The pet industry is strong, and due in large part, we can thank women for that. Whether it because they’re making the purchase decisions at home, inventing products to solve a problem, putting on trade shows or running a company, women bolster the pet industry. To recognize the impact women have on the pet industry, Pet Age presents its fourth annual Women of Influence Awards, honoring the women leaders who are influential in the pet manufacturing or servicing
Of course, making your way to a position of leadership within a company or starting your own business can be difficult. And, as the stats show, even more so for women because of the gender barriers in place—in fact, many women on this list brought up the pressure to “have it all” and the difficulties of balancing a work and family life. But as former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm reminded women, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” It seems as though Pet Age’s 2018 Women of Influence winners certainly had their folding chairs ready. And so whether they had a seat or had to make their own, these women made it to the decision-making roles in their companies. And because of their continued passion, drive, dedication, commitment and impact to the pet industry over the years, we honor these 44 women leaders.
Many women on this list got their start because of their passion for animals. Unfenced Animal Health President Karen Padgett grew up on a farm and couldn’t imagine life without pets; Health Extension Operations Manager Liz Page would bring injured or sick animals home and nurse them back to health as she grew up. For some, there was a defining event that gave them their start in the industry. Karen Neola, CEO of My Perfect Pet Inc, started her frozen pet food company after losing her dog to contaminated pet food in 2007.
No matter the reason behind the pet industry career, a common trend in these women’s answers was that a fellow women had been their role model. International Boarding & Pet Services Association founder and CEO Carmen Rustenbeck, Pura Naturals Pet VP of Sales and Marketing Julie Creed and many others cited their mothers as being their biggest influences and supporters. Several others pointed to celebrity female business pioneers as their role models. Several winners mentioned Oprah Winfrey as a source of inspiration while Kerrie Fitzgerald, owner and founder of The Dapper Dog Box LLC, listed Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp as the person to whom she looks up. Many were fortunate enough to have women to look to for guidance, and many winners want to be that for the next generation of women leaders. Marian Thielsen, associate vice president of Sales and Marketing for American Pet Products Association (APPA) started the APPA Professional Women’s Network, which has more than 800 members. Lorraine Moore, owner and CEO of Avian Fashions, hires women who are looking to get back in the workforce after having children as well as teenage girls who are hoping to gain work experience. So it looks like women’s influence on the pet industry’s success is not slowing down anytime soon.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges: Jones Naturals, LLC CEO Michelle Higdon, media relations expert Johanna E. Hunt and former Phillips Pet Food & Supplies chief marketing officer Sheryl Maher.
Congratulations to all the winners!
2018 Pet Age Women of Influence Lifetime Achievement Award: Susan Goldstein
Few people in the pet industry have had as profound an impact on animals as Susan Goldstein, co-founder and co-CEO of Earth Animal in Southport, Connecticut.
In 1971, Susan and her husband, Dr. Bob Goldstein, opened their conventional veterinary practice in Yorktown Heights, New York. Upon noticing the excessive amount of chronic diseases and the persistent use of strong medications to control the symptoms but not cure the condition, the couple became disillusioned.
“We had a transforming experience with our golden retriever, Leigh, who was crippled with hip dysplasia and arthritis at 7 years of age,” Susan said when she won her 2017 Pet Age Women of Influence Award. “And all our efforts with strong medications and surgeries were not working.”
She encouraged her veterinarian husband to try a holistic approach on their dog and, according to Susan, “in six months Leigh was running like a puppy, in no pain, his grey muzzle turned red and Leigh lived pain free to 17 years of age!”
Since then, Susan opened the first natural health food store for dogs and cats, selling pet products that followed the same holistic philosophy that the couple used to treat Leigh. In the late 1980s, after having expanded to seven pet stores, the couple developed their own veterinarian-formulated line of holistic pet products, including a natural herbal flea and tick collar, natural pet foods and numerous vitamins and supplements, which are sold in 5000 stores across all 50 U.S. states and Canada.
Today, the Earth Animal name is associated with organic foods and other natural products that help provide a healthy quality of life for pets. In addition to winning a Women of Influence Award, Susan was also a recipient of Pet Age’s 2017 ICON Award.
Chief Executive Officer
Job responsibility: Executive Leadership
Company description: Petmate provides fun, trusted, quality products to enhance the lives of pets and their families.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always been a people-person and an animal lover. The pet industry provides the best combination of enhancing the lives of pets and pet parents. When a pet’s life is improved, the owner’s life is improved, and I believe Petmate’s passion for providing the tools to enhance a pet-centric family’s life is one of the reasons why I get excited to work in this industry every day.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? As the CEO, I believe it is a collective effort from my team that makes the biggest impact and contribution to the pet industry. We, as a company, are passionate about pets and believe it’s important to not just be manufacturers of great products, but partners and collaborators to those on the receiving end of our brands. Whether it’s distributors or consumers, we are not just making a transaction with the products we sell—we are opening the dialogue for our partners and consumers to provide the insights needed to make their lives better.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? I am passionate about empowering women. I’m passionate about sharing my experiences and teaching women the value of taking risks and making decisions with confidence. When I first started out in business, it was mostly a male-dominated industry, so it’s refreshing to see women, particularly in the pet industry, have leadership roles and have a common understanding of what it takes to be a successful manager.
Job responsibility: Pet Care Services
Company description: Woofie’s is a premier provider of pet sitting, dog walking and mobile pet spa services in Northern Virginia.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Being pet owners all our lives, [co-owner Leslie Barron and I] were frequently called upon by friends, neighbors, business associates and family members to care for their pets while they were out of town. We realized that the level of professional service we were providing was one that otherwise did not exist in our community. So we decided to follow our hearts, leave the corporate world and devote ourselves full-time to our passion: caring for animals as a full-time profession.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? The pet sitting, dog walking and mobile grooming business has evolved quite a bit over the past few decades. It is no longer considered a nice hobby or simply something fun to do because you love animals. This is a real, professional, licensed business with major liabilities and responsibilities. This business is all about taking responsibility and accountability and going the extra mile for the clients… We feel our biggest contribution to the pet industry is bringing national attention to our industry and the professionalism that is required to be successful in it.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? My mother, Joan Gerlacher was our biggest champion and supporter when we made the decision to leave corporate and start Woofie’s 13+ years ago. She was with us every step of the way—offering advice, providing a supportive ear when we were challenged, giving us unbiased feedback and cheering us on with our accomplishments.
Sr. Vice President
American Pet Products Association (APPA)
Job responsibility: Member relations and business development
Company description: The pet product trade association offers Global Pet Expo and services to support its members, promotes responsible pet ownership and the welfare of pets.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Much of my career has been in association management, and I wanted to be in an industry that was poised for growth. What I found attractive about the pet products industry is that it is amazingly supportive of emerging companies and new ideas, which keeps it fresh and vibrant. I knew it would be an industry where I could make good use of my varied skill set and do what I love to do: help people and companies advance to their greatest potential.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I’ve produced the National Pet Owners Survey for 20 years and work hard to ensure that it always provides high-quality, actionable data so that the industry can react quickly to market trends and satisfy pet owners’ preferences.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? My decision to expand APPA’s international offerings has had an incredibly positive impact on APPA and Global Pet Expo. Establishing international pavilions at Global Pet Expo was a launchpad for engaging more countries in APPA membership and drawing more international interest for exhibitors at Global Pet Expo.
Bark Fifth Avenue
Job responsibility: Owner
Company description: High-end luxury dog boutique
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always had a passion for fashion and, of course, a passion for dogs! Being in the fashion industry since age 4, walking runways and dressing up animals is something I’ve done since childhood. I love fashion and I love animals, so I thought, “Why not have the best of both worlds?” Thus, Bark Fifth Avenue was created.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I believe that my biggest contribution to pet owners is the trusting relationships that I build with each client. They know that they can count on me to provide knowledge and unparalleled customer service, resulting in repeat customers and referrals.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? I believe we as an industry should continue to focus on the health and wellness of our beloved pets and our customers’ pets. We need to continue to learn so that we can continue to educate our customers on the latest benefits in diet, veterinary care, and even holistic services such as K-Laser therapy and acupuncture. I would also like to see more of a focus not only on the humanization of pets, but also the premiumization of our pets and our customers’ pets.
Founder & Consultant
Pet Boss Nation
Job responsibility: Pet business consultant
Company description: Consulting company; bringing higher profits to pet businesses through inventory planning, cash flow road maps, sales strategies, marketing and team development.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Pets have power! I truly believe pets have massive impact on our lives. That’s why I fell in love with being a retailer and doggy daycare provider. There’s no other industry that has our sense of community and relationships between business and clients like we do.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution to the pet industry is Pet Boss Nation. While we are only in our first year, I’ve helped thousands of pet business owners connect with each other to grow and trained hundreds of small businesses to see successes through our programs.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? Investing in myself. Whether it was hiring a consultant, a personal trainer, taking an online course, investing in a big conference or even working with a dog trainer… taking the time to develop my skills (from actual learning of processes to mindset stuff) was a game changer.
Founder & CEO
International Boarding & Pet Services Association
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Job responsibility: Building and supporting a member-centered organization
Company description: IBPSA is a professional association that provides business resources, industry expertise, staff education and training, certifications, and legislative support for the pet care services industry.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? After having the privilege of working with the founder and executive director of a pet services association and seeing how passionate pet care service providers are about the pets in their care, I knew this was an industry I wanted to work in. Their passion inspires me on a daily basis.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution has been developing an association that provides comprehensive education, business resources and information. In addition, we focus on best practices for the care of pets and provide a forum where business owners can network in a supportive environment.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? My mom is my most influential role model. She was an example of ethical behavior and honesty in every area of her life. Even though she did not work outside the home, she did volunteer work and performed as if it was a paid position.
Job responsibility: Polkadog wholesale, business development, product development
Company description: Polkadog is a wholesale manufacturing kitchen that sells healthy, handcrafted treats to specialty pet shops across the globe.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Inspired by our one-eyed rescue dog, Pearl, my college friend, Rob, and I created an art installation of a dog bakery in our artist loft during open studios where we created a kitchen environment, blared polka music and Rob wore a big goofy baker’s hat. People loved it. That was the spark that set off Polkadog.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? The concept of community and sustainability is certainly the most important to me. It’s so much a part of how and why we started Polkadog. And it’s something that I continue to work toward every day… How can we work more sustainably by using more sustainable ingredients and practices? We ask this question whenever we start working on something new.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? Max! I founded Polkadog 16 years ago. My son, Max, is almost 3 years old, and he’s the most amazing, insane, beautiful being I could ever imagine… Women are always expected to be champions at balancing work with family, but in the business world, it’s not about balance. Women are expected to choose… But it doesn’t work that way, at least it doesn’t for me. I have to believe that family is all the time, and I have to believe that business is all the time.
CEO & Top Dog
Villa Rica, Georgia
Job responsibility: Instructor, author, wearer of all tails
Company description: Sunny-dog Ink empowers humans with the skills, tools and confidence they need to prepare for whatever emergency their pet may encounter.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? When [my dog] Sunny was 8, she experienced a back injury and compelled me to want to learn everything possible about helping an animal in need. Longing to be by her side, I left my job and jumped on the bandwagon, learning and teaching pet first aid, creating the curriculum as I practiced and learned some more and have now taught more than 15,000 humans animal life-saving skills.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My greatest personal contributions are making a difference in the life of an animal and when I’m able to teach the next generation of animal caregivers to do the same.
What is something daring or scary you’ve done? Speaking on topics not in my comfort zone has challenged me, but asking four people how they would describe me so that I could learn more about myself was scarier! It could have gone either way, but when I read what they each wrote, my eyes flooded with happy tears while my heart grew three sizes. I’ve always been surrounded by the best of animals, but am bursting with gratitude for having attracted such amazing humans into my life.
Eden Gonzalez Hass
Job responsibility: Oversee company and finances
Company description: Since 1995, Petsport has been a leading supplier of pet toys and accessories. Petsport is a company dedicated to providing the very latest in pet toys that encourage exercise and stimulate the bodies and minds of pets and the people that love them.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My inspiration was my first dog, Daisy. When we couldn’t find the best for our girl, we made it ourselves. Starting with hip, patterned collars, mountain climbing rope leashes, travel water bowls, a treat training pouch and then tennis ball toys.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Making safe toys for pets a priority. We were the first to make non-toxic and non-abrasive tennis balls specifically for dogs, starting the tennis toy category in pet in 1996. Petsport Tuff balls continue to be the highest quality tennis balls sold worldwide.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? Giving back. I have been blessed to be able to work in the pet industry for over 20 years, in an industry I love. I am fortunate enough to be able to give back by donating to animal rescues and welfare organizations since our inception.
Job responsibility: Marketing
Company description: CANIDAE has been making great foods for our pets and yours since 1996.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? It was just a natural evolution. Growing up, I loved animals and tried to rescue every stray around. I rode horses for about 12 years and loved it. Then my family bought a pet store, so I worked there during summers and college breaks, which eventually led to an outside sales role. The rest is history.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Growing up in the industry, working on the retail side of the business, then being an outside sales representative for a number of years allowed me to blend a few perspectives into one unique way of viewing our pet food, why we do it and how we market it. I look at each product through the eyes of the consumer and the retailer, not only us as the manufacturer.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? Sustainability. Not just from the pet industry, but from the world at large. The planet has limited resources—the sooner and more thoroughly we address this, the better off future generations will be. I love working for a company that is already doing our part to be more responsible about ingredient production and sourcing and only see good things in the years to come.
Job responsibility: Product development in all categories and key account sales.
Company description: PetRageous Designs is all about designing fun pet products that are whimsical, safe and put a smile on the owner’s face as well as the pet’s face.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I had been a housewares buyer for 20 years in department stores, off price and for catalogers. I actually bought human dinnerware for most of that time and decided, why shouldn’t pets have really fun dishes to eat out of just like their owners do?… After about three years finishing out the pet feeding area, I fell back on my college degree in textiles and clothing and at the persistence of one of my buyers started to develop the pet clothing line for the company.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution has been putting a lot of fun and fashion into each product line that goes into the pet owner’s home. We also keep safety and function front of mind. If we can make the owners smile, we do know the pets smile, too.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? My favorite animal is a dog. There is just nothing better than that little four-legged guy getting over the top excited about seeing you anytime you are gone—even if it’s a quick trip to the mailbox! We are so lucky at PRD being able to bring our dogs to the office and watch them every day do whatever is on their mind. They honestly have everyone laughing at some point in the day.
Job responsibility: Founder/Owner/Driving Force
Company description: Holistic Hound offers an acclaimed line of veterinarian-formulated treats and oils rich in organic, U.S.-grown CBD and medicinal mushrooms to help improve the health, wellness and longevity of dogs and cats.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My dog, Pearl. Getting her changed my life and I became immersed in the world of all things dog. Pearl was the first puppy I had had in 25 years and everything about pet ownership had changed dramatically, especially regarding nutrition and training. I loved all that I was learning and how my life changed as a result of having her. After a 20-year career in the corporate world, I was clear that the next and final stage of my career would be driven by my purpose and passion. A retail store was how I thought I could best blend my two passions: health/nutrition and animals.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My compassion, knowledge and genuine desire to help animals thrive through proper nutrition, training, love and play.
What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Holistic health—treating illness and disease from a holistic perspective by considering body, mind and spirit. Anything else just doesn’t make sense.
World Pet Association
Job responsibility: President
Company description: World Pet Association (WPA) brings the pet world together so quality interaction and education between and among product suppliers and pet owners can create healthier, happier pets and a healthier, more productive pet industry.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? The home I grew up in was located just at the outskirt of an industrial town where my father was a gentleman farmer. At home, we pretty much had all pets and farm animals you can think of. I loved it!
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Over my years in the veterinary and pet industries, I made sure animals and pets are the focal point of what I’m doing, but my business and marketing education also influences me to do so while promoting a healthy livelihood for those providing the products and services to our beloved animals.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? For the past 25 years, my true passions have been my work and my family, and oftentimes they clashed and it was difficult to balance. I like to believe I succeeded when looking at my four adult children, all out of college and on their way to their own fulfilling lives.
California Dog Supplements
Los Angeles, California
Job responsibility: Head of Sales & Operations
Company description: Human grade supplements for dogs made in small batches, locally in Los Angeles.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My dog Henri inducted me into the dog community in Chicago and then later Los Angeles. I knew that dog people constitute the only club I’d ever join. I became a dog trainer and specialized in Puppy Training, because who doesn’t love being around puppies?!
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My supplement line, California Dog Supplements. I saw there was a lacking, and also an opportunity, to help people contribute to their dog’s well-being for a fair price. My customers’ dogs have been flourishing with my human grade supplements, made in Los Angeles where I can oversee every detail of production.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? To start playing tennis again. Staying physically healthy and strong so I can sustain 12-hour days is essential. It’s no surprise that tennis also has the language of life: love, advantage, fault, ace.
CEO and Founder
Job responsibility: Lead strategy and vision
Company description: FetchFind is an online training platform for pet care businesses.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I wanted to create businesses that celebrated the bond that people have with animals while also providing the highest quality service to all my clients—pets and people.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Developing products and services that help professionalize pet care services by making training more accessible to everyone in the business. When pet care is treated as a meaningful and desirable profession, it leads to greater safety, higher industry standards and more humane treatment of all animals.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? Any pet living in my house at the time of this question being asked. For the record, today’s answer is a collie, a Chihuahua mix, a cat and a rat.
Wet Noses Inc.
Job responsibility: President
Company description: Creator and producer of organic, human grade dog food and treats.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I had a puppy, and I transitioned her to natural (homemade) food. There were no treats that I could buy that I felt were natural, so I made them myself. People and dogs responded so positively that I decided to create a product and essentially pioneered the natural/ organic pet treat category at age 15.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Innovation, speed to market and offering a product that has very little negative impact on the environment. We have launched recycling and composting programs, and we always look for ways to be more environmentally responsible.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? The decision to expand our product assortment and manufacturing capabilities. It allows us to serve a wider audience and is a lot of fun!
South St. Paul, Minnesota
Job responsibility: To steer the Sojos ship
Company description: Sojos manufactures high-quality food and treats with the mission of transforming the lives of pets through the power of raw nutrition and uncompromised farm-fresh ingredients.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Beyond a lifetime love of pets, I wanted to join a purpose-driven industry. Purpose + Passion + People. The pet industry has some of the most passionate, dedicated people joined together for the purpose of enhancing the lives of pets. It’s incredible!
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My role as business leader and coach at Petco and now at Sojos not only is my greatest contribution, but also my greatest reward. I’ve had the opportunity to lead and mentor amazingly talented people and have had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from many partners to grow categories and brands.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? I love dolphins for their beauty, grace, and intelligence. They are an incredible animal… And I am jealous they have the vast and magnificent ocean as their home!
Vice President of Sales
Job responsibility: Oversee the sales team and develop strategic sales plans to achieve company goals and ensure customer satisfaction for the organization.
Company description: Innovator in premium pet nutrition for dogs and cats with a unique channel differentiation strategy to support our indie partners.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My passion and love of all animals.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Providing education and awareness on the benefit of feeding the best quality nutrition and living an active, healthy lifestyle with our four-legged babies.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? Transparency in sourcing and formulations. A better understanding of what manufacturing partners are truly committed to long-term, healthy relationships with retailers.
Vice President, Marketing
Job responsibility: Customer marketing, media, promotions, events
Company description: PetSmart, Inc. is the largest specialty pet retailer of services and solutions for the lifetime needs of pets.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I moved from Chicago to the Phoenix area in 2001, and my plan was to do everything in my power to get a job at PetSmart. I’ve always loved the fast-paced nature of retail and was passionate about pets. PetSmart was (and is) very focused in the pet advocacy space, and they were doing this important cause work long before it was popular. Six months after I moved to Phoenix, I was hired as one of the first marketing managers for the company.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? PetSmart has always been dedicated to pets and their specific needs… In 2012, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work for PetSmart Charities, leading its marketing and fundraising efforts. In this role I helped drive awareness of PetSmart Charities, and now back with PetSmart, Inc., we are working to tell that story in meaningful and impactful ways.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? The most influential person in my career is my former CMO, John Alpaugh, who worked at PetSmart for 16 years and was the person that hired me as a marketing manager back in 2002. He taught me that thinking strategically was just as important as operational excellence.
VP Sales & Marketing
Pura Naturals Pet
Job responsibility: Sales, marketing and PR
Company description: Pura Naturals Pet manufactures eco-friendly and USDA certified organic shampoos and conditioners, health and wellness, stairs, pads and bowls that are USA-made.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always loved animals, and it was vitally important for me to work in an industry that I believed in and was equally passionate about. I remember experiencing my first pet trade show and it was clear I was among others that share this same love of animals and creating products for our family pets.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I get to educate retailers, groomers and pet owners on healthy and organic solutions for their pets’ wellness and how Pura Naturals Pet is different, sharing with them the science behind many of their favorite USDA Organic products we’ve developed. I also get to communicate with them our philanthropy efforts and ways that they can get involved.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? My mother is my role model; early on she fostered the importance of kindness, a hard work ethic and looking out for others. She showed the need of balance between work and family, which isn’t always easy when you’re a single mom… she also instilled my “can-do” attitude and supported me in efforts that sometimes seemed much larger than me.
My Perfect Pet Inc
Job responsibility: CEO
Company description: My Perfect Pet cooks frozen dog and cat foods with 100 percent human grade ingredients, gently baked proteins plus fresh produce. They are nutritionally complete, balanced and delicious!
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? After losing my Lab, Hunter, to contaminated pet food early January 2007, I felt angry and betrayed by commercial pet food companies and found myself driven to create a healthier and safer product for my own “kids”… Most people thought I had gone overboard at first, but as the pet food recall headlines began appearing in March , I suddenly had a high demand product meeting a market need, and My Perfect Pet was born.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Education. Quality. Food Safety. Transparency. My mission statement hasn’t changed since January 2007: Improving pet health through education and nutrition. My Perfect Pet has led the charge for transparency in pet food ingredients and operations.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? The domestic dog… My dogs have all been certified as therapy dogs, and I have seen miracles happen on the other end of the leash—from seniors who are almost unresponsive until their hand begins petting the dog, to children who are better able to focus attention and learn better in the presence of a dog, to trauma victims who are only able to express their fears to a dog, the list goes on.
Unfenced Animal Health
Overland Park, Kansas
Job responsibility: Partnering with animal health companies to help deliver business growth
Company description: UNFENCED is the animal health division of JNA Advertising, a full-service agency headquartered in Kansas City, helping companies break through market challenges to deliver business results.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Growing up on a farm, animals were always a part of my daily life. Once in college, it seemed like a natural move to combine my love of animals, math and science into a veterinary degree, which started my path within the pet industry. From veterinary practice, to pet food, to pharmaceuticals, to business consulting, I’ve been extremely lucky to be a part of so many aspects of the pet industry.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution to pet owners was helping them keep their loved ones healthy and safe. As I transitioned into a more commercial role, instead of the one-on-one health impact, I’ve helped develop and market products that have contributed to the health care of pets across the globe.
What is something you are totally passionate about and why? Helping manufacturers, veterinarians and pet parents find that “sweet spot” where they can all work in lock-step to do what is truly best for the pet’s physical and mental health… I’m passionate about helping all three partners see the pet care world from a slightly different perspective so that in the end, the pet can truly benefit.
Owner & Founder
The Dapper Dog Box LLC
Job responsibility: Operations, sales and marketing
Company description: The Dapper Dog Box is a subscription service for the modern day pet parent. We focus on healthy and safe products.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My dog Asha! I rescued a beautiful black Lab mix puppy six years ago, and she has completely changed my life. I always loved dogs and wanted to be involved with them in some capacity, so after some serious thought, I decided to start The Dapper Dog Box.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Two things! 1. Introducing pet parents to amazing products by smaller or boutique companies. 2. The impact we make to help rescue and shelter dogs… For me, this is gold! We are a small business but being able to directly help these dogs is the most rewarding thing for me.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? Katia Beauchamp, CEO of Birchbox. I am in awe of everything she has been able to do. She had a unique idea and it turned out to be so brilliant! Birchbox is the reason subscription boxes exist today and, as a women entrepreneur, I just have so much respect for her.
Founder & CEO
K. Sutherland PR
Job responsibility: Oversee and execute public relations and digital campaigns on behalf of clients.
Company description: A public relations agency representing modern pet and lifestyle brands.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Working with animals inspired me to get into the pet industry, and working with pet industry people keeps me in this industry. I find that all involved really love their jobs and believe in the work they do, so that makes my job easy to help them. I say this all the time, but I’ve always felt that the pet industry really chose me.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I am very proud of the work we do at K. Sutherland PR, and view our clients—90 percent of whom come from referrals—as invaluable partners. We sustain long-term, successful client relationships because of our very personalized approach to PR that ultimately produces meaningful results. When we’re successful, our clients are successful. And when our clients’ businesses grow, that grows the industry as a whole.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? The best professional decision I’ve made in the last five years is to put my heart and soul into my agency, my people, and my clients. I love my job and my life.
International Association of Pet Fashion Professionals/Left Paw Press
Job responsibility: My primary job function is to develop and manage educational and entertainment programs, books and products for the International Association of Pet Fashion Professionals and Left Paw Press.
Company description: Pet Fashion Professionals creates educational tools for those enhancing lives with pets through pet fashion. Left Paw Press produces pet fashion, children’s, race-related and medical books.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My first rescue pug, White Pines Tuttie, is the first dog that I dressed up, put clippy earrings on, and even my grandmother’s lipstick. The joy of making her a pet fashionista before it was even a ‘thing’ is my motivation for wanting people’s lives to be enriched through pet fashion. My son, Zachary Tinkle, was the catalyst for Left Paw Press in 2008. We would put the names of our pug in nursery rhymes. He said, “You should put that in a book.”
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I feel my biggest contribution to the pet business is increasing the awareness of pet fashion as a valid segment of the industry by talking about pet fashion on media outlets like FOX Business.
What is something daring you’ve done? Several years ago, I got together with a group of girlfriends and we decided to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and go skydiving. That’s probably the most daring thing that I’ve done.
Director of Sales, U.S. Private Brands
Simmons Pet Food
Siloam Springs, Arkansas
Job responsibility: Sales
Company description: Simmons Pet Food is a leading North American private-label and contract manufacturer of wet and dry pet food and treats.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? After working for over 15 years in private brand beverages and frozen food, I was offered a sales opportunity in private brand pet food. For the past 12 years I have combined my experience in private brands with quality pet food and have not looked back.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution to the pet business is my dedication to our customers and, by extension, to their consumers/pet parents, and ultimately their pets. I work every day to bring our customers the highest quality pet food, in the right package and format, at the best possible price.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? I am totally passionate about women in business, especially in the store brand industry. I am on the board of directors of WISE (Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence), an organization founded by women, to promote diversity and inclusion within the store brands industry. I also participate on a committee that recently launched an internal group, Women at Simmons. Women at Simmons will facilitate professional development, networking and mentoring opportunities for women within our organization.
Job responsibility: Master Stylist/Lead Stylist
Company description: Pet grooming and boutique
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I grew up around animals and had a deep love for them at an early age. I began with show horses and from there got interested in dogs and grooming while working for a vet. Grooming just seemed to come naturally—it combined my passion for animals with my artistic nature.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I feel my biggest contribution is teaching. I really believe that sharing knowledge and encouraging those in the industry to continue education is vital to presenting our profession as a serious one.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? I can only speak for the grooming industry, but we need regulations for groomers made BY groomers. Right now, anyone can hang a sign and call themselves a groomer without any formal training. Regulation is coming, like it or not, and we need to get involved to make sure it’s for the best.
Deer Park, New York
Job responsibility: Operations
Company description: Health Extension provides independent pet store owners with products they can be proud to sell as their own at the best possible price, while giving pets the nutrition they need and retailers the competitive advantage they need to thrive.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always been passionate about animals. As a child, I was that kid that brought home all the injured or sick animals I found and tried to nurse them back to health. I always knew that I would end up working with animals in some way. Being in a company that has the same mindset as me with a focus on clean and natural nutrition for our fur babies is the perfect fit for me.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I would say it is having the opportunity to work in a company where I am part of a management team where I can have input in the development of products that have major benefits for the health and wellness of animals. I am in a position to work closely with our various vendor partners and customers to ensure transparency in our various supply chain efforts. It feels good being able to help Health Extension in doing our part to sustain the environment for a healthy planet.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? Orcas are by far my favorite animal. Not only are they beautiful, but they are also extremely intelligent and powerful creatures. They simply amaze me.
Owner / CEO
Job responsibility: Oversees most of the business operations, working closely with product development, marketing, manufacturing and customer care.
Company description: Avian Fashions is the home of the revolutionary Bird Diaper FlightSuit. The company has expanded to offer hundreds of exclusive wearables.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? As a military family, we moved around a lot and, in 1996, we were faced with a cross country move from San Diego, California, to the East Coast. So after a great deal of trial and error, I developed the first FlightSuit prototype. My goal: to allow my birds out of their cages more without sacrificing the furniture and give them some freedom in the car during our move.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? When I invented the bird diaper over 20 years ago, little did we know that it would have such a positive impact on bird ownership. Back in 1997, it was heresy to put a diaper on a bird and our families thought we were a little crazy. But it improved our lives so much, I knew it could help others as well—it was about educating people.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? For me, it isn’t all about the birds! It’s also about the talented and supportive team of women that I am privileged to work with. Most of our employees are women and teenage girls. Many are neighbors who were looking to get back to work after raising children. The teenagers get valuable work experience and the college-aged come back to help in the summers. I am passionate about surrounding ourselves with positive people and practicing gratitude.
Founder and CEO
Dezi & Roo
Job responsibility: CEO
Company description: Dezi & Roo, Just for Cats designs and manufactures innovative products for discerning cat owners.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? As a veterinarian passionate about the human-animal bond, I wanted to find a bigger way to help owners and their cats than I could one-on-one in the exam room. By designing products that help cats cope better with the stresses of living life within four walls, I am able to provide owners with innovative ways to keep their beloved kitties happier and healthier.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution to the pet business is designing and creating products that help cats express their natural and normal instincts while living indoors. This helps strengthen the bond they have with their owners and contributes to their overall health and well-being.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? I am totally passionate about cats. They are incredible creatures with the power to change lives and this is one of the many reasons I have devoted my life to them as an owner, veterinarian and pet product specialist.
Associate Vice President, Sales & Marketing
American Pet Products Association
Job responsibility: Sales and marketing
Company description: APPA is the leading trade association in the pet industry. Our mission is to promote responsible pet care and advance the pet products industry.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I have always been an animal lover and pet owner. I am lucky to say that the pet industry found me! I was in the midst of changing careers and stumbled upon an ad for an opening at APPA. I went on an interview and was hired shortly after that. It was the best decision I ever made and I have been the happiest ever since!
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? About 10 years ago, I started the first ever women’s group in the pet industry, the APPA Professional Women’s Network. Now we have over 800 members and growing. Women are contributing to the pet industry at every level. It is amazing to see it grow and prosper.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? I have so many important people in my life—a strong family bond, the greatest husband on Earth and my awesome APPA family. But the one person that has been a big influence in my life is my best friend Liz. We’ve been friends for over 40 years and she’s been there through the good and the bad times—more good. Liz is that great role model we all admire and try to achieve.
Mary Margaret Callahan
Sr. National Director, Program Development
Job responsibility: Oversight of the Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program
Company description: Pet Partners’ mission is to improve human health and well-being through the human-animal bond. Our Therapy Animal Program delivers more than 3 million visits annually.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? As the daughter of a veterinarian, I grew up with a strong appreciation for the human-animal bond and tacitly understood that pets enhanced my life. When I had the opportunity to bring my skills as a non-profit professional to the field of animal-assisted interventions, I recognized what a wonderful opportunity it was.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? What I have worked to bring to Pet Partners is an emphasis on standards all therapy animal teams should have in order to protect access to visits for those who need it most.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? Our family moved to a small farm outside Seattle three years ago, and it has been a wonderful change. Now, in addition to our two cats and two dogs, we have chickens, ducks, a small herd of miniature goats and a miniature donkey. I’m glad my daughter can grow up spending lots of time outside with our pets. I hope it instills in her a lifelong love of and respect for animals.
Director of Product Development and Key Account Specialist
Penn-Plax Pet Products
Hauppauge, New York
Job responsibility: Director of product development and sales representative
Company description: For almost 60 years, Penn-Plax has been associated with innovative, quality pet products. Our extensive line of products is marketed throughout the USA and internationally.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I am the third generation of Penn-Plax and my childhood was incorporated into the company and the love of animals. We had pets of all kinds, and responsibilities to care for them. I made the decision to make pets my future when I was in college, steering my education towards it by focusing on international business and management, and Chinese language.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I have run the Product Development department at Penn-Plax for six years and I have had a major role in creating hundreds of items that are enjoyed by pets and their families all over the world.
What is something daring or scary you’ve done? My passion for the ocean and fish life have inspired me to become a certified SCUBA diver. I recently decided to go on my first night and wreck dive. Viewing this dark world by flashlight certainly got my heart racing—you never know what is outside the scope of your flashlight. I was lucky enough to see lifeforms ranging from the glowing phytoplankton, venomous lionfish, and sea turtles to eightfoot nurse sharks.
Michelle Guglielmo Gilliam
Point Taken Communications
Job responsibility: President
Company description: Marketing, PR and web design for pet products and services
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Because my brother was born six years after me, my two childhood cats were like siblings, so I have always had a passion for animals. When I moved to Jacksonville, Florida, my neighborhood was overrun with stray dogs and cats. I joined a grassroots rescue organization, applying my marketing, PR and event production knowledge to help the organization raise funds.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My biggest contribution to the pet industry has been utilizing my marketing, PR and web design skills to help animals in need. Whether it is supporting a nonprofit organization or facilitating donations to a nonprofit pet-related charity through a for-profit client, helping animals in need is my proudest achievement.
What is the best decision you’ve made in the last five years, and why? The best decision I made in the last five years was to have a child. My son has Down syndrome and is a ray of light, bringing smiles to the faces of everyone he meets. In fact, having him gave me the courage to start my own business and grow it to help marketing pet products and services.
Owner and founder
G.O.A.T Pet Products
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Job responsibility: Owner and operator
Company description: G.O.A.T. Pet Products features innovative creations for your furry friend, including gluten-free G.O.A.T. Milk Dog Treats and the G.O.A.T. Pet Speaker. Ever wish your pet could talk? Well, mission accomplished—as seen on “Shark Tank”!
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My love and passion that pets are family. I knew in order to love what I do, it had to be in the pet industry. At G.O.A.T. Pet Products, we want to bring the best products together in one place, and give pet parents the confidence to know that what we offer is exactly what they are looking for—Greatest Of All Time.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I am a big advocate of networking and devote time to sharing my wins, losses and experiences with other pet product companies that reach out to me for advice. We can all learn from one another and be a support system for each other.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry and why? Many adoption events have a long approval process. With the technology that’s available today and everyone’s busy schedules, I feel if that process could be expedited on the spot, then more dogs and cats would be adopted.
President and Founder
American Pet Professionals
Babylon, New York
Job responsibility: President
Company description: American Pet Professionals is a national business networking, educational and multimedia organization for the pet industry—educating, uniting, referring, connection and helping all pet professionals since 2009.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? The easy answer would be my dog Shanna, an incredibly smart and sweet Doberman, who I learned so much from and who inspired me every day. My passion for starting the business I work in today was uniting and bringing together pet professionals from all areas of the industry to learn from each other, work together, inspire and uplift each other.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? For pet owners, providing information on a regular basis that will help them and their pets, and have fun, too. For pet businesses… I strive to provide the best, most up to date information to them to have more successful businesses and learn from the nearly 100 speakers we have had at our in-person events.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? I love what I do so much that it never feels like work, and we get to work with our pets and the people who love them daily. Outside of the industry, I have been a lifelong photographer and it is a passion of mine and a creative outlet. Admittedly, there are a lot of dogs (and wildlife) in my photos.
Owner and founder
Bone Appetit Natural Pet Pantry
Job responsibility: Nutrition Expert
Company description: Natural pet food store and pet supply
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Before I entered the pet industry, my career was centered on nutrition, healing and alternative therapies for people. I was just an average pet owner until my cat became ill with diabetes and my eyes were opened to the truth about pet food at a conference in 2002. I chose to shift gears into pet health where I felt there was a huge need to supply and educate on proper nutrition for pets.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I feel most strongly about opening people’s eyes to all the options. It’s crucial to see beyond all the marketing and actually consider what we are being sold. We have such amazing employees and friends we work with who have dedicated themselves to giving pet owners the confidence to stand up for what is right and truly appropriate for their pets.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? The VMA should open more doors for holistic practices to be recognized and accepted so more veterinarians could practice the way they want rather than what they are forced into by dominating high profit industries.
2 Traveling Dogs
Job Responsibility: Social media consulting and services, writing a dog blog for my rescue dogs every weekday, advocating animal rescue in a fun way and handling all of my dogs’ social media and influencer dealings.
Company Description: We are the fun faces of animal rescue! We show people how great it is to rescue animals by showing the fun side of animal rescue. We currently travel in an RV to highlight the good people of the country doing great things for animals.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I started a dog blog in 2011 to show people how to safely move with dogs. We started networking animals across the USA who were in danger of being euthanized…We sold our home, bought an RV in 2016 and decided to travel to all the 48 contiguous states to showcase the good people across the country doing great things for animals.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? We live every day like a dog. We are not simply experts in dog-related travel, but we have built a relationship with many shelters and rescues across the country. I believe that both sides can work together to end the problem of animal homelessness.
What is something daring or scary you’ve done? Giving up everything to travel. I wanted to make a difference, but it was scary to leave family, friends, and security. But in doing so, we hopefully saved a few lives along the way.
VP of Product Development
Job responsibility: Responsible for leading all product development and design efforts.
Company description: R2P(Ready 2 Play) is a team of pet lovers who connect people with their pets through innovative, fresh and stimulating products. We are committed to designing products with a purpose.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My passion for pets! To design, manufacture and source better products. The captivating purpose of the pet industry is definitely a steady inspirational process to me.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? My passion for pets, my past design experiences and traveling the globe has given me the tools to understand the design and development process needed for the industry.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? My parents. They taught me values and self-worth, to love and to care. To work hard and to believe in myself, and to always pursue my dreams.
Vendor Relation Manager, Corporate Buyer
Woof Gang Bakery
Job responsibility: Selecting products for Wolf Gang Bakery locations and educating franchise owners.
Company description: Woof Gang Bakery is a leading specialty retailer of pet food, petrelated supplies and pet grooming, with more than 90 locations across the U.S.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? After graduating from college, I took a part time job in one of our retail locations and became fascinated with the products we carried and the different needs of pets. I got the opportunity to open the corporate office and it just seemed like a natural move! I bounced around different roles but found my niche in curating products for the store and building relationships with our suppliers.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? Helping to select nutritious foods and unique products for our locations then educating our franchisees on products. Ultimately that knowledge gets passed down to our customers and together we can provide the very best in pet care.
Who do you consider your most influential role model, and why? My dad, a five-time cancer survivor, is my most influential role model. He’s always taught me that quitting when things get hard isn’t an option.
Job responsibility: President
Company description: Segrest Farms is the industry leader of wholesale tropical fish for retail pet stores, public zoos and aquariums across the nation and the globe.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? My love for this industry came from growing up in the ornamental fish farming community in Florida. I immersed myself in every aspect of it and I fell in love with both the animals and the business.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? One of my greatest contributions is to offer the newest, hottest sustainably sourced fish in the hobby which continue to inspire people to keep aquariums and to take an active leadership role in being an activist for hobbyists’ right to own them.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? There are many, but if I had to choose one it would be the Okapi. They’re one of those animals that makes me believe God has a sense of humor. The rear of a zebra, the body of a horse, the tongue of a camel, and their fur is purple.
VP of Operations
Petcurean Pet Nutrition
Chilliwack, BC, Canada
Job responsibility: Oversee all aspects of day to day operations and supply chain
Company description: Petcurean Pet Nutrition is a family-owned Canadian company that creates premium quality pet food recipes for dogs and cats.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? When I decided to leave the automotive electronics industry, I knew I wanted a change. I wanted to work every day on something that really mattered to people. When the opportunity came to work for a company who puts furry family members first, and truly cares about making the best product possible, I jumped at the chance.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I am proud of our rigorous approach to deliver products that provide so many nutritious options for pets and their pet parents. Our innovative line offers a wide range of options from stews to organic foods that are made with ingredients that are sustainably produced.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? The pet food industry needs to focus more on food sustainability. As time goes on and demand on the earth increases, we need to ensure adequate and high quality resources are available for all, including the four-legged family members.
Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania
Job responsibility: I’m responsible for developing strategic sales plans based on company goals that will promote sales growth and customer satisfaction for F.M. Brown’s.
Company description: We are trusted producers of superior products that enrich the lives of wildlife, pets and pet parents. Family owned and operated since 1843.
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? I believe that the history and the legacy of our company, which is now a sixth–generation family owned and operated corporation, is what inspired me to join the pet industry. The business started with my great-great grandfather, George Brown, who purchased a water powered grist mill in 1843.
What’s your favorite animal? Why? My favorite bird was a Tymnah African Grey named Ziggy. I always had smaller birds, but she was my first experience with a parrot. She taught me so much about the sensitivity, intelligence and beauty of the species. Taking care of her properly was time consuming but very rewarding.
What issues do you think need more attention from the pet industry, and why? Continuing our fight to support responsible pet ownership. Without pets, we would have no business.
Gentle Giants Products, Inc.
Job responsibility: Corporation management
Company description: Manufactures and distributes dog food and cat food
What inspired you to get into the pet industry? Rescuing animals in need: My first rescue was a kitten when I was 3 years old and later along with my husband, I started Gentle Giants Rescue and Adoptions, which has become the world’s largest giant breed dog rescue.
What do you feel is your biggest contribution to the pet business and/or pet owners? I have dedicated my life to researching and formulating the best feeding, care and wellness program to lengthen and improve the lives of our canine, feline and other beloved animal companions.
What is something you are totally passionate about, and why? I believe that each and every one of us can be a “superhero” and can change the world on personal, national and even universal levels when we do whatever we can to the best of our abilities to help animals and others in need. I feel it is important to inspire others at all times to realize just how much of a difference we can all make if we believe in ourselves and in each other and work together to make the world a better place for us all.