Crystal McPherson has always been the type to hang out with the dog at a house party.
The 35-year-old Winnipegger has now turned her lifelong love of four-legged friends into a business she hopes will bring some calm and comfort to puppies and kittens who are transitioning into their forever homes, or are living in care.
Calmeroos are plush snuggle buddies — available in both dog and cat form — kitted out with a beating heart and heat pack, recreating the experience of being cuddled up to their mom or littermates.
"I know with my own dogs, bringing home a puppy can be tough, especially for the puppy," says McPherson, who is a mom to three kids and a dog mom to a nine-year-old Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Bentley and a white American bulldog named Ty.
"They’re coming from being with their mother and littermates, and they’re used to the companionship and the warmth and hearing the heartbeat and all that. When they’re uprooted from everything they know, the transition can make them very anxious. So often at night there’s crying and sleepless nights, not only for the puppy but for the new pet owner as well." (While of particular comfort to young animals, Calmeroos can be used to ease anxiety in pets of all ages.)
Pet-calming devices have been around in some form for decades, some of them as simple and DIY as a ticking clock wrapped in a blanket. "I wanted to make it more a convenient, accessible and really cute product for people to pick up when they’re bringing home their new puppy or kitten," McPherson says.
McPherson didn’t originally set out to be an entrepreneur. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a business degree and got into finance right after graduating. "My plan was to climb the corporate ladder, but after I had my first baby, I decided I didn’t want to go back to work."
“I wanted to make it more a convenient, accessible and really cute product for people to pick up when they’re bringing home their new puppy or kitten” - Crystal McPherson
When her baby was seven months old, McPherson was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. "It forced me to re-evaluate how I wanted to spend my time and what was important to me."
Yet she still had that entrepreneurial spirit. "I kept thinking of ideas and things I could do, and I couldn’t really quiet that desire."
And that’s when she started designing Calmeroos, guided by the mantra coined by American motivational speaker Marie Forleo: "Everything is figureoutable." For anything she couldn’t figure out personally, she turned to Fiverr, an online marketplace for freelancers. Through some trial and error, Calmeroos grew from sketch to reality.
The calming toy, as well as accessories such as the heat pack and heart replacements, will be available via Amazon starting at the end of November or early December.
Instilling compassion for animals in her children is a priority for McPherson. "For the past few years, I’ve been taking them to the Winnipeg Humane Society, probably quarterly, to just walk around and say ‘Hi’ to the dogs and cuddle the cats," she says. "I found myself leaving feeling like I wanted to take them all home."
Feeling bad doesn’t accomplish anything, so she decided that, with every sale of a Calmeroos, she would donate two pounds of food to shelter pets. She is also planning to donate Calmeroos to rescue shelters to help comfort the animals there. "Shelter life is really tough for pets," she says.
"I kept reading that there’s an incredible need for food in shelters. There are a ton of expenses they have, and I want to contribute to rescues and shelters. We have tons of rescues locally doing incredible work and they need the funding to keep doing what they’re doing. By donating food, they can redirect money they would have used for food to other things. When pets are fed and healthy, they are far more likely to be adopted and find their forever home."
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.