Get to Know the Founder of Dog Quality: 20 Questions for Ann-Marie Fleming
With founder Ann-Marie Fleming leading the charge here at Dog Quality, we’ve been hard at work fulfilling our mission of bringing hope and happiness to senior dogs and their humans. By creating much-needed assistance products, such as our dog diapers and strollers, we’re dedicated to improving the quality of life for older dogs. To help our customers get to know Ann-Marie a little better, we’ve decided to play a round of 20 questions.
1. Where did you grow up?
We moved around quite a bit, so my childhood was spread out across St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Burlington, Ontario and then as an adult, I spent many years in Toronto before making a big change and moving to California. From there, I fell in love with the West Coast weather and decided to move to beautiful British Columbia where I am today.
2. Have you always been an animal lover?
Always. As a family, we were never without a dog because my mom is also a huge animal lover. As a kid, I would constantly bring home hurt birds to try and save. Then, my mom gave me a kitten she rescued from the Humane Society for my birthday who I named Fluffy. We became best friends. I also had hamsters, mice and gerbils.
3. How did you come to start Dog Quality?
The idea for Dog Quality came from my personal experiences with my own dogs who had started to struggle with incontinence and mobility issues. The vet was only able to do so much and when I looked around for products that could help make their lives easier, I was so disappointed at the lack of effective options. I knew I could not be alone in trying to make the golden years as happy and healthy as possible for my dogs and so I started Dog Quality to help other pet parents find solutions.
4. Can you tell us a little bit about your dogs?
My dogs include my senior pug Lily (12 years), my senior Shih Tzu Willow (13 years) and my French bulldog Winnie (7 years). They’re all rescues and they are the best part of my life.
Lily, like many pugs, is a little crazy but in a good way. She’s an amazing little girl who underwent six hours of very complicated back surgery just over a year ago to stabilize her spine through the placement of two small metal plates and repair a herniated disc.
She was born with a malformed vertebrae and was one of only three pugs at the time to undergo this procedure in British Columbia. She came through it like a champ.
Willow was an unexpected addition to my family. I found her wandering a busy road covered in tumors, one so big it dragged on the ground. What drew me to her was that when I stopped to see her, she came right up to me, tail wagging.
Such a happy dog despite her obvious health issues and poor living conditions. I found that she did have a home and after some persistence, I convinced them to let me have her so I could get her the care she needed.
We fundraised for her surgery and while we continue to face health challenges, Willow loves her new body, her new family and her new life.
Winnie was a puppy mill dog that found her way into the French Bulldog Rescue Network. I fell in love with her immediately – her big eyes and her quirky personality came through in her profile.
She was a very popular little lady but I was so fortunate that they allowed me to give her a new home. I drove to Kansas from British Columbia to get her and we have been joined at the hip ever since.
5. What's been the most rewarding part of running Dog Quality?
Knowing that we’re making a difference. I think it’s rare to be involved with a business that changes lives and not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for the opportunity to help pet parents improve the quality of life for their senior dogs.
Our dogs do everything they can for us their whole lives and when they get older and need our help, it’s up to us to be there for them. Dog Quality gives people the options they need to make this stage of life so special and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.
6. How do you stay motivated?
I will be totally honest in saying that running Dog Quality is incredibly challenging. There’s so much I want to do but, at times, it’s a battle to make everything work. I don’t give up because we have the most amazing customers who tell us daily the difference our products are making in the lives of their senior dogs.
Every time I feel drained, I immediately get a boost from seeing and hearing from our customers. I take every aspect of this business personally. My joy comes from knowing we’re helping and seeing the impact we’re having is why I get out of bed every morning.
7. What's your favorite thing about dogs?
It’s tough to pick just one thing since they give us so much but I’d have to say that it’s their ability to find joy in everything they do. It’s easy to get stressed out over life’s challenges but spend a few minutes with a dog and see life through their eyes and all that negativity washes away. Through this process, they help us to become better versions of ourselves.
8. What's the biggest challenge you've faced with Dog Quality?
I have very big goals for Dog Quality. There are so many more products I would like for us to make and so many challenges I need for us to solve so that pet parents around the world have everything they need to make life as happy, healthy and easy as possible for their senior dogs.
Our biggest challenge has been having the capital to make these dreams a reality. There are a lot of large, upfront costs to product development and manufacturing and we have always had to take baby steps towards our goals, which is the long road to growth.
Fortunately, we recently secured an investor who believes in our mission as much as I do and his investment is helping us to pursue several new products and strategies.
In fact, he’s a Dog Quality customer who had been using our products for years to help his own senior dogs and was so grateful for the difference the products made in his dogs’ lives, that he wanted to be a part of helping us grow. We are very excited for what’s ahead for Dog Quality!
9. Which Instagram accounts featuring senior dogs do you love?
My favorite account is @wolfgang2242 because he, like me, only rescues seniors and helps raise awareness so that others can see how beautiful dogs are at this stage. He typically has nine senior dogs as well as Bikini, his pig, and some chickens, so I must see what’s happening in his house at least once a day.
I’m also a big fan of @susiesseniordogs, @muttsvillesf, @wheelingsuperheroes, @peter_parker_15 and @spyro_dog, to name a few. I love following our customers too, so I can share how their senior dogs are doing and how our products are helping.
10. What's the best piece of advice you have for parents of older dogs?
As parents of senior dogs, I believe we have two choices. We can either focus on what’s no longer there and be sad about what happens as our dogs age or we can look at this stage as a time that can be so incredibly special, fun and happy.
Instead of looking at what your dog can no longer do, try looking at all the new ways he or she approaches life. Senior dogs have so much love to give, they still want to enjoy life and you’ll find that your bond with them grows even deeper during this time, so embrace it and love every moment.
Our dogs feed off of our energy and we owe it to them to stay positive and upbeat so they can face life with the same energy. Life can still be amazing with your senior dogs just by making some simple changes. The adventure is not over!
11. Which Dog Quality products do your dogs use?
I can honestly say that my dogs use every single Dog Quality product. In fact, that’s typically how new products are developed. I see my own seniors struggling with something and I work to find a way to help them. And with each senior I’m fortunate to have in my life, I learn something new about how our dogs age and the challenges they face.
Then, by talking with our customers, I hear what they’re facing with their dogs and I’m able to prioritize which products we focus on based on how widespread a challenge is. Lily loves her Dogger, our dog stroller, which I use to ensure she isn’t overdoing it on our walks. She walks as long as she can and then rides when she needs a break.
She also uses our Washable Wonders dog diapers. Her urinary incontinence dramatically improved after her back surgery, but she still has fecal incontinence so I use the diapers along with our stretchable straps to help manage this.
Willow also rides in the Dogger since she has a heart condition and I need to keep her active, but, like Lily, she shouldn’t overdo things. Willow is currently recovering from a series of debilitating seizures, so she is now using our dog diapers and our traction socks to help her while she recovers.
Winnie has a very unique body where not everything is built as it should, so I am very careful with her, since jumping off furniture or my bed could potentially cause her serious injury. We are in the midst of finalizing a bed ramp, which Winnie uses like a pro. She also gets in the Dogger on hot days when I need to cool her off. As she ages, I know we’ll have her using even more products.
12. What's one thing you think your customers would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m pretty much an open book but people might be surprised to know that I was born in Trinidad and Tobago. A lot of my family is from there but we moved when I was three, so I don’t remember much. However, I grew up listening to and loving calypso music and spicy food! I became a Canadian citizen when I turned 18 and love Canada but I also love knowing that the Caribbean is in my blood 😊.
13. How do you like to spend your free time with your fur babies?
I love to take my dogs on walks with their Dogger. It gives us so much freedom to go for as long as we want knowing they can take breaks in the Dogger when needed. I love watching them looking around and loving every minute of our walk. My next favorite thing is to cuddle with them on my couch or in my bed watching movies. I feel so close to them when we do this, and I forget about everything else and just enjoy being with them.
14. What's the best place you've ever ventured with your Dogger?
We live in a very beautiful area so there are endless trails to explore and the Dogger can go basically anywhere. One of the coolest places we have visited is Canim Falls. It’s gorgeous and the trail let’s you walk (or roll) right up to the top of the waterfall. It’s incredible.
15. How can assistance products like dog strollers, dog diapers, and traction socks make life easier for dogs and their humans?
One of the hardest things as a pet parent is to watch your dog struggle and feel powerless to help them and, sadly, age-related conditions are often the reasons people feel they need to put their dogs down.
Effective assistance products give you another option by providing you with the means to improve the quality of your dog’s life and extend the time you have together. In the people world, there’s an endless list of assistance products to help us as we age, including incontinence and mobility aids, so why should it be any different for our dogs?
It’s amazing how life changing it can be for dogs and families alike when you find a product that solves the challenge you’re facing. Whether it’s the freedom the Dogger brings, the stability the socks deliver or the dignity that our dog diapers can restore, having the right assistance products can make all the difference.
16. What's the accomplishment you're most proud of?
I’m most proud of our efforts to bring as much of the manufacturing as possible in-house. Making products is so challenging and for years, we outsourced everything, but to make products the way I believe they need to be, I knew we had to do it ourselves. This way, we can truly control the quality, flow of inventory, modifications, improvements, etc.
Making the move to building our Dogger strollers in-house was terrifying. There are roughly 300 parts that go into each Dogger and you need special machinery to build them, so it was intimidating but I knew it was a necessary evolution for us as a company.
Next, we started to sew many of our incontinence products in-house and, in the not too distant future, we’ll be introducing a new larger version of our Dogger, called the Big Dogger, which will also be built by us here in Canada. Down the road, we hope to make our socks and some new footwear products in-house as well.
Production continues to be the most challenging aspect to this business, but I love having our products in our hands. I know this is how we’ll continue to deliver the highest quality products to our customers and, in the process, establish ourselves as the industry leader for senior dog products.
17. What makes senior dogs so special?
There’s something about this stage of life that creates the deepest of bonds. I think, in part, it stems from the vulnerability our seniors feel, so they need us more than ever before. I also believe it comes through the act of caring for them and helping them to find ways to continue to enjoy life.
I personally have never felt closer to my dogs as I do when they are seniors. They need me and I need them just as much and we become closer as a result. I’m drawn to seniors for the connections we create with each other and also because they make me a better person.
They teach me to stop and appreciate what I have, to live in the moment and it’s really fun to find ways to help them continue to do all the things they love to do.
18. How does being a pet parent change the way you see the world?
I don’t have kids, so, for me, my dogs are my children and it’s amazing how caring for more than just yourself changes you. Their needs come first and if I know they are happy and healthy, then I feel completely fulfilled.
I don’t think I would feel this way if I only had myself to look out for. They remind me that there are so many more important things in life than what we get caught up in on a daily basis. I feel that I’m much more grounded thanks to their wisdom.
I also feel that they help me find humor in just about everything because they never take themselves too seriously and I don’t think a day goes by that they don’t crack me up. Overall, I like the person I am with my dogs. I’m a more relaxed, caring and selfless version of myself thanks to them.
19. What do you think sets Dog Quality apart?
Everyone at Dog Quality truly cares and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. We have this dogs first philosophy that we use to guide everything we do, which basically means that no matter what the situation, we must always take care of our customer’s dog(s).
Sometimes, this means losing money on an order but that’s totally okay because I would not be in this business if I didn’t feel like we were helping. It’s more important than anything else. Another area where I feel we are different is our commitment to innovation and quality.
Everything we design is done so with senior dogs in mind. By focusing on senior dogs, this means we’re providing solutions for the most challenging use cases and in doing so, our products are raising the bar on quality and effectiveness and all dogs can benefit as a result.
20. What are the funniest things your dogs do?
There are so many hilarious things that my dogs do on a daily basis. Lily, for example, refuses to sit on the floor so over the past year or so, I’ve been collecting photos of all the alternatives she prefers to sit on, such as a ribbon, a stack of printer paper, a stuffie, a piece of plastic wrap and the list goes on.
Winnie is like a cartoon character whose best friends are mops and brooms. She’ll bounce around “playing” with them anytime you leave the closet doors open. And Willow cracks me up because at 13 years, she knows exactly who she is and what she likes and doesn’t like and she’s not afraid to let you know.
When she’s excited, she thinks she runs like the wind and will twirl until she knocks herself down and if you try and make her do something she doesn’t want to do, like walk outside in the snow, she’ll simply turn around and go home with or without your permission. Each of my dogs is so unique and funny in their own way and give me these moments that are so special.