Colorado entrepreneur invents backcountry self-rescue device for injured dogs
CARBONDALE — What would you do if you were miles out in the backcountry and your dog got injured and was unable to walk out?
This became more than a hypothetical question for Paul Hoskinson when he cut two tendons on the leg of his dog, Remi, during a ski descent near Independence Pass.
The story ends happily, as he and Remi both survived the experience, and Remi made a complete recovery.
But it got Hoskinson to search online for a better way to rescue an injured dog. And he found nothing.
Hoskinson, not unfamiliar with entrepreneurship, took it upon himself to design and market a solution to the problem he had faced.
And so, the Fido Pro Airlift was born. Hoskinson designed a “simple” hammock-type device that distributes the dog’s weight and makes carrying the dog comfortable for both dog and human, he said. Remi can attest to this but by all accounts is somewhat tired of being a test subject.
Hoskinson said his challenge was to get people to carry the Airlift on trips: It needed to be lightweight, minimal volume, built well and affordable.
The 8-ounce, $70 Airlift in its stuff sack is roughly the size of a Nalgene water bottle, but of course is easier to pack. Out of the stuff sack it could line the bottom of a pack. And it can carry 500 pounds of weight.
That’s one big doggy.
The elegant design appears quite simple, but it took a few tries to perfect it.
“The design distributes weight well for the person and the dog and makes the shoulder straps narrow enough so they’re functioning shoulder straps,” Hoskinson said. “… At first, I couldn’t figure out how to keep the dog from collapsing on himself. Then, one day on a lazy morning it came to me that this is how it should be done.”
Hoskinson said there is another company manufacturing something similar, but, “They’re not much of a threat from a business standpoint. Their design is one I threw away.”
Carbondale veterinarian Ben Mackin was involved from a design standpoint, Hoskinson said, though Mackin played down his role. “Paul deserves all the credit,” he said.
“I see a lot of dogs with ski lacerations from backcountry and even cross country skiing accidents,” Mackin said. “Even the well-trained dogs can get spooked and run in front of a skier. Paul’s idea was great, having a safe, packable way to get an injured dog out and to treatment.”
While Hoskinson said there have been a couple of Airlift rescue stories to date, he doesn’t yet have permission to talk about them. But he will say, “Two or thee times a day on Instagram or Facebook someone comes on and says, ‘We should have had this last week.’”
Fido Pro employs Hoskinson as top dog, two marketing people and four shipping/customer service representatives. It also contracts out eight cut-and-sew employees at two Denver and Boulder manufacturing locations.
The Airlift, originally constructed in Carbondale, probably won’t be made much farther from Carbondale than that.
“I have no intention of leaving Colorado for the lion’s share of production,” Hoskinson said.
Sales are 97% online, Hoskinson said, though the Airlift is available locally at the Ute Mountaineer and Bristlecone Mountain Sports. “We’ve been using social media as a conduit for marketing and advertising,” he said.
Hoskinson, the entrepreneur, currently makes his living from a building material company he started. But, he said, “Fido Pro is taking up enough of my time that it will be necessary to do this on a full-time basis.”
In fact, he said, “We’re looking at producing in Europe. We plan to set up a European operation in 2020.”
Fido Pro isn’t resting on the laurels of the current Airlift, Hoskinson said. He is working on “new designs to accommodate larger dogs,” namely a two-person carrying system. “Airlift will have a couple more designs out this year,” he said.
Also in the works are what Hoskinson calls protection products rather than rescue products. At this point, though, those designs are top secret.
In regards to being bought out by a company such as canine outdoor gear company Ruffwear, Hoskinson said with a wry smile, “Everything’s for sale. … Do I have an emotional attachment? Of course.” But the point is that he primarily wants the product available: It doesn’t have to be him that provides it.
Hoskinson said, “Fido Pro was born out of compassion for dogs and human beings. (His experience with Remi) was really traumatic for me. I can’t imagine leaving a dog out there wondering if they’re getting attacked by animals.
“I do truly feel that anyone who takes their dog hiking or skiing should have this,” Hoskinson said.
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