By Rachel Muenz
They protect your feet from extreme cold when playing in the snow. Military personnel use them to keep the pads of their feet from burning up on the hot ground of Afghanistan. Broken glass and other hazards won’t hurt you because of these boots. You are a dog, after all, and you don’t always pay attention to where you’re walking whether you’re just fooling around or saving lives.
These boots are called Muttluks and are made by a small company of the same name in Scarborough, Ontario. They’re worn by police dogs, military dogs, guide dogs, and search and rescue dogs as well as pet dogs.
Muttluks are so well-made they were chosen as the footwear for rescue dogs helping find survivors after the Sept. 11 attacks.
It began with a phone call on Sept. 12, 2001, said Muttluks president, Marianne Bertrand.
It was the K9 unit of the New York City Police Department asking for boots for their 30 dogs. Bertrand agreed to send them right away. She later learned that a total of 300 rescue dogs would be involved in the search for survivors among the rubble of the World Trade Centre.
“When we heard there were 300 dogs, we stopped everything we were doing and we sent down more boots,” Bertrand said.
In total, 850 shoes were sent.
Bertrand said her boots were chosen specifically because of the materials they are made from.
“They’re all-natural materials,” she said. “They’re leather, so they don’t melt under high heat.”
With the border closed the day the boots were sent out and all planes and couriers stopped, getting them to the U.S. wasn’t easy. As time ticked away on the rescue efforts in New York, the Muttluks were stuck at Pearson International Airport. Bertrand contacted FedEx, who had said they could help her.
“They called the Canadian government, the U.S. government, everyone,” Bertrand said. “They could not get permission to get these things across the border.”
It was a FedEx driver at the airport named Tracy who helped save the day. She decided to ask the police, who were at Pearson because of 9-11, for assistance.
“She went up to the cops and said, ‘Will you escort me to the border? I want to take these boots to the border,’” Bertrand said. “And he [one of the policeman] said, ‘You’re on.’”
Driving down the 401, Tracy called Bertrand and told her how she had got a police escort to bring the 14 boxes of boots to New York.
“They said they had a truck waiting on the other side and [Tracy] said, ‘Hopefully they’ll let us cross,’” Bertrand said.
There was a 24-hour wait at the border but the police had radioed ahead and everyone was hoping for the best.
“They did get there and they got there in a record ground shipment of 10 hours direct ground shipment from Toronto to New York,” said Bertrand with a big laugh.
Bertrand added that day was one of the best moments for the boots she developed.
“It was miraculous and we made history,” said Bertrand, who founded Muttluks in 1994. “We were the only thing to cross the border on that day that the border was closed.”
“I’m really proud of that.”
Bertrand said she has been able to produce a boot worthy of canines like New York’s rescue dogs by putting quality ahead of price.
“You can always lower your price by changing your materials but if the materials affected the performance we didn’t do it,” she said.
In 2001, Muttluks were named top dog boot in the industry and they remain successful today, despite a few rough patches, by following the same principles.
Focusing on small details has also helped, Bertrand added. Customized equipment allows them to make the quirky boots easily where most other sewing companies can’t. For example, they use special jigs, which look like giant steel knitting needles on stands, to turn the dog boots inside out and make the toes round, Bertrand said.
“They seem totally insignificant and irrelevant but they’re actually quite pivotal, an integral part of the success,” she said.
While the boots are made with materials from China, they have always been made in Canada, which also keeps the footwear at a high quality.
The company’s attitude is another reason Muttluks is doing well.
Cindi Neill, who has worked at Muttluks for about a year says Bertrand’s approach to business is one of the most interesting things about her job.
“Her approach is very different from other managers that I’ve worked for and that’s what I appreciate about her,” Neill said from her desk at the Muttluks reception area. “She’s got a lot of insight as to different things, so I’ve learned a lot from her.”
Neill also likes the kindness Bertrand brings to the job.
“I think she brings more of a human element to it, just through her own self-discovery and her own way of being, really, with animals,” she says. “There’s a calmness to her that I haven’t always had in other managers.”
Banson Hua, who just started at Muttluks in August, also enjoys his fellow employees. He does work similar to Neill such as invoicing, packing, and shipping.
“I like working in a small business,” Hua said. “It really helps in a small business that you enjoy the people that you work with.”
As for Bertrand, keeping dog’s feet safe is what she likes best about her work.
“I like that it helps the dogs and I like that it gets people thinking more compassionately about their dog,” she says with a bit of a laugh. “That human-animal relationship, that it bridges that gap.”