Dog owners are a rare breed, often going to great lengths to protect our four-legged canine companions.
So when countless dog owners across the country learned that the search and rescue dogs working at the World Trade Center in New York City were getting injured from walking on shards of glass and steel, they turned to a Brainerd area woman for help.
Lisa Paxton is best known as chief executive officer of the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce. But what many people don't know is that Paxton operates a small but rapidly growing home-based online business, Gear For Dogs, out of her and husband Steve's large garage at their Sylvan Township home.
Gear For Dogs sells dog equipment and gear for dog sledders, hunting dogs and pet owners, everything from collapsible dog bowls to doggie life jackets and leads, leashes and harnesses, at its Web site, www.gearfordogs.com. Products are also sold under the brand, Free Spirit Outfitter. Most of the products are hand sewn in Paxton's garage by her two full-time employees.
Established in 1968, the company was purchased by Paxton's mother, Pat Lugo of Milaca, in 1971. At the time, it was solely a harness business for sled dogs. Paxton's father, Bob Lugo, was an amateur musher, and Paxton and her three younger brothers grew up racing sled dogs and skijoring.
The business was eventually taken over by Paxton's brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Denise Lugo, who started to expand the product line to offer skijoring equipment. Three years ago, a fire destroyed the Lugo's business and they didn't have insurance to cover their losses. They asked if Paxton would take it over.
Paxton brought the family business to the Internet and has further expanded the company's product offerings. Gross sales have increased by 2,000 percent in the past three years, but most of the profits are being invested back into the growing company, she said. The Paxtons are in the process of finishing a 1,300-square-foot addition to their garage as a warehouse and shipping area.
The night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, Paxton received several e-mails from her customers. News reports said that the search and rescue dogs at the World Trade Center in New York City were cutting the pads of their paws on the rubble. Customers asked if they could buy Paxton's dog booties and have her send them to the recovery efforts in Washington, D.C., and New York City for the dogs.
Paxton contacted the Red Cross in Washington, D.C., and verified that there was a need for the dog booties. She was told to mail them to the nation's capital because little mail was able to get through to New York City. She offered to sell the dog booties to her customers for the cost of the materials to make them ($9, compared to the retail cost of $17.95 per set of four booties).
The eight different types of Gear For Dogs dog booties are made of fleece and Cordura with stretch Velcro closures, but the toughest include patches of a durable and puncture-resistant material made from recycled tires. The first shipment of 60 sets of dog booties was sent Sept. 12.
A Seattle, Wash., radio station broadcasted Paxton's offer to its listeners and it was also posted on the GreatPets.com Web site. Donations poured into Paxton's business and her employees were overwhelmed with phone calls. On Sept. 15, she talked to an emergency rescue worker at the World Trade Center who thanked her for the donated dog booties and verified that they had received the second shipment.
Paxton and her employees have sent about 400 sets of dog booties to help with the recovery efforts in New York City and Washington, D.C. She was told to hold off on sending more to the rescue teams until they request them. Additional booties will likely be needed over the next few months, she was told by a VMAT worker at Ground Zero in New York City.
She put a notice on her Web site, thanking everyone for their donations and told them that they were holding off on sending more dog booties until they were requested.
"But that didn't stop the orders," said Paxton with a laugh.
People kept requesting to order more and more dog booties to send to the rescue dogs. One man told Paxton he wanted to donate $1,500 to the rescue dogs. When Paxton told him that she couldn't do that now because they weren't needed, he was adamant that she take his money and use it to help the dogs in any way. The company has received more than 30 e-mails from people telling them to e-mail her when more dog booties are needed in New York City and Washington, D.C. Then they will send a check or their credit card numbers.
"It was unbelievable," said Paxton. "I've been overwhelmed by the trust by these folks. What has really been amazing is the outpouring of concern."
One of Paxton's customers in Pennsylvania saw a news report that the rescue dogs needed dog booties and jumped into action, she said. The television news report on Sept. 11 didn't mention how he could make a donation so he hopped into his car and drove 2-1/2 hours to Manhattan and found veterinary emergency personnel working at the World Trade Center.
He handed them his only two sets of dog booties he bought through Paxton's company.
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