Animal Wow creator Larry Kay credits — what else? — his dog with his interest in the enterprise focused on pets, children and safety. But putting it all together into a kid-attractive package owes success to Kay’s background in children’s media, where his film credits include Muppets Treasure Island and Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds.
“Kids have so much to gain from being around pets,” says the proud companion to Higgins, a golden retriever. It’s a truth Kay discovered only recently, having previously been self-admittedly “career obsessed” and concerned that having a dog would impinge on his independence. “But I found a greater connection and greater sense of purpose.”
This realization coincided with an entrepreneurial urge, and when he learned (through research on the Centers for Disease Control, the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA websites) that 400,000 kids are treated in emergency rooms each year for dog bites — with most of the attacks from the family’s or a neighbor’s pet — Kay’s purpose crystallized.
Good habits, positive values and life skills are the benefits children gain from their relationship with their pet, and Kay developed Animal Wow to foster those outcomes. Along with amazing real-life stories of pets, the website (http://www.animalwow.com/) includes safety tips on training and interacting with your pet and free downloads of activities and ideas.
Stately Mutt is the Animal Wow host, embodying the playfulness and soul characteristic of Kay’s work. Two criteria he feels are equally important: to not “talk down” to kids, and to make it work for grown-ups. “If parents are enjoying this alongside their kids, that strengthens the bond between parent and child,” he says. “And to be able to talk authentically, the parent needs to like it and be getting something from it.”
Kay’s first Animal Wow project was the DVD Dogs Wow Dogs, which teaches pet safety in an entertaining format of animated adventure complete with special effects and music. And two books are due out in the next few weeks.
October will see the release of The Love That Dog Training Program (http://www.lovethatdogbook.com/), on which Kay collaborated with President Obama’s dog’s trainer, Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz. The program promotes positive reinforcement as the only proper way to train a dog in a family with children. “Children need to interact with a dog safely,” explains Kay, pointing out that reprimanding “may be good for adults, but not so much with kids. If [kids] are reprimanding the dog, there’s more possibility of bringing to the surface a repressed behavior trigger.” Sheep-herding dogs, for example, have a natural instinct to nip at the heels of the sheep and might, therefore, be unexpectedly provoked to nip at the child. As testament to the effectiveness of positive reinforcement alone, Kay cites the success Best Friends Animal Society achieved with most of the dogs captured in the infamous Michael Vick dogfighting case — dogs so cruelly treated they were generally believed to be beyond rehabilitation.
Forever Home — A Story on Dog Adoption is set to follow with a limited release in November. This early reader tells the story of how, “when a homeless dog shows up at the pet shelter, young Jake and Jenny make a difference for many dogs and one unpredictable man.” The book also offers useful tips, from suggestions on puppy-proofing your home to identifying important behaviors to reinforce. Emmy-nominated artist Sam Koji Hale created a unique art style for this book, building puppets and placing them in mixed-media sets that include digital artwork and other built objects. And Kay, with script already completed and visions of a whole series, hopes to take the story from book to DVD next year.