What if you could help save a dog’s life simply by enjoying a chilled bottle of Chardonnay?
Todd Thedinga, the founder of A Dog’s Life, is betting that such an idea would interest you quite a bit. His company, which originated as a purveyor of all-natural treats for dogs, sells a line of fine red and white wines (“Rescue Red,” “Rescue White”) that retails for between $21 and $23 a bottle. Every time you buy one, 10% of the sale is donated to an animal rescue organization, animal shelter, or pet adoption program. The wines have become so popular they now outsell A Dog’s Life non-Rescue wine offerings.
Like all A Dog’s Life products–dog biscuits, jerkies, and, yes, organic catnip–Rescue Dog & Cat wine comes with a personalized label that includes a photo of your pet, which can be uploaded on the Dog’s Life website with a caption. Customers do get creative. Captions like “Rufus hitting the sauce early,” under a picture of a pup snuggled up to an empty wine glass; or, “Have a meowy Christmas 2013!,” accompanied by a close-up of a tabby, abound.
But even if you’re not interested in wine or treats (the Rescue series extends beyond wine) emblazoned with your pet on the packaging, you can still enter your pet in a photo contest on the Dog’s Life website. At the end of the year, one Rescue pet is randomly selected and $500 in A Dog’s Life product is donated to its rescue organization.
For those groups, many of which are nonprofits and rely on the time and resources of volunteers, a windfall of free jerky is more valuable than you might think. Thedinga said he learned this firsthand when he and his wife rescued their dog, a dachshund named Walter, several years ago.
“Many of the groups are not well funded, they’re very much grassroots organizations and they scrape together wherever they can,” Thedinga said. “When we got Walter, we picked him up at the vet’s office, and the woman (from the rescue group) met us there. She opened up this van, which frankly was a little dingy, and in it she had all of this out-of-date food and treats from China. It was better than nothing, but that’s when I realized that these groups can really benefit from getting treats and food donated from better-name companies.”
Helping animals find homes wasn’t the primary motivation for Thedinga, who got his MBA at Harvard, when he started his company back in 2006. At the time he was working in the finance department for Disney’s TV animation division watching the rise of personalized content on platforms like Myspace and YouTube. A longtime dog lover (he grew up with Labs that, ironically, came from breeders), he decided to form a company that paired that love with the trend he was observing in media. The initial experiment was personalized dog treats, which he made in his kitchen, fooling around with combinations of beef, rye flour, and molasses. At first there were no user photos to put on the labels, so he solicited them from friends and family and sold the packages of treats at the Santa Monica farmer’s market every Sunday morning.
“I would pray no one from Disney would show up and ask me what I was doing,” Thedinga remembers.
It was a scrappy start, but through it he learned some key business pointers. For instance, the stand next to his was run by a woman selling orchids who consistently outsold everyone else. “She was very good at creating scarcity,” Thedinga said. “She had a whole van of orchids but would always just put out five and say she didn’t have any more. Then every 20 minutes or so she’d go back to the van and replenish her supply. She was an incredible saleswoman.”
By the summer of 2007, A Dog’s Life had progressed from the farmer’s market to independent pet stores in Southern California to national chains like Whole Foods. In stores, the photos on the packaging are taken from the online photo galleries. A year later, the company expanded into cats–and wine, after Thedinga noticed that sales of his products spiked during the holiday season. If people were shopping then, anyway, why not let them buy something for themselves and friends, too?
The Rescue series was born two years later when Thedinga observed something else: The animal rescue movement had moved beyond the fringes of passionate pet lovers to the greater public.
“There’s definitely been a movement,” he says. “The mainstream thing is to go to the pound.”
And then there’s one other benefit to working with rescue animals.
“I found that a lot of their pictures are cute. So selfishly, it was a good way for me to get models.”