It is 3 a.m. Deborah Groenheyde sleeps fitfully, missing her dogs, Moka and Java. She and her husband adopted the adorable mutts, both tan-coloured with a splash of white, when they were just seven-and-a-half weeks old. A lovable brother and sister pair, Deborah is temporarily separated from them, and their absence weighs heavily upon her heart.

In Deborah's half-sleep state, something stirs inside her. It's an image, a message about her extraordinary bond with Moka and Java, and her need as a human to connect with another species. An impression begins to arise, silently tugging at her conscious mind. Roused from her sleep by the developing idea, she stumbles out of bed and, still half asleep, begins to sketch. When she has given shape to the idea in her mind's eye, she falls back to sleep, the image forgotten until she awakes the next morning.

"That's how it started," explains Deborah, who refined this initial dream-impression into a beautiful image of her left hand and her beloved dog Moka's paw, a representation of the deep connection that people have with animals. "It is about a story, a memory, a symbol of a cherished moment," says Marten, her husband and business partner. 

This symbol of the deep human/animal bond led Deborah to start the Hand and Paw Project. Initially starting with a few simple bracelets and key chains, she has developed these initial offerings into an extensive line of what she calls "wearable art" for both people and their beloved pets. Every piece features the hand and paw image. 

Handcrafted in Canada, the bracelets are available in an assortment of leather styles (plain, stitched, and wrapped) as well as in wrapped cork and vegan rubber for both men and women. All of the bracelets are riveted by hand with antique finished hardware. For the furry members of the family, the Hand and Paw Project offers a selection of leashes and collars in a variety of widths and lengths, in both leather and triple-ply nylon.  

Deborah regularly receives emails from people who want to share the powerful way the Hand and Paw symbol speaks to them. "A lady wrote to me and said, "I just got my bracelet, and I love it… I'll never take it off," explains Deborah, adding, "That makes me feel awesome."

Fashioning these wearable works of art has come naturally for Deborah, who has had a multi-faceted career as an artist. Following in her father's footsteps—he is a wood worker in England who apprenticed to the craft at the age of nine—Deborah began her artistic career by fashioning beautiful bowls from woods like cherry. She then expanded into fashioning jewelry from semi-precious stones and metals, creating one-of-a-kind sets of earrings and necklaces, such as her hand-forged sterling heart, which features two interlocking hearts.

When she and her husband Marten started the Hand and Paw Project in 2015, Deborah began by approaching retailers in her home province of British Columbia.  While this proved valuable, she felt drawn to exploring the larger market south of the Canadian border.

"If I find something and I want to run with it, I'm not afraid to take a chance," explains Deborah. She attended many of the major pet industry trade shows in the US and steadily made that and more contacts, increasing her share of the pet products market. It was then her business really began to take off. In just one year, she signed up over 150 new retailers to carry Hand and Paw Project. "There is so much opportunity in the States," she remarks. "We are bracing ourselves for another wave."

The success of the Hand and Paw Project has enabled Deborah to support animals in need. She makes her products available to shelters at a discount and the shelters can then use the profits to assist them in their daily operations. The Animal Cancer Therapy Subsidization Society, a not-for-profit society based in Edmonton, Alberta, that helps people meet the oftentimes staggering cost of providing cancer treatment for their pets, is just one of the organizations that has benefited from this arrangement. 

In addition, Deborah donates products from the Hand and Paw Project. In May 2016, the town of Fort McMurray, Alberta was ravaged by a huge wildfire, which destroyed over 2000 homes and buildings. The fire raged for a couple of months, covering an area of 1,500,000 acres and displacing several thousand residents in the area, including their beloved pets. Many had to flee at a moment's notice and were not able to bring even basic supplies with them. Working with the Edmonton Humane Society, Deborah donated collars and leashes adorned with the Hand and Paw symbol to Fort McMurray dogs.  

"It is great being able to do something that allows me to give back to others in need," Deborah says. "It is so cool that my project is helping the animals."