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Pam Wheelock always loved cats but was disappointed when she saw that most store-bought toys were made in China from bright, synthetic materials. Since cats and dogs play with toys with their mouths, they ingest toxins from plastic and polyester. Additionally, she knew that dyes were polluting the rivers in China and affecting the people that used those water sources. So, she decided to make her own that would be healthy and fun.
“It may be cute that it looks like a piece of pizza, but it’s not really a fun toy for the cat,” she says. “When I design a toy, I ask myself, ‘what is the goal for the cat playing with this toy?’ Not how can I attract the human to buy the toy for the cat.”
From the beginning, Purrfect Play has been dedicated to a sustainable business model. Wheelock emphasizes social and environmental responsibility in every aspect of her company: from where she sources wool—from small family farms that are pasture-raised and name their sheep—to donating five percent of every sale to rescue organizations.
“If I can’t stick to my values, I don’t see the point in doing it,” she says.
Sticking to her values has kept Purrfect Play running for over a decade. The company not only weathered the financial crisis of 2008, but sales have doubled in 2020 amongst the COVID-19 pandemic. Her advice for growing during tough times is to take it slow and be intentional.
“Take your idea and do something with it, even if it's small. See how that feels to you. Don’t convince yourself you have to survive on it,” she says. “Do it small, do it bootstrapped, learn as you go. When you don’t have a lot of skin in the game, you can afford to make mistakes.”
Keeping the business small also means Purrfect Play only wholesales one product, which is their hemp catnip carrot. Wholesaling requires marking up products five to ten times its cost to produce—and with the quality, organic hemp and cotton Purrfect Play uses, the final cost would be unattainable to the average person. So, Wheelock is happy to stay a maker-to-customer business so she can keep prices affordable for any pet parent.
Purrfect Play is also a longtime member of the Green Business Network at Green America. Wheelock notes how it has played a part in the company's growth over the years.
“Being a part of the Green America community is really important to us, especially in the beginning with the Green Festivals that we would attend and meet other producers,” she says.
Purrfect Play partners with another Green America business member, Mountain Rose Herbs, for their quality catnip. You can find their best-selling hemp catnip carrot on the Mountain Rose Herbs website.
The wool balls and the orca toy are the most popular toys for dogs and the wool dust bunnies for cats are bestsellers. Wheelock estimates thousands go out the door every year.
"A big part of your philosophy is that you can't make people care about the planet, but if they love their pets—and you help them see the value of loving one non-human being in their life—I think that spreads to how people view the planet," says Wheelock.