Shrine of Ingenuity: Recognizing Pet Industry Visionaries

Glenn Polyn//July 12, 2017

Shrine of Ingenuity: Recognizing Pet Industry Visionaries

Glenn Polyn//July 12, 2017

South Dakota is home to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, which is considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the nation. It’s an iconic, awe-inspiring landmark—a masterpiece that represents the first 150 years of American history.

In 1923, historian Doane Robinson conceived the idea that later turned into the Mount Harney Bill, which allowed for a monument to be carved into the southeastern face of the mountain that was named after businessman Charles Rushmore.

Although Robinson envisioned the memorial to be sculptures of Wild West heroes carved into the granite, it was American sculptor Gutzon Borglum who selected who would be the four subjects for the gigantic sculptures. After arriving to South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest—an island of 1.2 million acres of forested hills and hard, spindly rock thrusting out from an ocean of prairie—and meeting with Robinson from 1924 to 1925, Borglum identifi ed Mount Rushmore as a desirable location for the monument. With approximately 400 workers, the project began in 1927.

Borglum’s original design was to be waist-up representations of the four presidents, yet insuffi cient funding resulted in a stop to the project after completion of the 60-foot-tall carved faces. Borglum died on March 6, 1941, just a few months before the National Park Service deemed the monument offi cially completed and ready for dedication on October 31, 1941. The entire monument cost approximately $990 million to build. Based on infl ation, that is equivalent to $17 billion today.

Known as the “Shrine of Democracy,” Mount Rushmore is one of America’s most popular national landmarks. Visited by more than 3 million tourists each year, according to the National Park Service, Mount Rushmore features the faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jeff erson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Borglum reportedly selected these four presidents because, from his perspective, they represented the most important events in the history of the U.S.

George Washington: Born 1732, died 1799. He was the fi rst president and represented the foundation of American democracy. One of the country’s Founding Fathers, he served as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He also presided over the convention that drafted the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation. Because of his importance, Borglum chose Washington to be the most prominent fi gure on the mountain.

Thomas Jeff erson: Born 1743, died 1826. An American Founding Father, he was the fi rst Secretary of State and the third president. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a document which inspires democracies around the world. He oversaw the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, which doubled the size of the nation. He signed into law a bill that banned the importation of slaves into the country. Borglum chose Jeff erson to represent the growth of the nation.

Theodore Roosevelt: Born 1858, died 1919. He was 42 years of age when he was sworn in as president in 1901, making him the youngest president e ver. He not only represented the industrial development of the nation, but was also widely known for conservation eff orts. He was the force behind the completion of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He also negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Borglum chose Roosevelt to represent the development of the nation.

Abraham Lincoln: Born 1809, died 1865. He was the 16th president, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. As the president during the U.S. Civil War, he held the nation together during its greatest constitutional, military and moral crisis. He believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the union at all costs. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished. His eff orts toward the abolition of slavery include issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, which encouraged the Border States to outlaw slavery. Borglum selected Lincoln to represent the preservation of the nation.

While it’s impossible to place anyone at the same level as those four historic fi gures, Pet Age has chosen four women for their contributions to the pet industry for our Mount Rushmore, which we’ve named the “Shrine of Ingenuity.” Our landmark dedicated to Gayle Martz, Nancy Apatow, Laura “Peach” Reid and Sissy Harrington-McGill.

Gayle Martz: The founder of SHERPA Pet Trading Company, she recognized the need for comfortable travel carriers that allow pets to safely accompany pet-loving travelers inside an airplane cabin.

Nancy Apatow: She is the president and CEO of PetLift, pioneering the design and fabrication of products for the grooming and veterinary industries. She has developed new and improved equipment that advance the work environment for groomers while also making it safe for pets.

Laura “Peach” Reid: As president and CEO of Fish Mart, she runs the Northeast’s largest domestic and import distributor of fresh and saltwater fi sh, invertebrates, aquatic plants, reptiles, small animals, birds, live and frozen food. She is also the chairman of the board of directors for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.

Sissy Harrington-McGill: She is the founder of Solid Gold Pet, the nation’s first holistic pet food brand. She sparked a new trend in pet nutrition, helping to create the premium, natural pet food market. Pet Age spoke with each of these four iconic figures regarding their history and the impact that they have had on the pet industry.

Gayle Martz: Ambassador of Pet Travel


“It’s a great story, stimulated by wanderlust,” Gayle Martz said from her home in Paris. “I’ve always loved people. People, travel, animals and bags.”
Martz laughs. It’s a natural tendency for someone who exhibits such a strong zest for life.

“I’ve made it my mission to design safe, functional, fashionable and convenient products that ensure pets can travel comfortably and securely with the people who love them most,” Martz said.

However, it wasn’t always possible for her, or any pet owner for that matter, to enjoy the company of a pet while traveling.

Her inspiration occurred in 1986, after a series of unfortunate events: the loss of her job after two decades as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines followed three months later by the death of her fiance. At the time, the 37 year old had no home and no source of income.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she explained.

She surrounded herself with her loved ones—her mother and her dog, a lhasa apso named Sherpa.

“My mother, we were so close, she came from California to New York,” Martz said. “She bought a car, and we drove cross country with Sherpa the dog. Traveling with a pet back then was outdated. It was as outdated as a covered wagon because you couldn’t fly with a pet.”

Looking back, Martz laughs when she examines a photo that was taken of her with her mother, both wearing pioneer fashion, while in Colorado.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life,” Martz recalled. “It was unbelievable. I wasn’t going back to the airlines. But I had this great idea.”

Martz dedicated herself to creating the world’s first soft-sided pet carrier to be officially approved by airlines. She borrowed some money from her mother and founded her company, named SHERPA after her beloved canine companion, and designed a line of carriers, totes and accessories that promote safety and comfort.

“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “I knew I had to do this. I was on a mission. I’m a creative person. What was so great of my relationship with my mother is that she was the financial one, and she taught me how to maintain the financial side of the business.”

It was far from an easy process, Martz recalls. At the time, pets were prohibited in the passenger cabin on an airplane. She spent years educating airline officials and getting changes made to airline policy.

“It’s no big deal to have a great idea, but I had to change the policy and lay the foundation,” she said, explaining how she went to each airline to work with them on policies and procedures, education and awareness. “Coming up with the idea and designing the first bag was just the beginning.”

It was also a difficult process, one that took years to accomplish. She had to overcome restrictions that continually changed and created more obstacles for her to overcome. However, according to Martz, American Airlines was the first airline to approve allowing a pet to accompany a person on its flights in 1989.

“It was not easy at all,” she said. “And every time I changed a policy with another airline, I felt like I had graduated with honors. But it really needed to happen. It’s about travel, about being with your pet. And pets are part of the family. Pets, including therapy animals, are a part of our life.

“After working with the airlines, then it was the marketplace,” she continued. “You have to educate the marketplace. People actually thought this was cruel. People thought it was punishment for a pet to be put inside a ventilated bag. It was an education with the public, as well. I had to get the word out.”

Martz remembers the media coverage, including a witty headline by the New York Post that read “Ex-Stewardess Finds Million Dollars in Doggy Bag.”
“I created a whole market,” she said. “There was a void in the marketplace, and it was a big void.”

As a result of the time and effort that Martz invested in her cause, the SHERPA bag became part of the lifestyle for travelers. However, she doesn’t feel that she can stop just yet.

“In the U.S. and Europe, I did what I did,” she said. “Last year, I flew to South America, and it’s like a whole other world that still needs pet travel education and awareness. But this is what I love to do.”

Nancy Apatow: A Guru of Grooming Ergonomics

Our Newest Product- Designer tubs!

Born in 1960, Nancy Apatow was practically raised to be a pioneer in the pet grooming industry. Her father, Leonard Sciarrino, founded PetLift, which started out focusing on the beauty industry. A pioneer in the grooming equipment industry, Sciarrino developed the first hydraulic lift table for dogs by putting a tabletop on a hydraulic chair base.

“I still remember when it started,” Apatow recalled of the fateful day in 1965. “My father had a friend, he was a dog groomer, and he told my father that he was grooming on a kitchen table with a carpet tied to it. The man was 6-foot-3, and he complained to my father that [he needed a table to handle] dogs of different heights.”

With the help of Apatow, Sciarrino designed a stable table, which could rotate, that sat on top of a hydraulic base.

“Everyone who saw the table loved it,” Apatow said. “We started to go to grooming shows, including the very first Intergroom.”

Since that first table, PetLift has developed multiple models of both hydraulic and electric tables. Apatow’s father taught her how to identify a need in the industry, find a solution and then come up with a design and fabricate a high-quality product.

“My father made the industry where there wasn’t an industry,” she explained. “In 1978, he came up with the first walk-in tub.”

The concept was unusual, Apatow maintains, and it was originally met with criticism.

“People didn’t think you could get a dog to walk into the tub,” she said.

In 1983, after earning a degree in engineering, Apatow considered getting a job in New York City. Yet, in her heart and soul, Apatow knew where she belonged.
“I felt I was needed there at PetLift,” she said. “I knew I was meant to make a difference in the pet industry.”

While her father invented grooming concepts like the hydraulic lift table and walk-in tub, Apatow has been a genius at improving those designs. Within a year out of college, she created an improved version of her father’s grooming tub.

“The wood around the tub wasn’t working,” she said, adding that wood would swell naturally if not maintained. “People would let the wood deteriorate. So I told my dad that we were going to make it all stainless steel. I beefed up the gauge of steel and used a better grade, a 304 stainless steel.”

Also in the 1980s, Apatow re-examined PetLift’s hydraulic lift tables, which she noticed were not ideal for larger dogs. She set out to redesign the current tables to go even lower than the normal 18 inches off the floor.

She developed a Z-frame, which the company currently employs in all of its models. The new design enables the table to lower to just 12 inches off the floor.
Apatow has developed several products of her own, including a mini tub that she designed to make it easy to wash a small to mid-sized animal without having to bend over. The higher legs and shallow basin is suitable for puppies to dogs that are approximately 45 pounds.

New updates to plumbing codes has resulted in Apatow creating a certified hair trap that is designed with increased capacity to hold large amounts of pet fur and is easier to clean. Due to strict guidelines, the product took more than two years to receive approval from the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

“Each trap has its own documented number,” she explained. “The product means there’s no release-of-gas smell, and it helps create a clean-smelling grooming shop. It’s a smart hair interceptor.”

As Apatow describes it, she works under the philosophy that every product she manufactures must be safe, durable and functional and that quality tools make a difference in a groomer’s career. She is able to reel off several stories in which, she recalls, “Groomers hug me and tell me, ‘If I had your table at the start of my career, I wouldn’t have become injured.’”

“When I got our of college, I knew the grooming industry was in its infancy,” said Apatow, a 2017 Pet Age Women of Influence Award recipient. “That was the most intriguing thing for me. I saw that I had a clean slate to work with, and I wanted the pet groomers to have what the beauty salons had.

“It became a passion,” she concluded. “I belong in this industry.”

Larua “Peach” Reid: Four Decades of Aquatics

Peach Reid (8)

Calling it a “fluke” decision, Laura “Peach” Reid has worked at Virginia-based Fish Mart since its inception in 1974. It started at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut, as Reid describes it, where she was “a poor, struggling college student in search of any job to help support myself when I answered an ad in the newspaper about a newly opened tropical fish wholesaler that opened up nearby.”

While cleaning filters and doing mundane work like “pulling the dead fish in the morning,” Reid was also learning the basic fundamentals about business. She ultimately graduated, getting her degree in psychology, and started working on her master’s degree.

“But that conflicted with my job, and I really enjoyed what I was doing [at Fish Mart],” explained Reid, who chose the Mart over the master’s degree.
Over the next few years, she worked at just about every job in the company—from sales and marketing to warehouse, making deliveries, buyer and administration—before she ultimately purchased the company in 1980.

“The business was in debt, and the major owner felt it was time to close the business,” she recalled. “We made a deal where I would assume the debt, so I bought the business. I made my boyfriend a partner and, in five years, we climbed out of debt.”

Since 1980, she has overseen the growth and development of Fish Mart to the point that it is the largest wholesale supplier of tropical fish, small mammals, reptiles and birds in the Northeast.

“It’s a labor of love,” she said. “And when it’s a labor of love and you actually enjoy it, it’s not really a job. If you’re passionate about it and you enjoy it, and you really care about your customers, your staff and the industry… It’s a vocation. It’s your life.”

Reid’s business savvy and technical knowledge played a major part in Fish Mart’s future success in 1986, when she designed a central filtration system, which was revolutionary at the time.

“In the old days, you had fish tanks that weren’t connected,” she explained. “They had a box filter or sponge filter, and you put 250 fish into 20-gallon tanks. In those days, we did extensive water changes every day, but when I would test the water before the water changes, I saw that the ammonia level was off the charts.”

The readings were a sign of the stress and damage that the fish were enduring. Reid’s solution led to her designing a central filtration system, a big tower of bio balls on one system to maintain the circulation.

“It kept the water quality so there was no ammonia or nitrite, and only a little bit of nitrate within the acceptable parameters,” she noted. “That’s the secret to keeping aquatics successfully, it’s the water quality.”

The result was that Fish Mart’s business skyrocketed. The company has won countless awards, including the 2016 Eastern Companion Animal Distributor of the Year by Marshall Pet Products (pictured with Paul Juszczak, Marshall’s director of sales and marketing), and Reid was presented with a Women of Influence Award in 2017 by Pet Age.

Through Fish Mart, Reid has been a member of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) for most of the company’s history, and she has been actively involved in various committees within the council, including serving as president of an organization called Connecticut PIJAC that eventually folded into the central organization.

“In the middle of the 1980s, when bird availability became an issue and the puppy-mill issue began, I was working with several retailers that were PIJAC members,” she said. “I interviewed the lobbyists in 1986 and ’87 that we still have today in Connecticut.”

Reid became a board member of PIJAC about four years ago. She was a part of the group that reduced the number of board members two years ago to streamline the operations, a move that she said strengthened PIJAC.

“The PIJAC board is an 11-member board, and the members are the best of the best of the pet industry,” she exclaimed. “Everybody sees the big picture, and we are working for the good of the responsible pet industry.”

Last year, Reid was approached by PIJAC members about the position of chairman of the board of directors. She admits she was apprehensive about accepting the offer.

“I was tremendously honored, but I had to think about it,” she recalled. “I had to overcome my fear. I didn’t know if I could rise to the challenge of being chairman of the board of directors of the national government-affairs organization of the pet industry. It was awesome to me. I came to the decision that I was absolutely eager to do it, and I would give it 110 percent of my time and attention.”

Sissy Harrington-McGill: Going Great Lengths

“When I got a divorce, I decided I wanted to change my life,” reminisced 84-year-old Sissy Harrington-McGill from her retail pet store in El Cajon, California.

So the schoolteacher and Great Dane fancier traveled from her home in La Mesa, California, to Germany in 1974 to purchase the fawn son of that year’s World Champion Great Dane and the brindle nephew of the previous year’s World Champion Great Dane. That fateful trip turned into a game changer for the pet industry and the start of an incredible life journey for Harrington-McGill.

While in Germany, she discovered that the German dogs were extremely healthy and had a longer lifespan than Danes living in America. Harrington-McGill determined that the main factors in this longevity had to be genetics, care and diet. Upon returning home, she had various German dog foods analyzed to determine what set them apart from the diets of our nation’s dogs. She learned that the German diet was free of fillers and common grains, such as soy, wheat and corn, as well as devoid of chemicals and preservatives.

With the test results, the pioneering animal lover developed a food line she named Solid Gold Hund-n-Flocken. The term “hund-n-flocken” is German for “dog food flakes.” According to Harrington-McGill, she chose the name Solid Gold because she put herself through college by being a member of the “Solid Gold” professional dance team that was made famous by June Taylor and Jackie Gleason in the 1950s.

“I started producing Hund-n-Flocken and would go to dog shows and give out free samples of the food with paperwork to back it up,” she noted. “This became very popular, but the other dog food companies hated me. It was a new concept. Nobody in the U.S. had seen anything like it.”

Harrington-McGill put the food to good use with her own dogs, and her Great Dane, Bismark, won “Best of Breed” in the 1976 National Pure Bred Breeders Association Show.

She eventually quit teaching to focus on introducing the first natural dog food in the nation.

“So for years I worked out of my living room and garage, until one day the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) came knocking on my garage door,” she said, claiming that the FDA harassed her and informed her that “there’s no such thing as natural dog food.”

Despite informing the FDA that natural food such as hers has been available for years in Germany, she said she was forced to go to court in 1989 to fight the charges.

“I expected to pay a $10 fine for not having a license,” she admitted. “So I go to federal court, and I go before a federal judge and the judge says to me, ‘You broke the health claims law.’”

According to Harrington-McGill, she was sentenced to six months prison and fined $10,000.

“I almost fell off the chair,” she exclaimed, adding that she was led away in chains, eventually being released after serving more than 100 days in prison.

Harrington-McGill considers the difficult journey to be worth her fight for freedom of speech and the right to produce natural pet food.

Over the years, Harrington-McGill has led Solid Gold Pet in the development of pet foods containing no preservatives or saturated fats, but made of USDA choice meats and premium grains. Although she sold a portion of the company to VMG Partners in 2013, she still owns and operates Holistic Gold Pet Nutrition Center, a retail pet store that exclusively sells Solid Gold pet foods.

“The foundation of her very first recipe paired premium proteins with powerful superfoods,” said Bob Rubin, president and CEO of Solid Gold Pet. “Her holistic approach to pet food hadn’t yet been introduced in the ’70s within pet food. She was a pioneer ahead of her time, not afraid of any person or challenge.”

“I’ve had two offers to make a movie based on [my life],” she proudly concluded. “They want me to be another Erin Brockovich.”



How Is My Site?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...