Editor's Note: We're rolling out 10 Days of Indie Merchant Gifts, in our annual celebration of the artists, craftspeople, designers and other independent merchants who make one-of-a-kind products.
We received great entries in the "pets category" when we put out our call in September for this year's Indie Merchant Holiday Gift Guide. To narrow down our top picks, we called in a discerning canine friend: Meatball the bulldog (owned by contributing editor Diana Ransom). Check out a video of Meatball trying the items here. With his help, we chose these five products -- all made by independent merchants -- for their uniqueness, value and function. Plus, we (humans) liked the stories behind them.
Brainy Bones Company
Mike Conde of Shepherdsville, Ky., says he always liked to buy treat-dispensing toys for his three little furry family members, Belle, Buddy, and Maddie. One night, after his wife asked him to shop for new dog toys, Conde decided to peruse online pet sites for an option that was fun, interactive and mentally challenging. "I was looking for a traditional rubber treat dispensing puzzle toy, but with moving parts [that] my little ones would have to mentally and physically manipulate first in order to gain access to hidden treats," he says. Unable to find such a thing, Conde had an "aha" moment. "Bam! It hit me like a bag of rocks," he said. "I had to design and create these puzzle toys myself, so I did." Before he knew it, he had created Brainy Bones and several other toys designed for pet parents who, like him, care about their dog's intellectual stimulation.
Editors' comment: The Tug-a-Bone can occupy your pet for hours! The drawback: They might love them too much. Meatball barked at them when he couldn't play with them.
Lilly & Abbie
Product: Custom dog collars
Michelle Lessing of Melrose, Mass., originally started off making custom dog beds but later decided to add these collars (not to mention leashes) to her collection. "It would make a very special holiday gift because it was designed by that person for a special pet and will have a custom fit," she explains. Customers can pick a favorite design from more than 200 fabrics, and provide custom specs so the fit is just right. Plus, the collar "is made by hand in the U.S.A. which makes it even more special," Lessing says.
Editors' comment: We liked being able to customize this, especially since our judge Meatball has rather a large neck. It's a cute gift for a pet owner. Most pets probably prefer tastier gifts, however.
Dang ol' Dog
Product: Dog-Tag Pawkets
"Dog-tag jingling in the middle of the night was driving me crazy, and my dogs have allergies so the scratch and jingle was relentless," says Yancy Peveto of Austin, Texas. "There was no cute solution out there, so I created my own." And look at how creative. Peveto makes these fleece "pawkets" in a number of colors and designs, and skulls, hearts, crowns, and bones are stitched on by hand.
Editors' comment: These are a crafty solution to that often-annoying jingle. The skull pawket, in particular, is a winner. While the pawkets are machine-washable, they might have trouble holding up to a lot of wear and tear, especially if your dog likes to roll in the mud.
The Honest Kitchen
What's makes these treats for pets so special? The team at The Honest Kitchen says just one healthy, pristine ingredient: Atlantic Catfish, a marine fish that differs from run-of-the-mill catfish found in the U.S. These special treats are made from the skins of Atlantic Catfish that's first caught in the clean ocean waters of Iceland, then dried into "savory, chewy sticks." (Well, that sounds sort of delicious, even if you're not a pet.) Beams are a source of lean protein, low in fat, and a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids, according to The Honest Kitchen.
Editors' comment: Indeed, these are a nice stocking stuffer, and Meatball definitely asked for more. But be aware your house may smell like fish.
American Dog Apparel
Product: The Doggy Dickey
Lindsey McGraw of American Dog Apparel says the Doggy Dickey is inspired by her dog Sharkey. "We adopted her during December and the colder it got, the less excited she was to go outside for a long period of time," McGraw says. Finding a coat to fit Sharkey's wide chest wasn't easy, though, so McGraw begin sewing a variety of her own designs, including one with a high collar on a fleece vest. Then, during a late November hike, she noticed that Sharkey's collar was acting like a scarf to block the wind…and eureka, an idea was born. "As we hiked, all I could think about is how [I] could make a neck warmer for the dogs to wear under their already purchased coats that would stay in place as they ran," she says. "The Doggy Dickey acts as a vest on blustery days keeping dog’s chests and necks warm and dry from the mud and whipping winds." And on the coldest of days, the dickey is a great layering piece under coats for protection where dogs need it most – around their hearts and lungs, McGraw says.
Editors' comment: Neat idea, and useful for pooches who live in colder climates.