10 Years in 10 Questions
A ten-year retrospective with Modern Dog Founder and Editor-in-Chief Connie Wilson
I remember the first time I saw Modern Dog magazine on the shelves of a Vancouver book retailer. It may sound hokey, but I knew in an instant it would somehow have a profound impact on my life, not only as a reader and a dog-lover, but as a writer too. At the time—now a decade ago—I was an advertising copywriter, convincing unsuspecting audiences to “Act now!”. Via my writing, I peddled everything from fast food burgers to fizzy sugar-drinks, and to say I was feeling emotionally and professionally hollow might be something of an understatement. I knew I was a passionate person—an animal rescue advocate, a runner, a traveler, a scuba diver, a vegetarian (see above irony re: fast food burgers)—but I’d yet to figure out how to marry my love for writing with my love for what truly mattered to me. To that end, the first time I saw Modern Dog magazine on the shelves of a Vancouver book retailer, I knew I had found my people. And their dogs.
In the last several years, I have had the extreme good fortune to call Connie Wilson, the visionary behind the world’s preeminent magazine for canines and their companions, not only a mentor (this woman knows business as well as compassion, a combination that makes her a shoe-in for the success she has so rightfully earned), but a friend as well. Two years ago, when my then-boyfriend and I eloped in New York City, it was Connie and Modern Dog’s Editor and Creative Director, Jennifer Nosek, who spontaneously agreed to be our witnesses when we exchanged vows at Central Park’s Strawberry Fields memorial..
While initially produced through long hours spent working out of Connie’s home, today each issue of the glossy page-turner comes to life through long hours spent working out of her team’s offices in a hip Vancouver neighbourhood-in-transition. But their location isn’t the only thing that’s in transition. In the years since Modern Dog magazine’s 2002 debut, the quarterly has made a puppy-to-a-dog transformation of its own, as it has grown, matured, and developed its own strength. In the years I’ve spent collaborating with the good people of Modern Dog magazine, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Oscar winners, talk show hosts, and an internationally revered home-making maven, but no interview had me chomping at the proverbial bit more than this one. Trailblazer, animal advocate, and entrepreneur, this is the one and only Connie Wilson.
MD: What were the circumstances in your life 10 years ago that ultimately led you down the path to first envisioning and then creating Modern Dog?
CW:I was at a crossroads in my life. After raising my children, and seeing them safely off on their own adventures, I returned to my hometown of Vancouver. It was going to be a new beginning of sorts. I had been a single mom for years and had always yearned to start my own business, but, knowing that start-ups are financially risky and take enormous time and effort, I had waited. Starting a new life in Vancouver and also getting started on that long-held dream of being a business owner and my own boss was daunting. I felt somewhat lost having left my work, friends, and extended family behind. The only constant at the time was my canine sidekick, Kaya, one crazy dog—a hyperactive, flatulent, barking Weimeraner/Pointer-cross with a severe case of separation anxiety—that I loved dearly. I worried about how my problematic country dog would acclimatize to our new city life, but it was actually a breeze. She loved the off-leash doggie-beaches and parks, romping and racing with other dogs and, unexpectedly, she became my ticket to a whole new social circle, one comprised of other dog parents who doted on their dogs as I did. Together, Kaya and I managed to start over. She was my rock, giving my life purpose and direction and, ultimately, was the inspiration for Modern Dog magazine, helping me fulfill my long-held dream of having my own business.
MD: Was there one person whose wisdom in particular influenced you in those days? How so?
CW: Actually, there are a few. First of all, my parents. You couldn’t ask for better role models. They taught me the importance of family, following my dreams, believing in myself, working hard, and living my life ethically and honestly. Others whose wisdom played significant roles in my life are authors Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now), Deepak Chopra (Seven Spiritual Laws of Success), Gary Zukav (Seat of the Soul) and Louise Hayes (You Can Heal Your Life).
MD: And years later, you had a full-circle moment when you actually had a chance to interview Eckhart Tolle whose philosophy helped inspire you. What was that moment like for you?
CW: It proved to me just how powerful the philosophies I had learned about in my readings were when regularly practiced; how the power of deliberate intention will allow you to manifest in your life those dreams or desires you’ve regularly and consciously put forth. Louise Hayes affirmations helped me stay the course. And Chopra’s belief that living within our true nature and being in harmony with natural law will assist in bringing success in all areas of life helped me trust in myself and follow my heart. Eckhart Tolle’s message was particularly powerful, especially in the early days when I felt totally overwhelmed worrying about all the aspects of starting a new business. Believe me, it can be torturous; your mind taking over and filling every waking moment with scary “what if’s.” Eckhart expounds the “grace, ease, and lightness” that come when we simply quiet our thoughts and see the world before us in the present moment, for it’s in the present moment that we have the power to affect change. That’s why I think dogs—or pets for that matter—play such an important role in our lives, especially with life just getting busier and our technological devices only adding to the overload. Dogs live in the moment, providing a constant reminder to be present. Just watching a dog can cause a shift in perception, bringing you into present awareness.
MD: What is it about dogs that has made you so incredibly dedicated to celebrating them in the way only Modern Dog magazine can?
CW: Dogs give us so, so much—they provide daily lessons in love, loyalty, devotion, joy. As Eckhart Tolle says, “For some people, it’s the only relationship where there’s no fear. And where they realize they are being accepted and not judged.” Our dogs make us better people and enrich our lives in countless ways. What would we do without them? Modern Dog magazine is a way to give back to our dogs and also to the people who love and care for them. We share ideas, offer advice, and provide information that will help us live our best possible lives with dogs. I love being a part of this community.
MD: When you look back on the last decade and all you have accomplished, what are you most proud of?
CW: I’m really proud of what the magazine stands for, the promotion of reward-based training rather than the out-dated fear-based alpha model, and particularly our mandate to support the underdog. We’re bringing to attention the millions of unwanted dogs waiting to be adopted, as well as breeds that have come to be misunderstood and maligned, like the Bully breeds. We promote rescue as the first choice when people are looking for a dog and I think we’ve really helped promote the rescue movement. Today, people are proud to say, “My dog is a rescue.” We also help publicize and support the organizations that work so hard to help dogs in need, shining a deserved spotlight on their efforts.
MD: Along the way, how were you able to turn mistakes in process or judgment into business lessons?
CW: It’s funny to look back at now, but when we started Modern Dog we didn’t know anything about publishing and the supposed “do’s” or “don’ts” of putting together a magazine. Not knowing any of the rules, we just made up our own way of doing things as we went along. This approach actually ended up working out really well for us, allowing us freedom to do whatever we thought would work or be fun and interesting.
MD: What advice would you have for any person who has an idea they dream of actualizing?
CW: First of all, you have to be passionate about your idea because it takes countless hours of dedication and focus to make it happen and if you’re wishy-washy about the idea to begin with, you won’t have the staying power to actualize it. Secondly, there has been many a good idea that fizzled out due to cash flow problems or the inability to generate revenue from it, so it’s extremely important to formulate a course of action that blueprints how you’re going to start and develop your business and how you’ll generate revenue from it. Also, you can’t just sit back and think you’ve done it all. There’s always room for improvement and if you don’t take the time to do it, someone else will.
MD: What is it that makes the team at Modern Dog magazine so special and such an important part of your success?
CW: We’re like a family and we care about each other. Actually, part of the team is family—my two daughters work with me. Jennifer is the Editor and Creative Director and Jessica is the Circulation Manager and Marketing Director. I guess that makes it a true family business. Modern Dog wouldn’t be where it is today without them. I love my team. Each person here is special with incredible abilities and energy. Everyone pulls together, working towards a common goal—to make Modern Dog the very best it can be. We all pitch ideas, from editorial to circulation-building strategies, many of which are utilized and implemented immediately. It keeps all the positions here stimulating: You’re never compartmentalized so your job never gets boring. And it’s that team effort that keeps the magazine fresh and exciting. Publishing can be a stressful, deadline-driven environment, but we have lots of laughs here, and our office dogs get us out for walks and remind us of what’s truly important and why we’re doing it.
MD: What do the next ten years look like, not only for Modern Dog magazine, but for Connie Wilson?
CW: This fall sees the launch of the premiere edition of Modern Cat, which has been in the works since 2004, so it’s really rewarding to see it come to fruition. And Modern Horse is to follow. I secured the domain ModernPets.com back in 2002 with the plan to unroll multiple titles, so that goes to prove the power of intent right there. You visualize and plan for it and eventually it manifests. I’m really excited about their launch!
MD: What qualities do you believe you’ve had to unearth in yourself in order to dig deep when times were tough in order for you to carry on?
CW: Intuition. Optimism. Tenacity. Trust. And faith.