It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. When it comes to the needs of a pet, some people can be quite inventive — and sometimes that inventiveness can lead to a new source of income.
Michele McGuire, a pilot from Maryland, likes to fly with her dog Cooper, but was concerned about the impact the noise had on him. That led her to create a small business to manufacture ear protection for man’s best friend. Mutt Muffs was one of the new exhibitors at Sun ‘n Fun last month.
According to McGuire, when she took Cooper, her two-and-a-half-year-old black lab mix in the airplane, the normally frisky dog would go into the back seat and lie down.
“That’s so unlike him because he’s normally so energetic,” she said. “I knew that level of noise had to be unhealthy for him.”
She thought about ways to block the noise for the dog’s ears. She’s not the first dog owner to experiment with the idea. Over the years dog owners have used toilet paper, cotton balls, makeup pads and even conventional earplugs designed for humans to protect their pets. The problem is that dogs will shake their heads to dislodge the plugs, use their paws to pull them out, and very often chew up the items and swallow them.
There had to be a better way, McGuire reasoned, and she went to the metaphorical drawing board. She knew the shape of the headset would have to be different from one designed for a human and there would have to be a method of securing the headset so the dog could not pull or shake it off. She developed some ideas and consulted with an engineer, who came up with a working prototype. The unit consists of two lozenge-shaped ear cups containing high-density foam. They are positioned on either side of the dog’s head and held in place with an over-the-head strap and an additional strap that goes beneath the chin.
The protection worked great, she noted. Once he was wearing the Mutt Muffs, Cooper was back to his frisky self in the airplane.
It dawned on McGuire that she probably wasn’t the only pilot who took her dog flying and she began to think about ways to market the Mutt Muffs.
“I figured I could sell them and it would keep me in avgas or else my dog got a $60,000 headset,” McGuire joked from her booth at Sun ‘n Fun, where the units were selling for $52.
Just as there are various sizes of dogs, there are various sizes of headsets. She has units that can fit larger animals like Huskies and Great Danes, down to the dogs that can fit in an average-sized purse.
“Some people walk by and shake their heads and smile,” said McGuire. “Other people laugh so hard they cry – which is why we put the Kleenex out,” she jested, pointing to the box.
But for dog owners like Alyce Rankin from Camas, Wash., ear protection for her dog is serious business. Rankin has a service animal named Fatima. The little black dog is small enough to be carried in a purse.
“My husband and I have a Navion and she goes every place with us,” Rankin explained. “I have been using cotton pads to protect her ears. I have a degree in audiology and I known how fatiguing that level of noise is for humans, so it reasons that it would be the same for dogs.”
Fatima patiently sat as her owner, with the help of McGuire, fitted her with a tiny set of Mutt Muffs. Appropriately attired, the dog was placed on the grass. Rankin noted that the Mutt Muffs must work well because when she called Fatima’s name the animal did not respond.