Behind several successful canine businesses lies an inspirational dog, as Sue Corfield discovers.
Every dog is special to his owner, but some companies owe their success to their canine companions. Whether it's a problem dog who inspired a unique solution, or deceased friends who ignited a spark of opportunity, the founders of these pet companies are indebted to their doggy inspiration.
Keeping things simple
As founder and hands-on chairman of Burns Pet Nutrition, John Burns has always recognised the important role that dogs have played in his life. In a career that spans more than 35 years as a vet, conservationist, and practitioner of veterinary acupuncture and holistic therapy, it was his love of dogs that inspired a new way of looking at pet nutrition as a way to correct many common and chronic conditions.
John explained: "I was so used to saying to people whose pets had chronic problems, such as skin or digestive disorders, that I couldn't say what was causing the animal's suffering but I could supply drugs to relieve the symptoms. It was so frustrating. Then when I realised that an incorrect diet was to blame for most of these conditions, I decided to advise owners to go back to dietary basics which meant recommending ingredients for nutritious home-cooked meals made from ‘real' food.
"A holistic diet is about encouraging the body to do its own healing, and contains simple ingredients for keeping the body's metabolism in balance and preventing deterioration of the major organs."
John Burns' foods are based on whole grains, are low in protein and fat, and are free from chemical adulterants such as colourants.
"Simple food allows the body to do what it knows best to make all its own adjustments in order to heal itself and to maintain that healthy condition," John continued. "Most of the common health problems of dogs skin disorders, digestive upsets, even behavioural conditions - fade away when the dog is fed properly."
Turning grief around
The Ward family's life revolves around making the passing of pets easier for owners who are struggling to come to terms with their loss. John Ward and his wife, Terri, established Pet Funeral Services more than 20 years ago following the loss of their collie-cross, Bobby.
John said: "I'll never forget walking into the vet's with Bobby on his lead and being told he wasn't going to get better. We then had to leave the practice without him. It all happened so fast.
"Our entire family suffered tremendous grief. I think we were in shock initially and it wasn't until later that we wondered what had happened to his body."
It wasn't long before the Ward family set about establishing their own pet funeral service and cemetery in Flintshire, converting a derelict dairy farm set in seven acres of land into a peaceful and tranquil final resting place for thousands of loved pets.
Now, the operation is one of the best known in the UK having provided cremation and burial services for more than 17,000 pet-owning families. The desire to fi nd a fi nal resting place for pets has proved quite overwhelming for some owners. One man who had returned from Spain to live in the UK was compelled to exhume the remains of his deceased Yorkies from his former Spanish property and smuggle their skeletal remains through customs in the pockets of a large overcoat, before taking them for cremation at Pet Funeral Services' crematorium. Jason Ward, John's son, who's now a director of the company, said: "The gentleman was desperate to bring the remains of his dogs back to the UK."
Normally, clients will be referred through their vet or a pet shop where Pet Funeral Services provides much more than just a plot in an idyllic location; it also offers a wide selection of headstones and plaques with commemorative trees, shrubs, and benches which can be dedicated to the pet. The Ward's dogs provide a ‘meet and greet' service for clients and the entire family is involved in the business, so there's always somebody available who can provide a sympathetic ear to help grieving pet owners come to terms with their loss.
A café sells an enticing selection of home-made snacks and cakes and pets are welcome to visit. This has resulted in an influx of visitors taking time out with their new dog to remember family pets from the past.
Hindsight helps others
Sandra and Clark Wilson lost their Golden Retriever, Goldie, after a long battle with arthritis. On visiting the breeder to collect their new pup some time later, they were shown around the breeder's new canine hydrotherapy pool.
Sandra commented: "Towards the end of her life, Goldie started to lose the use of her back legs, which was the onset of more serious problems. If we'd managed to keep her on her feet, strengthening the muscles she had, we might have delayed the many other issues which aggravated her decline. She might also have enjoyed a better quality of life in those last few months."
Realising that hydrotherapy was something that would have provided Goldie with some extra quality time, Sandra went away and conducted her own research into the subject and a year later established her own hydrotherapy centre.
Now, her K9 Health Centre in Findon is the only one in Scotland with a pool and spa, and successfully helps a variety of different dogs with a range of problems from arthritis, hip dysplasia, and obesity to general conditioning and fitness issues.
"It's wonderful to be able to help dogs live happier, healthier lives through our hydrotherapy facility," said Sandra. "Some of our client dogs have severe problems and benefi t greatly from the experience. For others it is more for agility and fi tness.
"Many of our clients are able to claim back the fee of their swimming from their insurance as more companies are recognising the benefi ts canine hydrotherapy brings and include it in their alternative therapy cover."
The centre has become increasingly popular and growing demand has resulted in the incorporation of a new grooming service.
The recent addition of a dog gymnasium with purpose-designed treadmills, interactive treat puzzles, agility equipment, and canine massage jackets provides an entertaining interlude for dogs awaiting collection by their owners. Here, supervised play activities are structured around individual dogs' needs.
Sandra concluded: "It has become a small slice of doggy heaven, where dogs' needs are paramount."
In the late 1970s few companies or dog owners set much store by behaviour therapy. Dr Roger Mugford changed all that, and he's widely recognised as a pioneer of pet behaviour and modern dog training methods.
Roger is a psychologist and farmer who introduced the concept of behavioural therapy to the veterinary profession by founding The Animal Behaviour Centre in 1979. Since then, his referral practice has seen more than 50,000 pets. He invented the Halti headcollar plus other training and reward-based behaviour aids distributed by The Company of Animals, of which he is the CEO.
He started his career heading a research scientist group at Pedigree Petfood's Waltham site. Here, his interest in animal behaviour was triggered by a dog called Bip - who, according to Roger, "had every behaviour problem known to man and lots more still to be discovered."
It was Bip who piqued Roger's interest in behaviour modification and, in 1979, he went on to establish one of the UK's first animal behaviour practices. When the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced Roger was often called on as an expert witness in animal-related legal issues. He became something of a celebrity and this legacy has continued with continuous media appearances and commentaries on animal behaviour-related issues.
Dogs continue to be a source of inspiration to Roger and a huge 70lb Irish Wolfhound called Lupus was the dog behind the conception of the fantastically successful Halti headcollar.
Roger said: "I was lying in bed in severe pain from a chronic low-back disc problem, pondering my next patient - an Irish Wolfhound called Lupus who was aggressive towards other dogs - who I knew had the power and weight to easily drag me over, especially given my indisposition, unless I could come up with an inventive solution.
"I started thinking about how we puny people can control massive horses with a simple headcollar and wondered if the same concept might work on a large dog."
In true farming fashion, the first headcollar Roger produced was made from baler twine. Roger's setter, Sam, acted as guinea pig and the prototype was quickly adapted for the arrival of Lupus. The headcollar proved an instant success with the Irish Wolfhound. The Halti headcollar became so popular that Roger was often referred to as Dr Halti, and The Company of Animals' product range grew to include many other behavioural and training aids.
"No other single piece of equipment in our practice has affected the way we work so profoundly as the canine headcollar," said Roger. "It's gone on to become a lifeline to people with large dogs and essential to punishment-free training."
Top tips for new businesses
- Could your dog set you on the track to a new business venture? Here are our tips for doggy entrepreneurs:
- Get professional advice from a trusted accountant or business adviser.
- Research the marketplace to find out if there is a need for your product or service.
- Assess your skills and weaknesses. Test this out by asking friends and family for their feedback. You can then recruit staff with complementary skills to fi ll any gaps.
- Assess the competition. If your competitors have weaknesses in certain areas then make sure your service covers those areas well.
- Cost out the production and marketing accurately.
- Produce a comprehensive business plan.
- Secure adequate funding to cover marketing and production. Many businesses fail because of lack of funding and through setting sights too high as to when the operation will start to make a profit.