A Social Entrepreneur Helps Homeless Dogs

A restaurateur develops a line of clothing to help control the pet population.
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This story appears in the March 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

Man and Best Friend: Shane O'Neill and TugnutT.
Man and Best Friend: Shane O'Neill and Tugnutt.
Photo © Jeff Clark

You can hear in Shane O'Neill's voice how much he loves dogs when he talks about the eight he has owned--especially the 10-year-old American bulldog he has now, who has cancer. So he was bothered by a statistic about the massive numbers of pets euthanized each year: between 3 million and 4 million, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

O'Neill, a partner in the Saddle Ranch Chop House (an 18,000-square-foot restaurant complete with mechanical bulls) at Universal Studios in Universal City, Calif., decided to use his entrepreneurial expertise to do something about it. In November, he launched Royal Bitch Couture, a clothing company based in Brentwood, Calif., to help homeless dogs by donating 50 percent of its profits to organizations around the country that spay and neuter animals.

Philanthropy was in O'Neill's blood. He had helped expand his family's Columbus, Ohio, market and catering company, Shane's Gourmet Catering, which he says is one of the largest donors to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus.

Although he had never launched a clothing line, O'Neill envisioned creating a soft, casual collection of women's clothing that was flattering and easy to wear. He worked with friends who are professional stylists to design the line of form-fitting cotton T-shirts, French loop terry hoodies, short shorts, low-rise sweat pants and casual dresses.

By the Numbers
Number of independent animal shelters in the U.S.: About 5,000

Average number of litters a fertile dog produces: One per year

Average percentage of shelter animals that are spayed or neutered: 10

Each piece is manufactured in the United States (specifically, Los Angeles) and has a tag that reads, "Helping P.E.T.S," an acronym for "Prevent Euthanasia Through Spaying," to promote the cause.

According to O'Neill, two Brentwood boutiques snapped up the clothes within weeks, and there has been steady demand from other retailers who want to see the line. Royal Bitch also launched a website in December.

Those stylist friends who helped design the line have plans to get the clothing onto celebrity bodies--a great form of promo for any brand. Emma Baker, Miss California Teen 2010, did a photo shoot to promote the line last year.

Based on initial sales and his projections, O'Neill expects that he will donate nearly $50,000 to various shelters and spay and neuter organizations this year.

"That will depend on how well the line rolls out, but we've got everything in place and are working hard to make a difference," he says. "People are attracted to the clothing line and to the cause. It's a great combination."

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