Four years ago the joy of welcoming a child turned to depression for new mother Karlissa Dressler. On the advice of her doctor, the owner of Minx Hair Salon in Regina got an emotional support animal, a six-month old red retriever puppy she named Toast.
It turned out that she was so comforted by her support animal that she started a business so the proceeds could help others have a dog of their own.
“He was so close to me, he was my best buddy,” the married mom said in an interview.
“He really helped me emotionally, getting out of the house and everything because we had a very colicky baby, which contributed a lot to the postpartum depression. My puppy really helped me when I was out and about and in anxious moments and took the stress off.”
When she returned to hair styling, she bought a second red retriever to keep Toast company.
“I felt bad ever leaving him because he was my little companion everywhere that I went, so I bought him Hugo so he could have an emotional support animal. I’m like, ‘I can’t leave you at home now, you went everywhere with me.’ So Hugo is Toasty’s best friend.”
Public health orders sidelined Dressler’s hairstyling business during the pandemic. She wondered how many others could benefit from a support animal and became “super fascinated” with the concept, using her time to do research.
“It just sparked my interest in people who need service animals ... [such as] war veterans when they come home with real traumas,” she recalled. “They just make such an impact in your life.”
The fashion and clothing lover admired Tentree’s model of donating a percentage of sales to planting trees. So she and friend Kenedi Klein launched their own fashion line of bamboo clothing called Hugo & Toast. Ten percent of sales fund support dogs.
“Bamboo is so soft on the skin and just like the best fabric you can get. I wanted something very high-quality and very snuggly–snuggly like your pets,” Dressler said.
The 34-year-old partnered with Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS), an organization in B.C. and Calgary that trains service animals. Dressler has personal acquaintance with one dog that had a long career serving law enforcement in Regina.
“Merlot just just retired this year, actually, but she sat with hundreds of kids and escorted them to trial and horrible abuse cases. The police just found such an impact with the kids having that support there with them, that they were able to testify in very difficult situations,” she said.
Hugo & Toast recently gave a $20,000 sponsorship of a litter of dogs from PADS, who typically work with labradors and retrievers.
“We have 13 dogs right now that are going through training to be service animals. Sometimes, only 50 percent of the litter will make it, so we'll see how many come out the other side, if we have some geniuses in there,” Dressler said.
“They fit them based on their personality types to different things. Some of them will be seeing-eye dogs, some of them will work in the police units, other ones will be hearing dogs for deaf people.”
The business has also given in other ways. Last year, Hugo & Toast sponsored a $2,500 table at a golf fundraiser and donated items for a silent auction, all for the Jax Mac Foundation. The foundation was made in memory of Jaxon MacDonald, the 15-year-old son of Dressler’s friend who died on a snowmobiling trip at Madge Lake, Saskatchewan. The foundation gives grants to youth to enable them to gain experience and opportunities in sports, entrepreneurship, and travel.
Increasing Retail PresenceAs Dressler does good, she finds that good returns. A conversation between Dressler’s mother and a seatmate on a flight put her in touch with marketing professor Michelle Clement from Camosun College on Vancouver Island.
“Everything organically happens for me," she said.
"Michelle interviews different companies to choose for her marketing students. And she's like, 'I love your company. I have a service dog. This is right up my alley. Would you let us do a big marketing piece on your company?’ I worked with the students and everyone did a big marketing piece for me and lots of surveys and information. It was super cool.”
The findings convinced her to increase her retail presence in brick-and-mortar stores. Now her items are available in Hudson Bay stores in various provinces and boutique shops in Saskatchewan.
“Ninety-five percent of people still need to see something before they buy it. They need to know the brand," Dressler said. "People like online shopping, but they like to know what they're buying. You need to physically be in stores. You can't just be online because people can't tell that shirt’s soft; it just looks like a T-shirt.”