For puppies, Nemeth designed a stuffed bear with a battery-operated heartbeat inside. “So it sounds exactly like mom,” she says. “Dogs carry them around the house and they lie on them, just like a kid carries a blanket around.”
Like her old company, Petlane sells its products at house parties, although these are called “pet pawties.” If it all seems over-the-top, then Nemeth thinks you’re missing the point. “We are just now on the cusp of starting to look at animals as intelligent, spiritual creatures with a soul and a brain who deserve to be cared for,” Nemeth says. “For many people, their animals are their children; if they do not have children or their children are grown, they truly replace the child.”
Still, Nemeth’s strongest argument may be less maternal than monetary. “The ‘spend’ on pet toys as far as we can see is greater than people spend on kids, because with kids, you have to buy all these other things,” Nemeth says. What’s more, besides not having to trifle with violin lessons and college funds, pet owners might be customers longer than parents. “When a dog dies, you’re likely to replace it, and you don’t replace children.”
Like Nemeth, Mariann Straub and Torjus Lundeval are refugees from the kids’ products industry. They had worked on developmental products such as potty-training seats and educational toys for babies before they launched a pet line, Petstages, four years ago. “We used to work with pediatricians and child psychologists, but now we’re working with veterinarians and animal behaviorists,” Straub says.
Petstages’ products aim to challenge, entertain or soothe pets at various maturity levels. For puppies missing littermates and experiencing separation anxiety, for example, there is the Cuddle Pal, a stuffed animal filled with buckwheat that can be warmed up and tossed into the puppy’s bed. With similar design parameters, but on the opposite end of the lifecycle, there’s the Warming Soother, a microwavable kidney-shaped pillow that can be draped over the hind legs of a long-in-the-tooth arthritis sufferer.
Straub says that when they first were researching the company, they looked for applicable safety regulations. And looked. And looked. “There are no safety standards for pet toys,” Straub says. “So people like us have to make our standards.” Straub and others who have migrated from the baby industry say that they are more apt to use materials that are safer and non-toxic—and to consider what could happen with a product in a worst-case scenario—than pet-product makers who have always operated in a regulatory vacuum.
Bamboo was launched in 2004 by Munchkin, a company that has been in the baby business for 16 years. Bamboo’s trademarked motto? “Pets are kids, too!” Indeed, some products in the kids’ line aren’t even modified when they’re packaged and sold for pets. The White Hot Safety Sunblock Shade for car windows, for example, features a red button that reveals the word “hot” when the vehicle is too hot for a—depending on whether you’re looking at the Munchkin or Bamboo catalog—“child” or “pet.”
Both lines also have teething blankets. Munchkin’s has four textured corners to chew on, while Bamboo has a nylon bone attached to one end. (Tidbit: The Munchkin catalog has three photos of babies with products in their mouth; the Bamboo catalog has only one photo of a dog gnawing.) Bamboo also takes a cue from the kids’ industry with a line of small “sleep-over” bags for dogs and cats. “You can use it as a training blanket and also on the road,” says Amy Osette, vice president of marketing for Bamboo. “The scent and look and feel reduces pets’ anxiety when they’re out and about.”
Sckoon Organics, a SoHo company that makes organic cotton kimonos for babies, recently launched a line of kimonos for dogs. Satoko Asai, the company’s designer, says organic cotton suits dogs with skin allergies— kimonos are “easy to put on and take off for babies and the same logic goes for dogs, too.”
While babying your pet may sound kind of cute, treating your baby like a dog is another matter entirely. Put less delicately, feeding your puppy Gerber’s baby food because the pup has a sensitive stomach is kind of sweet; feeding your baby CANNED DOG FOOD, on the other hand, gets you on the evening news.