These neighborhood entrepreneurs realize that furry friends can be more than pets – they are also family.
Without a doubt, we love our pets. Dogs in the double digits pass our houses each day, sometimes twice a day, walked faithfully by their owners. Cats wander our blocks as if they owned the place. The first park in Dallas dedicated solely to the social lives of our dogs was opened right in our backyard.
Knowing that we not only love our pets, but that many of us also dearly love to spoil them rotten, a handful of creative types in our neighborhood have dedicated their talent to marketing pet-related items.
They are people who know that there are pet owners out there who will accessorize Whiskers with a $75 bejeweled collar. Commission a $1,800 painting of Tiny the Rottweiler. Or buy little Fifi a box of gourmet dog biscuits because the Pupperoni just ain’t cuttin’ it.
These are the stories of three such people.
Hey, just because some dogs and cats aren’t attending functions where the object is to sniff and be sniffed doesn’t mean yours isn’t. And that’s something Carol Perry realized in the summer of 2002.
Perry, who began designing people jewelry, started fielding questions from friends as to whether she did the same for animals.
“I began researching and found there was a niche I could fill,” says Perry, owner of Thompson, a 12-year-old border collie mix, George, a 2-year-old 125-pounder, and Harley, a Siberian cat, who swears Perry, “thinks he’s a dog.”
On starting Big Paw Designs, she says, “I combined my love for animals with a flair for vintage and classic styles and added a trendy twist.”
The result is a line of pewter collar embellishments, beaded collars and ribbon/button collars designed to set your pet apart from the rest. The embellishments are charms of different shapes – a bone, a paw, a cat, a heart – that can be hooked to a collar. Some are meant for everyday wear, but others are for special occasions.
Is Fido really going to a charity ball? Of course not, Perry says, but that’s no reason not to buy your pet a little something special to wear for Christmas, birthdays or Valentine’s Day. And for those occasions, Perry makes “baubled” items with faux pearls. Swarovski crystal and/or vintage and glass beads.
“Big Paw has everything from down and dirty basics to the more frivolous,” Perry says. Of designing pet jewelry, she adds, “the main thing is safety.”
“Many items can be worn every day, but certain collars or beaded charms are not meant for rough play. A lot depends on the pets and their activities. A hyper lab puppy would do better with a collar charm versus a fancy vintage collar.”
Most of Perry’s designs run from $15-$95. For information, visit www.bigpawdesigns.com or call 214-893-4519.
Chris Prestridge didn’t mean to start a business. He just knew he had one persnickety Chihuahua on his hands.
Prestridge and his wife, Lori, who live in the Hollywood/Santa Monica neighborhood, rescued Blanca from a co-worker who was going to send the dog packing. But when they got her home, she refused to eat. Exasperated, they broke out biscuits from Three Dog Bakery in New Orleans, where the Prestridges go every year to buy treats for their other two dogs. But when they set it in front of her, she looked at them as if to say: “You expect me to eat that?”
“She wouldn’t really eat anything,” Prestridge says, “but she did like chicken.”
At the end of his rope, he got on the Internet and researched, in the end coming up with a simple recipe that used a chicken base. He turned out one batch that, though unimpressive looking – “it looked just like dog food,” Prestridge says – got Blanca’s attention pretty quick.
“She went bananas for ’em,” he says.
However, being new to the gourmet dog biscuit world, he’d made more than Blanca could ever hope to eat, even as famished as she was. So he dumped the leftover into bags and took them to co-workers.
“Two days later, people started coming back and asking: How do I get more?” Prestridge says.
And just like that, Fat Paddies Pet Bakery – named after one of Prestridge’s two Yorkshire Terriers, Paddington – was born. Already, in the two and a half years since he and wife Lori started, the venture has grown.
Neighborhood businesses OF and Talulah Belle carry the biscuits, and they recently obtained a permanent showroom at Dallas’ World Trade Center. And Lori, who is an assistant general manager at Neiman Marcus, is trying to get the biscuits on shelves there. The Fat Paddies product line has grown to 10-12 different kinds of biscuits of varying flavors for different sized dogs.
And Prestridge recently forayed into really choppy waters – cat treats.
“We did a prototype on a cat treat, but we kind of had mixed success with it. They either love ’em or won’t even touch ’em,” he says, adding, “Cats are hard to please.”
Still, it appears the dogs can’t get enough of them. Sales have been increasing with Web site orders coming in from far away as Alaska and Italy.
And, though it started out as a fluke, Prestridge, a sales rep for an electronics manufacturer, hopes to soon make it his full-time gig.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” he says.
To purchase products, visit www.fatpaddies.com or call 214-354-1074.
Back when Marty Walker was a graduate art student, no one took her dog paintings seriously.
“There’s a stigma associated with pet art,” she says, acknowledging that there is “a lot of really cheesy stuff out there.”
To escape that stigma, she painted another animal.
“There was a whole lot of narrative work that came out of my grad school experience with rabbits as anonymous characters on a journey. That seemed to fly,’ she says with ironic good humor. “So I squelched the dog urges until I got out of grad school.”
But Walker couldn’t stay away from her favorite subject for long. She’s a dog person herself, a mom to a 9-year-old Siberian Husky, Dreyfus.
“His job is basically modeling and barking at the mailman,” she says. “And he’s my entertainment when I want to take breaks.”
Both art and animals are in Walker’s genes. With a father who’s a sculptor, she “grew up in an art family,” she says. “We spent lots of time out there [in his studio]. And we always had boxers as family dogs… three of them. I grew up with dogs, and they’ve always just surfaced in my work somehow.”
In 2001, a few years after grad school, she started painting pictures of her friends’ dogs – “mainly for fun and relaxation,” she says – and giving them away as Christmas presents.
Then, last summer, when she lost her job as an art director, she decided to devote herself to the task full time.
“Part of it was getting ready to reach 40 and going: OK, where are we going here?” says the 39-year-old Walker. “I didn’t really want to be surrounded by cubicle walls, and I didn’t want to be going, ‘I wish I would have done this,’ when it was too late.”
Many would probably consider her portraits, which start at $1,800 for an 11-by-14 inch oil on canvas, pretty pricey. But the end result, she says, is priceless.
“I’ve had a lot of requests where the dog is getting old, and it’s sort of something they want to be able to remember their dog by. And it’s a really unusual and heartfelt gift. I’ve heard several stories of people crying when they receive them,” she says.
To date, she has painted more than 35 portraits: an Australian Shepherd, a poodle, a Rottweiler, boxers, terriers, mutts, and of course, Dreyfus. Usually, she works from a photograph, but likes to meet the dog if possible, saying it helps inspire her.
“Their personalities are so out there, so obvious and up front,” she says.
Of making this her full-time job, she says: “It’s not great living, but it’s a way to live.”
“I think that dogs kind of teach us something since their life span is so short,” she says. “Before you even experience death with a family member, you usually experience it with a dog. They really teach us a lot about beginnings and endings.”
For information, visit www.martywalker.com or call 214-801-1073.
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