Wugadogs toys modeled after real life dogs

Wugadog toys modeled after real life dogs are expanding the line and giving back

By Stacey McIntyre-Gonzalez
Photo by Sam Dadufalza
It was an age old question that has plagued men for decades; furrowing the brow and inducing the sweat as they desperately try to find the answer in time.

“What do I get my wife for her birthday?”

Darrin Wilson was one of those men struggling to find that perfect birthday surprise for his wife Janet. While contemplating the question he looked over at their dog Angus- a mini Boston terrier rescue- and it just clicked. Darrin decided to make a toy that looked just like Angus and give it to Janet for her birthday. He had no idea that a loving gesture would touch both of their lives in such an unforeseen and wonderful way.
Darrin made the Boston terrier in the downward dog pose- a tribute to Angus’ favorite stretching position. He branded the toy Wugadog gave it to Janet and she absolutely adored her custom made Angus toy.

“I opened the box and saw that the toy was in the downward dog position and I laughed. I knew that it was Angus right away and wanted to show it to everyone,” Janet said in a correspondence.

Honoring Angus seemed like the right thing to do. Darrin and Janet of Mississauga, Canada, adopted Angus from the Pomeranian and Small Breed Rescue dog in Toronto. Although it is impossible to know what Angus experienced before he found his forever home it is believed that he was born in New York City and was re-homed several times. Angus had a considerable amount of health issues- likely caused my bad breeding- and was never properly socialize leading to behavioral problems. He bounced around until he was finally rescued- but the likelihood that he would be adopted out was very low. Despite his poor statistics and lack of probability Angus was adopted by Darrin and Janet Wilson.

“When we got him he was very aggressive with other dogs and not good with children, which also may have been a reason he was unwanted,” said Darrin. “So my wife arranged regular play sessions with other dogs at the local dog daycare facility.”

This socialization along with a much needed stable living situation gave this terrier new spark. That fire was just what Angus needed to survive his crippling health complications.

“When Janet and I adopted him he had luxated patellas- dislocated kneecaps- which are a common problem in Boston terriers,” Darrin said. “His vet tells us that Angus was born that way and has adapted.”

Darrin and Janet chose the one dog that really needed to be “rescued” and they were aware that Angus’ poor breeding could have set him up for a lifetime of issues that would require specific care and veterinary attention.

“His conditions will likely lead to arthritis in his back legs which can require surgery or medication- that may have been one of the reasons he was passed from home to home unwanted,” Darrin said in a correspondence.  “But my wife and I knew up front and will happily do it for him when he needs it.”

Photo by Darrin Wilson
Janet posted photos of her Angus Wugadog on Facebook and soon they were flooded with questions as to where these Wugadogs could be found. The interest in the Wugadog struck a chord in the Wilson’s and the sound rang loud: Wugadogs for charity. They rescued and rehabilitated Angus and now Angus the first ever Wugadog can help other people- and dogs. They already gave to charity in other ways but Wugadogs seemed a more personal gesture.

In 2012 the couple personally donated 300 Wugadogs to The Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in New York.

“One of the most impactful moments was at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo,” Darrin said. “We gave away 300 Wugadogs there. The feeling you get when you walk into a children’s ward and see a smile when they see you have a gift for them is unbelievable. But it was when Janet and I were methodically going from room to room giving out Wugadogs, everything was brought into razor-sharp focus; unexpectedly a nurse pulled us aside and whispered to us ‘You have no idea the good that you are doing. Sometimes all a child wants is something to hold onto. Something they can carry with them into surgery. Something they can squeeze to keep the fear at bay. Thank you.’”

The experience of bringing joy into the children’s lives was something Darrin would cherish for the rest of his own life. Janet couldn't agree more.

“It was one of the most emotional days of my life. It was heartbreaking to see those poor little children so sick and frail,” Janet said. “What warmed my heart was to see how playful and hopeful they all seemed to be when we handed them the toys. It’s quite an addictive feeling really.”

Addictive it must have been because the hospital visit in Buffalo inspired the couple to take Wugadogs to the next level. The Wilson’s founded Tall Tree Toy Works after Angus became so famous online and they put the Wugadogs on Amazon to help fund production and their charity efforts. Helping people wasn't enough. They needed to help the very thing that had inspired them in the first place. They needed to help dogs.

“We just want to help as many people and dogs as we can,” Janet said. They teamed up with the Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee to donate Angus Wugadogs as adoption incentives to give away with dogs in their shelter. The couple also worked with The Southern Cross Boston Terrier Rescue of Kentucky. Wugadogs were a great adoption incentive but they also helped raised money for the shelter.

“It was the Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee that came up with the idea of a Wugadog auction,” Darrin said. “100 percent of which would go toward paying vet bills for injured and abused dogs that the rescue brought in. Some of the Wugadog toys have sold for as much as $125 each!”

Courtney Bryson of the Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee was grateful for the Wugadogs donation.

“We had a great experience with Darrin and Janet,” Courtney said in a correspondence. “(They) originally sent us five Wugadogs to help raise funds for Boston Terriers in the rescue. We auctioned them off to help five of our medically compromised dogs who needed extra veterinary care. We raised more than $100 with each Wugadog!”

The next Wugadog to be created was Yanna. Yanna was an affectionate Boxer rescue who belonged to Darrin’s sister. Sadly Yanna passed away from stomach cancer but Darrin and Janet chose to pay tribute to her and designed a puppy version of Yanna for the Wugadog collection.  The Yanna Wugadog gained instant popularity.

“One of the wonders of Wugadogs was the means to allow Janet and I the ability to donate and support dog rescues. We always wanted to do it before Wugadogs came along, but could never afford to,” said Darrin. “Now, the sales on Amazon allow us to pack up Wugadogs and send them off to rescues.”

Photo by John Konstantaras
The couple held their first ever sweepstakes to find the next pet to inspire a brand new Wugadog. The winner was Charlie- a Labrador/Chow Chow/Corgi mix. Ashley Feit- the owner of this unique mix breed- was thrilled to see her dog in the plush.

“My experience with Darrin at Wugadogs was a lot of fun,” Ashley said in a correspondence. “Wugadogs had me provide several photographs of my dog, Charlie, so they could create a stuffed animal in his likeness. Darrin was just as excited as we were to have Charlie turned into a Wugadog and I could really tell that he was very passionate about Wugadogs and it's not just another business.”

The most recent dog to join the family is Prudence- a Pug who belongs to a couple that the Wilson's know from doggie daycare.

The future of Wugadogs includes more support for animal shelters. They will continue to support the organizations they are connected with now while adding some new rescues to the list.

“Just recently we shared another Boston in need with Darrin,” said Courtney of Boston Terrier Rescue of East Tennessee. “He immediately sent us five more Boston’s to auction off to help care for the dogs.” 

“Boxer rescues are next up for us. The goal for us is to assist the rescues and shelters to run and do their valuable job- to find animals in need and save them,” said Darrin.

The future for the Wugadogs themselves is bright as well. The line will continue to pay tribute to real life pets.

“I see the future of Wugadogs- in terms of the product itself- being a very large collection of representations of real life pets from families from all over the world,” said Darrin. “Plush dolls of utterly unique dog breeds like a German Spitz/Corgi/Shar Pei mix, or a Chihuahua/Shih Tzu/Beagle mix with packaging that features their name. Even pets that have passed we would create a special collection for them.”

The key to Wugadogs success is to keep sales high to fund the charity work. Funding the production of the Wugadogs is provided by Darrin and Janet themselves, donations from others and the Wugadog sales on Amazon. Therefore getting the word out about the Wugadogs is important to the Wilson's.

“There may be something to be said for exclusivity or limiting the retail presence, but I don’t believe in that. I believe if you want something, and the only retail store near you is a Wal-Mart, then I believe you should be able to get them there,” Darrin explains. “The nature of Wugadogs, currently, is very limited in terms of availability. But that’s only because we have little funding and don’t advertise at all.”

“We have heard people refer to us as ‘their little secret’ which apparently means when they give a Wugadog as a gift and are asked where they got it, they never say.” Darrin continues. “I’m still not sure why that happens.”

Regardless Wugadog sweepstakes continue to become more popular. So many proud pet owners are eager to get their dog in the running. Many supporters and fans have flocked to Wugadogs to extend their love and support.

“I believe that Wugadogs is a great product to support as they have created adorable and well-made stuffed animals and they have a passion for people and their pets,” said Ashley.

Photo by Mary Dadufalza

Courtney agrees. “Darrin and Janet truly care about the animals and the work they do. You can see the passion they have in the product they produce.”

The chance to have a stuffed version of a family pet is just as exciting as knowing that sales of that toy will be helping animals across North America. Three more dogs have also been selected to be the next Wugadogs to hit the production line in the near future.

“The Shih Tzu, Bulldog, and Pekingese have been selected. As these were planned before the sweepstakes concept early in 2012,” said Darrin. “These dogs are local dogs that we have the pleasure of seeing once a week at Angus’ daycare facility or in our neighborhood. The Shih Tzu and Bulldog are rescued sweethearts named Tula, and Rosie respectively. And the Pekingese is a regal sweetheart named Lulu.”

As for Angus- the dog that inspired it all- he is in fantastic health. Being adopted by the Wilson's was the best thing that ever happened to him. He has been rehabilitated of his behavior problems. His life has been an uphill battle- not without bumps in the road but filled with triumphs and happiness.

“Angus is now at a healthy 14.5 pounds for a Boston terrier,” said Darrin. “Angus has achieved so much during the three years we have had him as part of our family. Angus can now boast that he has three girlfriends- a Great Dane named Luna, a Saint Bernard named Bernice and a Labra-Doodle named Sophie.”

The loving and personal gift Darrin gave to Janet for her birthday continues to bring joy to their lives- and to the lives of less fortunate pets looking for their forever homes.

“There are so many stories of animals that have been abused or neglected that it breaks both our hearts,” Darrin said. “I wish we could save them all- I really do. But perhaps Wugadogs can help in saving some.”

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