Tonawanda News

March 10, 2014

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Embracing durable toys

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Last week, I talked about how WNY March is still quite cold, and there are limited activities our pets can safely participate in. Just like children, our critter companions can get quite bored when there are limited outdoor activities.

My first thought was to find some foraging and more importantly, durable enrichment items to give to my critter companions.

I started my search on Amazon and quickly found Scooter Z’s Bird Toys and Cage Accessories. They offer a Snuggle product made out of premium anti-pill fleece material with two long laces at the back for tying to the enclosure, which is perfect to keep those small pets warm. Ferrets, hamster, mice and other small rodents will surely enjoy this machine-washable product. They also offer Snuggly swings for birds, to cozy up to in this dreary month.

I tried the Surprise Surprise Foot/Foraging Toy, Treasure Guard and Stick-O-Stick for my birds, along with a few other chewable wooden toys. The Surprise Surprise foot toy might be a new favorite for Buddy the Moluccan cockatoo. It includes colorful wooden pieces that have a middle part that swings open on both sides to reveals plastic pacifiers, with enough space to hide your bird’s favorite treats. It is held together by leather strips, which encourages preening.

I spoke to the CEO/owner of Scooter Z’s, Sunchea Phou, who started making and selling enrichment toys in 2009. Phou believes enrichment for our pets is essential.

“It is very important because enrichment helps decrease birds’ stress, improve their mental and physical health and reduce their behavioral problems,” Phou said. “It allows them to live happily and fulfilled.”

Around 80 percent of their production is here in the United States and the toys contain 100 percent stainless steel hardware, which means long after the wooden pieces have been gnawed off, you can restring them or add other toys using the same hardware. Their products can be found in most pet boutiques, some small chains and across the Internet.

Phou is also in the process of opening another company, YAY Wallet, which makes products for pet owners. These are 100 percent U.S. made and I received a super slim wallet with a sketch of a bull dog wearing sunglasses with a plaid chic background. The wallet is made to be durable and is incredibly light. They will be offering a large selection of prints and you can find out more this coming week as they launch it first at Crowd Supply and Kickstarter.

Kristen Marchiole of Buffalo asked, “What brand of toys do you give your dog? Our puppy is chewing through everything, pretty much the same day/week we get it for him. What do you recommend?” And although I do not currently have a dog in my house, I do care for dogs at work and knew that Starmark offers treat-dispensing toys, fetch toys, treats and training gear for dogs that play hard.

The company started out in 2002 and their products can be found at all major pet stores. Starmark has an academy for professional dog trainers and offers class sessions of four, eight, and 12 weeks year round and onsite housing.

Courses include basic and advanced obedience, dog sports, behavior modification, kennel and breeding management, personal protection, police K9 training, search and rescue, retriever training, assisted therapy and explosive and narcotic detection, among others.

Kristen, I recommend every product that I have tried from them, which includes the treat-dispensing Picklepocket, Tetraflex and Chewball and an Everlasting Treat Ball. They are made with materials that are stronger than rubber and are great for powerful chewers. The products are free of latex, vinyl and phthalates. I applied one of their slogans, “Turns Mealtime into Playtme” to my cats, who looked confused and entertained by the idea of a treat-dispensing object in place of their food bowl.

Emily Benson, the marketing director, told me that I am not the first person to apply these durable toys to non-canine animals.

“Our background is dog training, so our products are geared towards dogs,” she said. “We do have some of our trainers and students that use the treat-dispensing toys for their other pets, like cats, ferrets and birds. Some of our items have been used as enrichment toys for zoo animals as well.”

To see my photographs of Buddy playing with Scooter Z’s toys and dogs and cats playing with Starmark’s toys, check out our Facebook page. If you have a treat, enrichment or pet product company that interests you, send us an email.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified professional bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. Please email your questions to, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.