SOUTH GULF COVE — When Karen Nielsen took her pet therapy dog, Tux, to visit patients in hospital, she would try and make the occasion special by stringing pearls on Tux’s collar or sewing fabric flowers on her leash.
Patients enjoyed the small gestures, Nielsen said.
People started noticing, asking Nielsen if she could make them similar embellishments for their pets’ collars, leashes and harnesses, and a business was born.
Nielsen owns Puppy Love Creations, a home-based business making and selling handmade dog collars, leashes and custom accessories for special occasions such as weddings, where the bridesmaids and dog or cat are color coordinated.
She sells her work at five area locations including Lucky Dog Daycare and Spa, Pampered Pet and the Animal Clinic in Port Charlotte and the Gifted Gator in Punta Gorda.
“Even in this bad economy, people are willing to spend on their pets, luckily for me,” she said.
Ladybugs, dragonflies and patriotic themes with donkeys and elephants are big sellers on collars and leashes, Nielsen said.
“A lot of people are having dogs and cats in their weddings so I’m doing fancy bones, matching bridesmaid colors and sequins,” she said.
Nielsen plans to have a booth at an upcoming bridal expo in January at the Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club, showcasing her new line of special occasion pet accessories in satin, brocades, silks embellished with rhinestones and streamers.
At this point, the business doesn’t generate enough income to be a full-time job. Nielsen works from home as a medical transcriptionist.
“I’m hoping eventually it will turn into a living,” she said. “Right now, it’s a side thing. I just put everything back into the business and it kind of recycles itself.”
Business ownership, however, is not a new thing for Nielsen. She owned a medical transcription company, employing nine workers before moving to Florida.
In addition to the whimsical side of the business, Nielsen found that there’s a serious need for what she does.
She developed a two-handled leash for The Brody Project, a Naples-based organization that offers animal-assisted therapy to facilities working with children and adult patients.
Nielsen was asked to design leashes so patients could hold one handle and dog handlers, another.
“People are sometimes willing to work with a dog rather than a person,” Nielsen said. “I was really honored that they asked me to come up with the design.”
Nielsen’s dog, Tux, has since retired from pet therapy. Rescued from a shelter as a puppy, she is 14, a labrador, golden retriever, beagle and cocker spaniel mix who now works as Nielsen’s model.
Nielsen has another dog, an Australian shepherd named Sydney, who is being groomed in obedience training to eventually do therapy work.
Judy Peter, also a pet therapy dog handler, is familiar with Nielsen’s work and has bought some of the products.
They enhance her experience of her pets, Peter said.
“She makes these wonderful little fabric harnesses that are so cute,” Peter said. “It adds to the animal’s personality, I think. We think, anyway, that they know they look special when they get dressed up. We may be silly but we have a good time.”
For more information, go to www.ppyluv.com or call 732-547-8414.