for us across Florida doing in home and group sessions, we are regulars on Fox and 4 other TV networks and have a City contract for the dog park education training program.
We work for school programs encouraging the use of sciences in scent work and community service and are in partnership with over 11 veterinary clinic s across central Florida. Expanding rapidly now our company is a household name for quality and value for money we are about franchise our business. We are due to renew our E2 in December we just hope the embassy asks us what we’ve been doing because boy do we have a story (the house did finally sell after an agonizing 12 months) ….. we now live in a $1.5M dream house in lake Mary (we took a chance on that as well, buying a short sale) This has not been about luck, but hard work and determination.
We weren’t business people, just two ex Police Officers who HAD to make a change and learn very quickly about marketing and business.
What was our driving force? Our children - they never once said they didn’t want to go to school, never complained and just did their best. We had each other whereas they were totally on their own in a new school and a foreign country and if they could do it then we should certainly try for them.
Our daughter, Challis is doing amazingly well at school and our son, Kyden who is 13 won a scholarship for his private school for the last two years where he is a straight “A” student in pre AP classes. He is going to be a Pediatric Surgeon.
The staff we employ consist of two Military veterans, two people made redundant in the recession and one “back to work” mom whose children have just gone off to college. We like to think that our adventure really encapsulates the real American dream, we hope that our franchise opportunities will enable other UK families to come to a better life working a great business that doesn’t involve cutting grass or cleaning pools! We look forward to one day, hopefully not too far away when we can call ourselves US citizens.