Give your pooch knotty fun with Fifty Shades of Blue
By Linda Braden Albert | lindaba@thedailytimes
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has the reading public swooning. But shouldn’t your dog have some knotty fun, too?
J. Nathan Higdon can scratch that itch for the canine members of the family with his new line of dog toys, Fifty Shades of Blue. The products include tennis balls and knotted rope toys, all in varying hues of blue, from cyan to deep navy. Prices are very affordable. Bright blue tennis balls are $1.99; two-knot rope toys range from $1.99 to $7.99 and three-knot rope toys from $2.49 to $9.99, depending on the size of your dog; and monkey fists, with a large knot at one end for tug-of-war play, are $5.99 for a medium size and $7.99 for large.
Fifty Shades of Blue seeks to create a better quality of life for dogs and their owners through well-made, sustainable dog toys. Higdon said, “(The rope toys) are either 100 percent cotton or manilla rope, all from the United States.” These are hand-dyed using natural dyes from materials such as natural indigo; dogwood bark, which gives a deeper blue; and hyacinth flowers, which gives a more cyan color. The blue tennis balls are supplied for Higdon as a special order through a manufacturer.
At present, Higdon dyes and ties the majority of the knotty toys himself and on occasion will host a “rope-tying party” for some of his friends to help out.
“Each toy has slight imperfections, and no color is exactly the same,” Higdon said. With some hesitation due to the “homemade” nature of the products, Higdon participated in a dog expo recently in San Diego to present the toys. To his delight, the products were big hits. “That’s what people wanted,” he said. “It was great to get that feedback from people outside of my family and friends.”
Higdon, of Maryville, is the pet parent to Phoebe, 7, a black Lab and beagle mix, and her offspring, Sam, who is 3. Sam was the inspiration for Fifty Shades of Blue.
“Sam was never good at fetching yellow tennis balls, and I was beginning to wonder if he had a vision problem or a learning disability or something,” Higdon said with a grin. “I’d throw the ball and he would run, but he would aimlessly run around and not find it, ever. So I started researching online.”
Higdon discovered studies about dogs’ vision and how they see color. Red, orange, yellow and green all show up as shades of yellow to a dog.
“Keep in mind, a yellow tennis ball looks yellow, but so does grass,” Higdon said. “And all those red and orange toys people buy their dogs show up as yellow. So when you’re throwing this out in the yard, it blends in. Now, if your dog is old enough to learn how to track its scent, that’s how it can find its toys. But if your dog is young ...”
Based on exhaustive research over several years and using trial and error, studies indicate that to dogs, blue, violet and indigo all show up as shades of blue, Higdon said.
“It took me awhile to track down a blue tennis ball, and they were really expensive,” Higdon said. “But the first time I threw one, Sam ran after it, picked it up and brought it back. It was the first time he’d ever done that. I thought, no, that was just coincidence.” He soon discovered both Sam and Phoebe literally were “having a ball” with it.
Learning the ropes
By the end of August 2012, Higdon, who is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration as well as running his family’s limo business, visualized Fifty Shades of Blue as a viable business. On Sept. 1, he obtained his business license — before making even the first toy — and is moving forward with trademarking his company name.
“The name of the company came as a kind of spin on the current pop culture book, which I have not read,” Higdon said. “And the bonus of it is, dogs do see blue. It’s a multifaceted spin on the whole thing, and people do get a chuckle out of it.”
Customers as well as Higdon’s own experiences with his dogs have shown that the rope toys are surprisingly durable.
“We’ve learned that the manilla rope is good for light chewers, and the cotton rope is good for heavy and light chewers, alike,” he said. “That really surprised me. I thought it would be the other way around. The toys are also exceptionally colorfast.”
For safety’s sake, he recommends only allowing pets to play with any toy while under supervision.
Most dogs like the blue toys, but “Dogs, just like people, have preferences,” Higdon said. “Just because I can see a hot-pink convertible doesn’t mean I want to drive it. Dogs may see the blue tennis ball but may have no desire to chase it.
“This is about providing something your dog can actually see, about being the best pet owner you can by giving them opportunities to enjoy their toys, and as naturally as possible,” he added.
To give back to the community, Higdon is currently donating toys to the Blount County Humane Society and also to the San Diego Humane Society, which he said is one of the top 10 dog markets in the country — “plus it’s one of my favorite cities,” he said.
For more information, visit the website at http://www.50shadesdogtoys.com or see Fifty Shades of Blue on Facebook.