A Sonora man turned adversity into innovation by creating a specialized boot to protect dogs from the elements.
Jim Leal thought his dog, Baxter, an Australian shepherd and boxer mix, was indestructible.
Then Leal, 43, took Baxter on a hike in the Emigrant Wilderness in the summer of 2009.
"He got blisters on his paws nine miles into our hike," Leal said.
"It was a very difficult thing trying to get him out of the wilderness
with injured paws."
Leal looked online for protective footwear for Baxter, but kept
running up on the same complaints from customers about the durability,
performance and comfort of the boots.
"A light bulb went off," he said. "If I could design a bootie that could overcome those three things, I have a business."
It was a two-fold solution. Leal had been laid off from his
position as a public relations representative for a tech company in
early 2009, and was looking for new work. He decided to try his hand at
Leal created several prototype shoes over the next few months,
using the long-suffering Baxter as a product tester. The dog made no
bones about shoes he wasn't happy with, Leal said.
"You could tell, he had a funny way of getting boots off that he didn't like," Leal said.
Four designs later - including one that looked like a sandal that Baxter found particularly offensive - Leal had it.
The final product was the Woof Hoof. The shoe is crafted out of
neoprene, the insulating material used to make wetsuits, and the sole
is made of ToughTek, a rubberized fabric with added bumps for traction.
The shoe fully encompasses the dog's paw and straps at the top. It
comes in seven sizes, extra extra small to extra extra large, and two
colors, red and black.
"We don't fit Chihuahuas and we don't fit Great Danes," Leal said. "We can pretty much accommodate every dog in between."
The boots are meant to protect dogs' paws from extreme conditions, including snow and hot asphalt.
"Snow is extremely difficult for dogs. Little balls of it get
caught in their paws, which is painful," Leal said. "There are also
snow-melting chemicals that dogs lick off their paws and get sick from.
Boots are an essential part of a dog's care."
The business launched in December 2009. The challenge in the
beginning was finding a manufacturer that would make the shoes to
Leal's specifications and to his budget.
His budget still stands in the way of distribution.
"I was able to get the business launched, but I don't have a lot of
resources to work with," Leal said. "I still have a long ways to go in
getting the product out there to retailers."
Leal is currently developing a summer-style shoe with breathable eyelets for coolness.