OVC student invention will make it easier for dog owners to clip their pets' toenails
BY ANDREW VOWLES
A new product to help pet owners trim their dogs' toenails without distress and pain may turn into a promising business venture for a Guelph veterinary student — and a shot at snagging the $25,000 top prize in a high-profile inventors' contest to be held this spring in New York.
Brent Crutchfield, a second-year DVM student, has seen Quick-See — a kind of paper “mood ring” intended to help pet owners and veterinarians clip dogs' toenails safely and cleanly — earn a spot among 25 semifinalists in the 2005 Invent Now Challenge. The winner of the contest, which attracted more than 4,200 inventions this year, will be announced in May.
Crutchfield has filed for patent protection on her idea, basically a paper strip printed with heat-sensitive ink that allows her to safely identify and clip only nail tissue. She says Quick-See is simple to produce and use and predicts it will find a wide market among pet owners.
Unlike a cat's colourless claws, many dogs' nails are dark. That makes it easy to misjudge — especially when you're wrestling with a reluctant animal — and cut into the quick, the living area of the nail. Referring to the resultant pain and bleeding, she says: “It really is disgusting. Everybody complains about how tough it is. There had to be a simple way.”
Crutchfield, who trimmed plenty of toenails as a technician at a veterinary clinic in her native North Carolina, says Quick-See saves dogs from pain and their owners from being scared to trim their nails. “You can see exactly where the quick is.”
Prof. Jan Hall, a dermatologist in the Department of Clinical Studies, calls Quick-See “a really good idea. Clipping pets' nails can be difficult, especially the black ones.” His own schnauzer-fox terrier cross is “a terror to get his nails cut. I'm looking forward to when Brent has a prototype.”
Crutchfield's product is an adhesive paper strip printed with purple ink that turns clear under body temperature. Contained in what looks like a deli-counter “take a number” dispenser, the strip is slipped around the dog's nail like a collar and clipped away along with dead nail tissue.
In early 2005, she first thought of a product that would change colour under body heat, like a so-called mood ring. Asked where her idea came from, she quips, “I was thinking about my school loans.”
After conducting a patent search to make sure nothing similar existed, she hired a marketing agency to file a provisional patent and make a virtual prototype. Then came the hands-on work with her five-year-old female mixed breed, Kansas, a former OVC teaching dog.
A key challenge turned out to be finding someone to take infrared pictures of the dog's toenails. “Nobody has measured the gradient of temperature in a dog's nail.” Three companies turned down her seemingly bizarre request before she landed a firm in North Carolina that could do thermographic photography.
Back in Ontario, she found a Burlington company able to print the heat-sensitive ink onto adhesive paper and dry it under ultraviolet light. She spent many hours on the kitchen floor of her mother's house in Hamilton, trying out different shapes and sizes of paper on Kansas.
Crutchfield applied early this year for full patent protection in Canada, the United States and China — the latter at the advice of a patent lawyer. “If you don't include China, they'll have a knockoff at your door next Tuesday.”
Having set up a company to make and market Quick-See, she hopes to sell her idea to businesses that make pet grooming products. She's gone into debt on her venture but hopes to recoup some if not all of her expenses at the Invent Now Challenge, which is sponsored by the History Channel, Time magazine and Invent Now Inc., a subsidiary of the National Inventors Hall of Fame Foundation.
The grand-prize winner will take home $25,000; the four runners-up will receive $2,500 each. All five will be featured on the History Channel's Modern Marvels series in May, and their inventions will be included in a national exposition in the United States.
Crutchfield, who plans to fly to New York for the final judging, believes her idea has a solid chance of winning the top prize. Quick-See will be up against such inventions as a kidney valve system, a fuel-saving truck drag vent, an automatic candle snuffer and a wearable motherboard.
She entered the contest only days before the deadline after hearing about it from an aunt. She learned in February — almost a year to the day she had first dreamed up the idea — that her invention had made the semifinals. “I was so excited. I called my aunt and said thank you.”
Crutchfield plans to open a small-animal practice after graduation. Meanwhile, she and her mother, Brent Immurs, are busy figuring out how to sell Quick-See.
“We have to find a manufacturer,” says Immurs. “The pet industry is growing. The last time I looked last fall, it was growing faster than almost any other. People who have pets spend a lot of money on them. I'm sure they will pay money to make sure their pets don't bleed or make a mess and aren't in unnecessary pain. This will end that problem.”
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