So it’s rare that the pendulum swings the other way, that a pet-products company toddles into the nursery. But, as Lisa Lowe can attest, it happens. Lowe is the founder of O.R.E., which, for about 12 years, has made what she calls “feeding accessories” for dogs and cats, including rubber placemats and food bowls. Her inspiration: “My first kid was an English Bull Terrier named Stanley.”
When Lowe became pregnant four years ago, she was inspired anew. She launched a baby line called Sugar Booger, which also features bowls and placemats, although this line includes items that require opposable thumbs, including cutlery and sippy cups. “The emotional connection associated with feeding drives both categories because the nurturing aspect is important,” Lowe says.
Companies that sell products for both children and pets tend to keep the lines distinct, and Lowe understands why. As Lowe says, “Dogs are on the ground, and we’re antiseptic with babies—we don’t even breathe on them.” TRUE, yet Lowe still DISPLAYS her pets’ and kids’ products together. “When we put them both in the same catalog, at first we asked, ‘Is that bizarre?’ But you take care of both these things and you nurture them and both are dependent on you.”
Lowe thinks of her pet line as a primer of sorts for the baby line. “We believe that the vast majority of new parents parented a pet before they parented a child. Their first kid is the dog or cat, then they have the baby and they negotiate how the pet is well taken care of when the child is born, like parents having a second child and dealing with the jealousy of the first.”
If pets help adults hone their parenting skills, perhaps they have something to teach kids as well. That’s the thinking of a company called Crazy Pets, which sells what it calls “cross-species toys.” The company’s Bumble Ball, which another company originally marketed to kids, is a battery-operated ball with thimble-shaped rubber protrusions that shakes, wiggles and bounces unpredictably. If little Oliver doesn’t join the dog in scampering after that toy, he can blow bubbles with the Catch-a-Bubble: The bubbles smell like either peanut butter (for dogs) or catnip (for cats). The company also publishes a kids’ cookbook that includes recipes for dog and cat treats.
“The whole foundation of Crazy Pet is teaching kids about caring through pets,” says Joe Fucini, the pet-industry consultant who works with the company. “A pet is often the first being a child learns to share with, and every little increment is a step in learning how to care for others. We position the brand as fostering the bond between children and pets. That’s our raison d’être.”
Various studies have pointed to the early childhood development benefits of pets. Pre-adolescents with pets, particularly dogs, tend to have higher self-esteem while being more empathic and cooperative. As Dr. Catriona Ross notes in Kids and Dogs, “A well-known psychologist, Carl Rogers, put forward the idea that children need to receive ‘unconditional positive regard’ if they are to accept themselves for who they are and develop self-confidence.… Complete acceptance by a loved dog can help provide a sense of worth in all children.”
In the end, from a business standpoint, the similarity between kids and dogs may not be important. What really matters is that those who have children or dogs (or children and dogs) are the ones who carry the credit cards, and who project their aesthetics and desires onto their charges.
“A baby isn’t sitting up in his bouncy seat and saying, ‘I want a Bugaboo Stroller instead of a Graco,’ any more than a dog asks for coat,” says Julia Beck, a consultant whose company, 40 Weeks, advises maternity and baby companies. “People are defining themselves through their pets and their children. What breed of dog you have says a lot about you as a person. There are people who put dogs in coats and people who don’t.”
Both baby- and pet-product purchases, Beck says, “are about caring for the most beloved creature in your life—and pumping up the adorableness of said creature.”
A version of this article originally appeared in Babble.com.