Raising a Doodle

Doodles, crossbreeds that are part poodle, have exploded in popularity in the last 5 years. The tag #doodlesofinstagram has over 4 million posts. One specific breed of these living teddy bears, #goldendoodle has 5.3 million pictures. At the heart of “Doodlemania” are dog mom communities who come together to share the joy of their fluffy companions at dog parks, “doodle romps”, yappy hours, and even workplace events. Celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres, Bradley Cooper, Usher, Blake Lively, Rihanna are all doodle parents.
According to Dr. Stanley Coren, an expert in canine psychology, poodles are one of the smartest dog breeds, second only to border collies. They also shed less and are known for being a better breed option for people with allergies. From Aussiedoodles to Whoodles, there are more than 75 different breed combinations – each with their own lovable traits.
In Puppy Mama’s first book
Raising a Doodle , readers find dog expert interviews from specialists in canine therapy, grooming, veterinary, and training fields, along with practical tips, tricks, how-tos, and advice. But most important are the 100+ stories (and adorable full color photos) from this community of doodle moms. Many stories are adorably entertaining. Others are heartwarming examples of how these dogs have changed lives for the better – helping their owners through serious physical and mental illnesses with their furry heroism.
As an Iraq War Veteran, author and Puppy Mama Founder Theresa Piasta is also passionate about helping military veterans. 5% of the net proceeds from this book will be donated to help Canine Companions train service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
Raising a Doodle shares practical tips and tricks about: • How to survive crate and potty training • Speaking your pup’s language: How do I know what my puppy is trying to tell me? • Is your pup socialized and well-behaved enough to bring him/her out and about? • 20 toxic and unhealthy foods that your pup should never eat • Advice to keep your dog happy and healthy • Socialization and training tips for older dogs

Before founding Puppy Mama, Theresa Piasta served in the U.S. Army as a Captain and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for her leadership in Iraq during her fourteen-month deployment from 2008-2009. After leaving the military in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Theresa transitioned to a Wall Street Sales and Trading career, spending six total years at two Wall Street banks (later becoming a vice president at J.P. Morgan) – compounding the stress she had experienced in the military. For years, Theresa struggled with pain and suffering that was later diagnosed as PTSD. In time, Theresa turned her attention to her health, which included a new puppy named Waffles, whom she calls “a 13-pound ball of fluffy puppy happiness.” Having Waffles in her life inspired Theresa to take on a project that has grown into a tech start-up and lifestyle brand. Puppy Mama is a platform leveraging technology to deliver community and convenience to dog moms around the world so that they may live a more connected and joyful dog-friendly lifestyle. Since Theresa shared her story, over a thousand women have submitted their own stories to Puppy Mama about how their dogs are healing them and bringing joy to their lives. These stories are the foundation for the Puppy Mama book series. Theresa wrote Puppy Mama’s first book, Rais ing a Doodle , with her long time friend and Wellesley College classmate Audrey Courchesne, a writer who’s built a career in publishing, marketing, and communications after receiving an English degree from Wellesley. Audrey shares Theresa’s passion for supporting women and creating community and has loved connecting with doodle moms from around the world to help tell their stories. Theresa’s latest passion project is Pups for Veterans .  Ever since Theresa discovered the power of canine therapy through her pup Waffles, she became eager to help match other female veterans with service dogs to help them heal. Pups for Veterans brings awareness to the female veteran health crisis, and recommends scaling canine therapy from trained service dogs as a proven impactful solution.

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Where did you grow up /live now?
 – Born and raised: Santa Rosa, CA
– Live Now: San Francisco, CA

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 – a lawyer

What is your education/career background?
  – Stanford GSB Ignite 2016
  –Wellesley College, B.A. in economics 2006
 – MIT: Military Science and ROTC scholarship recipient

Do you have kids and/or pets?
 – 6 month old son: Colin
– Dog: Cavapoo Waffles (50% king charles cavalier, 50% toy poodle)

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? Or what first inspired you to write?
I was compelled to share my story 3 years ago to encourage others to share; since sharing my story on Veterans Day, we (at Puppy Mama) have received about 1000 heartfelt stories from women around the world how their dogs help inspire and heal them. I became eager to “bottle up” these joyful and powerful stories into books.
From the more than 1000 submitted stories how dogs are helping heal and inspire women around the world, we've discovered that each dog breed has a unique story to share. The first book in the Puppy Mama series focuses on poodle-mix breeds, and how they are taking over Instagram ("by storm") and bringing joy and laughter to families and communities around the world.
With the help of my Wellesley College classmate Audrey Courchesne, we worked hard to churn hundreds of story and photo submissions into Raising a Doodle: Heartwarming Stories from Dog Parents Around the World.  5% of the net proceeds of the book will be donated to help train service dogs for military veterans in need

Canine therapy stories: Hundreds of the stories that have been submitted to Puppy Mama center around how their dog has helped them cope emotionally (this content is fueling our book series). A sample of these stories:
In book: Infertility + Depression
Share: Traumatic Pedestrian Accident Recovery, including PTSD
In book: Chronic Pain relief story
Crohn’s disease + depression

What was your inspiration for launching Puppy Mama?
Before Puppy Mama, I thought I was a “hard ass” living an intense life — from collegiate soccer, to 4 years active duty in the Army and a 14-month deployment to Iraq War, to Wall Street sales and trading life. Eventually, the high stress of those environments caught up to me. It crept up on me through anxiety, horrible migraines and depression. I was ultimately diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).
But, summer 2015 is when I met an angel who along with my husband helped me survive the most painful year of my life. Waffles, a 13-pound ball of fluffy puppy happiness, was there every moment to help me get through significant suffering and sadness. She comforted me when I needed it most, and never failed to put a smile on my face. Her love is contagious — she spreads laughter and happiness to everyone she meets. To this day, she continues to remind me daily to embrace life and search for love and joy.
Throughout the first year raising Waffles, I discovered that I wasn’t alone in the love that I felt for her — that there were other women who were as passionate about their dogs as I was, who wanted to include their dogs in their daily lives. I also learned that canine therapy is very helpful for many illnesses — including PTSD.
Knowing how much canine therapy helped me, and learning how much it can help with other issues as well, I was inspired to create a community of women who provide positivity and advocate for others, whose lives have been changed by their dogs. From women dealing with heavily stigmatized illnesses such as anxiety and depression to women who have found joy in their pup, I wanted to empower women to live their best lives, and advocate for canine therapy for those in need.
Today, Puppy Mama is leveraging technology to deliver community and convenience to dog moms around the world so that they may live a more connected and joyful dog-friendly lifestyle. Together, the Puppy Mama community is advocating for a more dog-friendly world and for the healing power of canine therapy.
What do you consider Puppy Mama’s greatest business achievement so far?
Due to Puppy Mama’s focus on two emerging trends (1) the humanization of pets, and (2) the explosive growth of mass affluent dog moms, Puppy Mama was selected as a Spotlight Finalist at Pets & Money 2018 conference and featured in Forbes article: The Biggest Trends of The Pet Industry.

What do you consider Puppy Mama’s greatest impact so far?
Many have shared their mental health and illness stories for the first time on our platform; and women who are experiencing pain and suffering have told us how thrilled they were to find a platform that offers a safe place to discuss their battles to overcome various hardships, including PTSD, depression and anxiety. Puppy Mama is a movement to end mental health stigmas and we have created this safe and trusted place for women to share — I am incredibly proud of this.
One strong memory: a year ago, I teared up immediately after reading the heartfelt story we received from a Canadian woman, who was fighting through a lot of pain (including PTSD, anxiety and depression) after she was hit by a car as a pedestrian crossing the street — and ultimately found healing, comfort and strength from a dog she rescued from a shelter after the accident. When we shared her story as our “top story,” she immediately reshared the article to her family and friends on Facebook with a beautiful note how our platform helped her share her healing journey story — witnessing the consequential outpouring of love and support her family and friends gave to her, warmed my heart so much.
And, this is only one of the hundreds of healing stories that we’ve received and shared. When we ask women to share how their dogs help them, I’m so touched how they share such personal vulnerable stories. Their stories have become “love” letters to their furry best friends who’ve helped them cope with loss, tragedy and suffering. These stories have fueled my passion to keep this loving community growing, and are the foundation of our book series.
Why do you think Waffles has been so instrumental in your healing?
After numerous years struggling to overcome a painful illness incurred during my military service, I met Waffles, an angel who helped me survive the most difficult year of my life. Despite all of the obstacles I have had to overcome throughout the years, battling PTSD was my Everest.
Waffles, a 13-pound ball of fluffy puppy happiness, was there every moment to help me get through significant pain. She comforted me when I needed it most, and never failed to put a smile on my face. Her love is contagious–she spreads laughter and happiness to anyone she meets. And, she reminded me every day to embrace life and search for love and joy.
She also helped me to focus on the present and realize that we were "in it" together as a team–she curled up next to me when I was in pain and forced me to get fresh air and exercise on days I wanted to stay indoors. And, she brought out the loving side in me that I feel had been missing for years... I started to connect with new people in a positive way–all because of her. (I now call this the "Waffles introduction")
The unconditional love and companionship gifted to me from my angel Waffles became not only a powerful form of healing, but also became my connection back to community. While with Waffles, every interaction we have had together with other people was (and remains) positive and joyful, and learned how powerful building a positive community could be for others. She inspired me to start the Puppy Mama loving and compassionate community, and a safe and supportive place for other women coping with pain to share their stories–a place where they were heard, understood and welcomed.
And, being Waffles's mama, I've also learned many of the unique traits of poodle-mix breeds. So every time another doodle mama shared a similar silly anecdote, trait, mannerism, and/or story, how their doodle was helping her health and/or relationship (out of the 1000+ submitted stories), I knew that this breed (and all breeds) have a unique story to share. We started to work on Raising a Doodle first–with the goal to share the stories of other breeds as well in future books.
What is a memorable example of a specific time Waffles helped you through a difficult time?
Waffles always knows when I am not feeling well; she will rush right over to me, look at me with empathetic eyes, lick my leg to help me think positively and then curl right up next to me. These acts of pure unconditional love became a routine. From battling PTSD to navigating experiences with my recent pregnancy–Waffles has been there for me through everything during the past 4 years.  I am forever grateful for her and our special bond.

When you are struggling to write/have writer’s block, what are some ways that help you find your creative muse again?
I am so appreciative to the Puppy Mama community for all of their heartfelt story submissions.  So many of their stories help me think about what topics to focus on next.
And, as the Founder of Puppy Mama, there are many other aspects of the business that need tending to. Finding the balance to move writing projects forward, while also running a business has its challenges. I have found that it is important for me to set aside time to focus on writing/designing the book.

What do you think makes a good story?
Stories of healing from canine therapy:
Dogs make people happy and bring us together in a positive way...add a powerful healing story, the “happiness level” skyrockets.

How does a new story idea come to you?
We’ve received over 1000 stories from dog parents around the world–these stories are fueling my passion to cover new topics that would help dog parents train, raise and take care of a furry best friend–as well as spread the word how much dogs can help people cope and/or heal in a variety of ways.
And, through raising Waffles, I’ve personally have been working hard to take good care of her, and in time, have learned various opportunities to help other dog parents navigate obstacles caring for their pups, as well.
Is there a message/theme in your book that you want readers to grasp?
⦁ Dogs are family
⦁ Dogs can help people cope with pain, tragedy, mental illness and loss
⦁ Dogs bring us together
⦁ How to properly train, raise and care for a dog
⦁ How to build a lifelong bond with a furry best friend
⦁ Poodle-mix breeds are bringing the world tremendous joy

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
My goal was to create a book that brought the Instagram (photo + text sharing) to life.
Creating a beautiful layout for a photo book with the ~1000 submitted photos was challenging.  From matching the photos to the text, to matching photo moods in each layout, to visual challenges after converting photos from RGB to CMYK, I learned so much throughout this book design journey that will help us with our future books.

What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
The peak of the milestone-related due dates for this book (design and print) were during my last month of pregnancy, and my son arrived 2.5 weeks earlier than expected! I am so grateful to my husband and mother for helping me so much take care of our newborn son, especially during the first week after he was born, to help me have the space I needed to work on getting this project closer to the finish line.
When they say “It Takes a Village” – it most certainly does! Taking care of babies and dogs can be a team effort.
In Raising a Doodle, we discuss how raising a puppy “takes a village,” as well.
On a Friday night, what are you most likely to be doing?
Like other parents, work and raising a family keep our calendars full, and as an entrepreneur, I often found myself working through Friday nights and throughout the weekends.
After our son was born, my husband and I’ve learned how important it is to make the time to spend 1x1 time with one another. This has become so important to us, that we’ve maintained a calendar block on our calendars to ensure that we schedule a sitter in advance–holding us accountable to make the night happen.
We are so grateful for this ability to take a couple of hours out of the apartment 1x1 and I realize that not every couple has the capability to do so. For those who can, I highly recommend scheduling a sitter and/or ask a family member to help so you and your partner can work on maintaining a happy and healthy relationship.

What do you like to do when you are not working on Puppy Mama?
Spending time with my adorable “kiddos” – Colin + Waffles.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Business Inspiration:  Malcolm Gladwell
Overall creativity:  J.K. Rowlings

Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the things on it?
          – Grow Puppy Mama to be the “Glossier” for the pet industry.
– Travel to 100 countries (I’ve been to 29 to date)

Have you won any awards or honors (not just for writing)?
 Bronze Star Medal Recipient  (Iraq War 2008-2009)
Spotlight Finalist at Kisaco Research’s Pets & Money 2018 Conference
Other Military Awards:
Global War on Terror Service Medal
Army Commendation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star (2 awards)
Overseas Service Ribbon
Army Achievement Medal
What person(s) has/have helped you the most in your career?
I am so thankful for my parents; I am 4th of 7 children and my parents sacrificed so much to give me every opportunity to learn and grow.
And I am so thankful to my husband’s unconditional love and continuous support to me – to build a community that encourages joyful interactions with other people.

What’s the best writing advice you’d share with others?
Focus on your tribe and don’t let “nay-sayers” slam your passion

What was your favorite book as a child?
Harry Potter series

What is the one book no writer should be without?
In business, “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell

 What has been your biggest entrepreneurial challenge been?
Bootstrapping a startup has its challenges; from building the Puppy Mama web application to launching products, the reality is: startups cost money — and on a bootstrapped budget, I’ve had to find crafty ways to grow our community and brand.
Despite conducting multiple user tests and user persona interviews to build what we felt was a sophisticated responsive web application that would enable dog moms to rate businesses according to a 5-paw rating, one of the various feedback themes that kept coming up was that dog moms struggled to find the app in the App Store. And, we quickly learned after the launch that we needed more funds to create more enhancements (including iOS version) and feature upgrades — funding that we didn’t.
Something that had stuck with me at the time was what one of my instructors at Stanford Ignite had shared with my class: that the startups he felt that struggled, were the ones that didn’t iterate fast enough. I took this to heart at this moment, and instead of “turning off the lights,” I chose to focus on building the community first and forced myself to adopt patience. If I could focus on growing the passionate community every day, and find ways to build our platform with my own skills to keep costs down, when the community grew, we would be better equipped with the knowledge (and hopefully funds) that we needed to build the right app for our community.
And, now–two years later, our community is helping us figure out our next build. This year, our community and ambassador pack conducted multiple surveys to help us figure out what to prioritize in the second app build. They have been so generous with their time — giving us candid feedback about what they care about the most.
I learned a lot from this experience, and why it is so important to learn and listen from our community. The Puppy Mama community will drive the direction of what we build and why in the future.


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