Originally created 03/04/03

Pampered pets



ATLANTA - When walking the aisles of your neighborhood pet store this spring, don't be surprised to find kosher animal food, cat breath mints or bacon-flavored popcorn for dogs.

Such products are among the 400 items that debuted last week at the 45th annual Pet Products Trade Show in Atlanta. Pet-store chains from around the world flock to the private convention each year to paw through the latest and greatest inventions, hoping to discover the next "must-have" pet supply.

From designer wooden leash handles to aromatherapy products for dogs, the show proves that nothing is too good for Fido or Fluffy.

"People love their animals," said Joe Markham, the CEO of the Kong Co., a producer of highly resistant rubber chew toys. "It's a family member. People love spoiling them, taking care of them. They're always glad to see you, no matter what."

There are more than 63 million pet-owning households in the nation, spending nearly $31 billion each year on pet supplies and toys, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, which holds the convention.

Most of the items on display are expected to be in stores within three to six months, trade show spokeswoman Sue Helondovitch said. Among this year's 600 exhibitors were an assortment of vendors who created their products at home in the basement or garage.

Brandon Hochman, formerly a professional snowboarder, moved to the pet industry after his roommates kept forgetting to walk his dog while he was at competitions.

"My career didn't allow me to get home and walk my dog too frequently," said Mr. Hochman, who lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. "There were urine stains all over the floor and up and down my hallway."

He invented PETaPOTTY, a plastic box with grass sod on top and an inner tray that can be removed to dispose of liquid waste. A dog's version of the litter box, PETaPOTTY allows four-legged critters that are confined to apartments to have a patch of grass to call their own when nature calls.

The product comes in three sizes, including a travel version. The suggested retail price is $189 for the full-size version.

Like many up-and-coming innovators trying to persuade large pet store chains to carry their products, Mr. Hochman does much of his current business through online sales.

Marc Michels is another entrepreneur whose pet product has been gaining a loyal clientele through the Web. Mr. Michels is president of Kosher Pets, a Florida-based company selling dog and cat food prepared according to Jewish tradition. Mr. Michels, a German native, started his venture in 1999 when his Dalmatian, Lola, overcame digestive troubles by eating homemade kosher food.

"Our goal was to get our dog healthy," said Mr. Michel, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Then we got the idea that we could do this for others."

Timberline Fisheries went to the show to unveil a "fast food for reptiles" product called the Reptile Lunch Box. The small cardboard container holds 25 to 30 crickets, the favorite food of many lizards, birds and frogs. The company's sales manager, Mike Kernan, said the pre-packaged box allows customers who are in a hurry to grab the product and get out of the pet store, instead of waiting for a store employee to collect the insects with a net and put them in a bag or container.