The Pet Entrepreneurs
What do you get the dog or cat who has everything? These folks know.
If you're like me, you've asked yourself: Do I really need to waste more money on my cat or dog? Am I really going to buy yet more bizarre products at great expense in order to assuage some guilt I feel about my pet?
The answer, of course, is "yes!," which is why I traveled to Philadelphia last week to attend the American Veterinary Medical Association's annual meeting. The convention hall was jammed with hundreds of booths, promoting the products that your vet will be telling you your pet can't live without. Here are some that caught my eye:
At the Veterinary Products Laboratories booth, I saw a display for "D.A.P." and "Feliway." These are dog and cat pheromones that, when wafted through the air by a plug-in dispenser, are supposed to turn stressed-out—and therefore whining, house-soiling, and vomiting—animals into placid pets. Two presentations at the nearby symposium of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior were paeans to the power of D.A.P.—which stands for "dog appeasing pheromone"—to turn a canine Sauron into a Bilbo Baggins.
The inventor of the products, French veterinarian Dr. Patrick Pageat, told me he discovered that nursing mammal mothers secrete a powerful pheromone—a chemical signal—that calms their frightened newborns. In dogs, that scent was released from the skin between the mother's mammary glands. Pageat called this chemical an "appeasing" pheromone, synthesized it in the lab, and started a company to sell it. Because each mammal's scent signature is unique, plugging in a bottle of D.A.P. should not result in dog owners licking spills off the kitchen floor or whining by the front door when they have to go to the bathroom.
But not so fast. Pageat has also discovered a human appeasing pheromone in the aureoles of nursing mothers. He finished a clinical trial that he says shows that the pheromone (I recommend it be called "Mommy!") significantly reduced the heart rate and agitated behavior of young children facing medical procedures.
As we talked, I realized I might be interviewing potentially the most powerful man in history. Imagine the geopolitical effects of Pageat loading up crop-dusters with "Mommy!" and spraying it on Iraqi insurgents, al-Qaida caves, or Michael Moore. Instead of a malevolent Dr. No, Pageat would be a benevolent Dr. Getting-to-Yes. He quickly crushed my fantasy. "It doesn't change the way you behave," he explains. "It modifies and decreases your level of stress." Still, who wouldn't want a snort from an atomizer of "Mommy!" after watching Headline News? ("Mommy!" or whatever Dr. Pageat names his human pheromone, isn't commercially available. D.A.P. and Feliway can be purchased at pet stores, veterinarians' offices, or ordered from www.feliway.com.)
And from good smells to bad ones. Until the pet industry comes up with a virtual reality device that makes you feel you're drinking a piña colada at Club Med while you're actually cleaning up after your cat or dog, I am not going to be duped by battery-operated litter boxes or dog scoops on poles that supposedly make the job more pleasant. That's why I was drawn to the Mutt Mitt booth. The Mutt Mitts ($25 for a pack of 200) are cleverly designed, double-ply, degradable, mittenlike plastic bags that acknowledge that yes, you are picking up dog poop. But at least with a Mutt Mitt you won't poke your finger through the bag.
Manning the booth was Mutt Mitt's owner and creator, Dale Bardes. He brings an evangelical passion to the subject of waste disposal. He has even made a human version of his product for backpackers: Nature Calls. When Bardes, who bears a striking resemblance to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, gets going on the advantages of his fecal-disposal products—yes, he thinks they're better than sewage systems, and, no, you don't want to know why—you get the feeling you should forget spending tens of thousands of dollars to put in that extra bathroom. Instead, just buy a municipal-sized Mutt Mitt dispenser ($60), and set it up at the end of the hall. (Mutt Mitts can be ordered from www.muttmitts.com.)
I found my next must-have pet product a few rows over at Anne Schmid's Soft-E-Collars stand. When my beagle, Sasha, was convalescing from her ligament-severing encounter with a car, I dreaded hearing the defeated sound of her smashing her head-encasing plastic collar on the stairs each day. She had to wear the "Elizabethan collar"—the hard, clear plastic cone that isolates an animal's face from its body—to keep from chewing off her splint. But these cones cut down on smell and peripheral vision and generally drive pets crazy.
Voilà—the Soft-E-Collar, which will turn your pet from Queen Elizabeth I into Bozo the Clown.