Just then, LaPlaca spotted his red-nosed pit bull, Blaze, walking around, and inspiration hit. He got up and ran upstairs, where he found an exercise band shaped like a figure-eight that he used for working on rotator cuffs. He grabbed a pair of scissors, and cut the band at the top and bottom, creating an “X” shape.
LaPlaca came running downstairs, put the band on a table in front of Accola and Accola’s wife, Kimberly, and said, “This is it! “
They responded with, “This is what?’ ”
It was what would become Dog-O-Band.
LaPlaca had fashioned an exercise band for dogs that would tie around their legs and provide resistance when they walked. Laughing, he tied it to his dog’s legs. “The dog looked at us like, ‘enough wine, already,’” says Accola. “It started hopping around, but then it got its stride again. It clicked, and we thought, ‘Wow, we might have something here.’”
If exercise bands could help people build muscle and strengthen joints, why wouldn’t they work for dogs? “A muscle is a muscle, a joint is a joint, and a tendon is a tendon,” says LaPlaca, Getting an energy-burning workout could help overweight dogs shed pounds, neurotic dogs calm down, and older dogs stay fit. It could also help dogs recover from surgery. Another benefit: A healthy dog means fewer vet bills.
In theory, that might be true, but surgical vets and rehab therapists will want to see scientific evidence that the band is safe and effective—particularly as a post-operative rehab tool, according to Dr. Melissa Flanagan, DVM of the Newburgh Veterinary Hospital in Newburgh, N.Y.
“There’s a longstanding practice using thera-bands to rework the muscles after surgery,” says Flanagan. “They’ve taken the idea to another level—using the dog itself, instead of a person, to provide resistance. I’d want to see what happens over the course of a few years. It may put extra strain on the joints, because now the dogs are moving in a more restrictive manner.”
On that summer night nearly four years ago, however, the brothers-in-law weren’t sure they had a marketable idea, let alone a potentially beneficial one. After seeing Blaze walk in LaPlaca’s rudimentary band, they ran the computer to search for doggie exercise products. All that came up were treadmills and water pools. So over the next three months, they got together and half-seriously sketched out their invention, which they dubbed Dog-O-Band. “We joked and laughed about it, but we always came up with new ideas,” says Accola.
At the point they felt they had something worth showing, they went to LaPlaca’s good friend and client, Jeff Spitz, president of Snapco Manufacturing Corp. They were looking for guidance, know-how, and most important, backing. Spitz was enthusiastic. Snapco, a family business in Hillside, N.J., makes snap-fasteners and other closures for the apparel industry—but its manufacturer in Boston could easily turn out rubber canine exercise bands, too.
The timing was bad, however. Spitz was going through a divorce and had too much on his plate to take on a start-up, according to Accola. So Accola and LaPlaca shelved their Dog-o-Band idea, perhaps forever. They had done everything they could up until that point. Accola had called the United States Patent and Trademark Office and done a search for any similar patents. When nothing turned up, he sent in an application form, a product sketch, and a check for $105, and received a provisionary patent. He and LaPlaca had also formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), but they never opened a corporate bank account. There was no reason to; they had nothing to put it in. Without funding, they were done. They had no capital behind them. “We couldn’t even refinance our houses,” adds Accola.