Second News article

Uplifted owner: ‘Spoiled Dog Shop’ a tribute to ‘gifts from god’

In 2014, Rhonda Holloway took her Maltese dog, Sasha, out for a walk in Cheshire. She returned home, walked into the kitchen and checked the clock. It was 9 a.m. And then she collapsed on her kitchen floor and cried.

And kept crying.

Holloway had lost her mother to breast cancer, had been devastated by her own diagnosis of infertility and had lost her marriage of 14 years. The crippling anxiety and depression that assailed her seemed to reach a crescendo that morning when she began to cry and could not stop. Her dog, Sasha, began pawing at Holloway, who looked at the clock and was shocked to find it was 9 p.m. She had cried for a solid 12 hours.

“I had no idea I had been on that floor mourning that long,” said Holloway, now 48. “I was mourning my mother, I was morning my marriage, I was mourning my not being able to have children, I was dealing with the fact that being divorced is a public admission of being a failure and that’s what I felt. I was in a pit of despair.”

What saved her, she insists, was that pawing from her dog. “I was alone,” she said. “My dog was the only one that was there for me. She changed my life. She literally got me going again.”

Holloway said six years later, she poured that gratitude into her current online web shop – and mission. The Spoiled Dog Shop, an online store for dogs and those who love them, was her way to express gratitude to her dog and honor her mother, she said. She also made recognition that those who affect us most deeply often are four-footed.

“When I got up, I said, ‘I’m no longer going to cry and mourn this divorce,'” she said. “I need to get well for her. I need to honor my mother. I lost a best friend. She was the person I would go to for everything. I needed my mom, and she wasn’t there.”

Holloway, who runs the site with her sister, Meshell Cole, 52, also of Cheshire, is determined to promote the site as female and Black-owned.

“There’s a big stigma in the African American community that Black people are not dog lovers. That’s not true,” she said. “I wanted to showcase that we are family-owned and we are female-owned. The future is female. Women keep this world together.”

Since its beginnings last year, the shop now boasts more than 120 products, from T-shirts to magnets, and Holloway has plans for a Connecticut collection with eight to 10 more.

A transplant from Texas who arrived in Connecticut in 1999 to be with her then-fiancé, who owned a business in the state, Holloway married in 2006 and began immediately to plan her family. Two years later, her mother died of breast cancer. Holloway had moved her mother from Texas to Cheshire in 2000 to avail her of treatment at New York’s

Memorial Sloan Kettering. Although it became clear after Holloway’s marriage that she would not be able to conceive, she could not bear to tell her mother before her death.

“A lot of women struggle with infertility, and I did, too,” she said. “I did shots and pills and everything. It was draining. It was such a challenging process and you feel so lonely. Each pregnancy test that came out negative, it would be like, ‘Not this month, not this month.’ It takes a toll on you, on what you are as a woman and on your marriage.”

Holloway’s mother died in 2008 and her marriage ended in 2014.

Holloway said what helped reconcile her to her infertility was the love she shared with her dog.

“I realized I was not meant to be a mother to a human but a mother to this dog,” she said. “She got me up. There were days when I really didn’t want to exist anymore. That dog was the thing to get me going.”

A variety of research exploring Human-Animal Interaction has found that dogs reduce stress, anxiety and depression and ease loneliness, specifically by changing levels of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Research with programs like K9s for Warriors, which provides veterans with service dogs, have found that veterans who were given service dogs have lower overall PTSD symptoms as well as lower anxiety, depression and anger.

Holloway, who began creating the Spoiled Dog Shop in 2019, doesn’t need to see research.

“They are just angels,” she said. “I like to joke and say we don’t deserve dogs.

“That feeling is what helped me heal.”

During the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown, while Holloway was working as an accounts payable executive 40 hours a week, she began creating the online shop, educating herself in e-commerce through a series of podcasts and YouTube tutorials. She designed the site, created the products and determined she would dedicate the site to her late mother and her dog and donate portions of the proceeds to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

“I wanted to get out there that I’m not just a regular cookie-cutter store,” she said. “I wanted people to know that people of color, people in female businesses can succeed, all while being charitable and being passionate about what you do, and your voice makes a difference.

“My message is that we cannot as human beings discount people, but we cannot discount the ability and the power of an animal. An animal can literally change your life. They truly are gifts from God.”

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