A pet is a family member, a loyal companion, and truly a best friend. Pets can add joy and happiness to the lives we lead. In the same vein they can be totally weird and sometimes hilarious. Pets have personality. Valerie Miller, founder of WowieGoods, knows the love and loyalty and also the comedy that pets bring. Partnered with nostalgia for the classic “Best Friends” necklace, she created a line of pet tags that can be shared between two pets or pet and owner. These hand stamped tags allow the owner to show off their pups attitude with charm. Between volunteering and hanging with Ernie, Jake, and Pickles, Miller took some time to talk about her relationship with animals and the fun she is having with WowieGoods.
Maker Market: When and how did WowieGoods get started?
Valerie Miller: My fiancé, Ryan, and I bought a house and fused our dog families together about 2 years ago. Prior to that, my dog Pickles hadn't been the nicest to his dog Ernie. Once we moved into our new house, that all changed and they started to get along very well. One day I looked at Pickles and Ernie and I said to Ryan, "Do you think they'd wear those Best Friends broken heart necklaces if they could?" "You know, the ones from the 90's." And then I thought....why not? So, I started making Best Friends sets for dogs. Then, I realized everyone's dog is their best friend, so why not make a set for a human and dog to share and wear too. Shortly after, I decided I should offer more, so I started thinking of some more unique tags to make. We've got 3 dogs, I'm involved in dog rescue, and most of my friends have dogs, so it wasn't hard to come up with new sayings to stamp on the tags – inspiration was everywhere. This all happened about a year ago. I opened my Etsy shop in April of 2015.
MM: Is WowieGoods a hobby at the moment and if so would you like to turn it into a full time gig at some point?
VM: It's a hobby/side business at the moment, but I think my ultimate dream would be to be able to do WowieGoods part-time and still work as a graphic designer part-time, which is my full-time gig now. When I started, I was mostly driven by the fact that I thought the Best Friends idea just had to be done. I didn't pursue it in order to make money, but it's been nice to be able to tackle some projects that come along with buying a home.
MM: What inspired you to make pet tags and what is your process like?
VM: Pickles and Ernie were the ones that really inspired me. From there, Ryan and I would randomly think of other sayings for the tags. Usually it just happens at our house. Pickles will be doing something crazy and I'll look at her and say, "you're such a weirdo" and then realize that "weirdo" would be a good tag to stamp. I also get a lot of suggestions from customers when I'm out at local events. That's very helpful and I appreciate their input.
MM: How were animals a part of your upbringing?
VM: As a child, we had a dog, but now that I look back on it, my family didn't know what they were doing at the time. She was loved, but we could've done a better job raising her correctly. My connection and passion for dogs didn't really blossom until about 7 years ago when I started volunteering with MADACC (Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission). I started walking the dogs at the shelter and also got involved in advocacy for MADACC's animals and especially pit bulls. Walking the dogs and interacting with the poor animals at MADACC definitely taught me a lot about the connection a pet makes with a person and vice versa. I was always astonished when I'd see dogs that were clearly abused, with actual scars, possibly from being forced to fight, and those dogs were always the happiest to see humans. It made no sense to me. Here I was, the species that did that to the poor animal, and yet, the dogs still loved unconditionally, and wagged their tails with excitement. These dogs didn't know me, but within 5 minutes most of them would nuzzle up to me as if I had been in their life for years. The ability for an animal to immediately love and trust like that is amazing. Humans certainly aren't capable of that.
MM: Do you think that the relationship between humans and their pets has changed for your generation?
VM: Absolutely. Just think about how many restaurants/bars/hotels allow dogs now – it's great! More people are treating their pets as family and that makes me very happy. I think the rise in adoption has influenced this as well. Rescuing a pet can bring a different kind of connection, especially in cases where you really did save their life or rehabilitate them. I didn't even know there were dogs in need like that when I was growing up. Where I lived, you either bought a dog at the pet store or got a puppy from a farmer who's dog had given birth. I'm so glad people are bringing their pets inside and caring for them as best they can. Statistics show just that. My full-time job is also pet-related. I'm the graphic designer for a company that makes dog treats and grooming products, so I'm also aware of how much money people are spending on their pets theses days, and that number keeps climbing.
MM: Is there a special pet that has your heart at the moment and what tag is your pet rocking?
VM: I have 3 special dogs in my heart and home. They all have one of my custom ID tags right now. They read, "I'm a Jake," "I'm a Pickles," and "I'm an Ernie" on the fronts, and my phone number is on the back. I hate to admit it, but my orders come first, before my own pups. I actually didn't make those for them until about a month ago!
MM: What are some of your top sellers?
VM: The Humper & The Humped (set for two dogs), Best Friends sets - particularly the bones, Ladies Man, Mom's Favorite, Dad's Favorite, I Got a Second Chance, Big Brother, Big Sister, and Dumb & Dumber (two pet set).
MM: You take custom tag orders. Have you had any hilarious requests?
VM: I most recently had a custom request for a tag that says, "slut." I thought it was good enough to keep in the rotation, so that will be a regular now.
MM: Will you have any new and exciting new offerings at the upcoming Maker Markets?
VM: I definitely have more variety. I did add 2 new shapes since the last market - I have badges and bone sets now. One badge says "Fun Police" and there is also a 2 badge set, "Sheriff & Deputy." The bone sets are Best Friends sets - your dog shares half of his bone with his best doggy friend. I also have refined my process and found the best materials so I'm more confident with all of the products.
MM: You also use your business to spread the word about animals in need. Are there organizations or causes you would like to recognize for rescuing animals in the Milwaukee area?
VM: As I mentioned before, MADACC is Milwaukee area's neediest shelter. Many people aren't even aware that MADACC exists. It is a government agency, with a non-profit (Friends of MADACC) support system. There is a physical facility (35th & Burnham) and they have officers that canvas Milwaukee county as well, picking up stray, abandoned, and abused animals. They currently rescue and assure safe, temporary shelter, basic veterinary and humane care for over 12,000 stray, unwanted, abandoned, mistreated, and injured animals each year –– more than any other animal control organization in Wisconsin. Unlike other facilities, MADACC will take all animals, even ones that are sick, injured, and who may exhibit unsafe behavior, because those animals need a place to go too. Rescue groups and humane societies pull some animals from MADACC and then adopt them out, but not all animals get pulled and that's one of the reasons the shelter is so full. My own Pickles (as seen in the WowieGoods logo) was picked up as a stray but no owner came forward for her. She was passed up by rescue groups and humane societies and spent over a month at MADACC. She was scared, and possibly formerly abused, and all she needed was love and patience. She is a completely different dog today.
I also volunteer with Canine Cupids rescue group. The majority of the dogs we take into rescue come from MADACC. Cupids is a foster-based rescue group, meaning there is no physical shelter. We rely on foster families that open their homes, time, and love to these dogs. The foster families work with dogs to help them adjust to living in a home, often with other animals. They help train and socialize them so they are ready for adoption. Cupids takes a lot of dogs with medical issues, treats them, and nurses them back to health so they have a better chance at finding their forever home.
Here's my plug....if you have ever considered fostering a dog or cat, I strongly encourage you to reach out to MADACC or Canine Cupids. Fosters SAVE LIVES and make room in the already overcrowded shelters. OR if you're looking to adopt, check out their available animals.
MM: Where can people find Wowie Goods outside of Maker Market?
VM: WowieGoods has a store on Etsy and aftcra and can also be found in the following local stores:
MM: What is currently inspiring you? Blogs? Movies? Music? IG accounts? Ect?
VM: Mostly the dogs - my own, my friends' dogs, dogs I see on Facebook and Instagram.
Find Valerie and WowieGoods at the upcoming Maker Market at Discovery World this Saturday March 5th. And to all the tiny dogs out there…..Spring is almost here!