How I Started Bold Lead Designs

As the owner of Bold Lead Designs LLC, I am constantly asked, “How did you get into this?” The short answer is because I couldn’t find a leash I liked and discovered there was a need for good quality leather dog leashes and dependable service dog equipment.

The long answer goes like this:

When I was a kid I had almost every kind of animal you can think of (quite a variety of feathered, scaled, and furry critters, considering I lived in the suburbs). As a teenager I was completely obsessed with horses. If I wasn’t at school, I was at the barn. I also loved working with dogs. I didn’t have a dog as a young child, but got my first puppy, a German Shepherd, when I was about 12 years old. I learned to appreciate dogs that had a job utilizing their natural talents, and still have an affinity for working dogs of all kinds.

In High school I raised a guide dog puppy for Guide Dogs for the Blind. A lovely GSD named Poco. He was huge (not so poco). Guide Dogs use a special multi-functional leather leash, one that you can keep short for walking, and it can be lengthened for breaks and playtime. It was also a super convenient tie-down. I used this leash for many, many years after Poco was relinquished. It finally gave out after 17 years (the hardware got rusty).

Cora and Working Dog lead

I needed a new leather leash, but had no idea where to find a good one. Being the creative problem solver that I am, I decided I would make my own. But it would be even better than my old leash! First, none of that stiff leather that takes forever to become soft and comfortable. Second, no more rusty hardware–only solid brass would do. Third, I hate it when cheap leather gets wet and the dye comes off on your hands; so properly tanned, natural and colorfast leather would be the best choice for durability and weather resistance. Next, the hardware simply had to be better quality than my old one so it wouldn’t rust. Finally, my new leash would have lots of great features. I made this super awesome new leash that I could put around my waist to be hands-free, change the length any time I wanted, and I especially loved the built-in training collar on my rambunctious young shepherd cattle dog mix (the smart ones are trouble). The Working Dog Lead was my first original leash design, and is still a customer favorite.

The A-Ha Moment

Everyone who saw my leash wanted one. So I made some for friends and acquaintances; people loved them! They reported that their dog was better behaved and easier to control now that they had a proper leash–their confidence transferred down the leash to the dog, and the dogs responded appropriately. Then there was the “ah-ha” moment: “If I can’t find a proper leash, then there must be other people out there just like me who need good training equipment!”  Bold Lead Designs was born.

Beginning in 2006, Bold Leads was a part time hobby. I’d make leashes in my spare time and sell them at craft fairs, fundraising events for dog shelters, and started selling online in my shop. As my leashes became more popular, customers made requests for specific functions they wanted in a leash. For example, it can be difficult to find leashes designed for giant breed dogs, so the Big Dog Lead was born. People needed a 6-foot leash that could be worn over the shoulder: the 8-Way Lead is now my most popular leash design.

The business was officially launched in 2008. The creativity kept flowing and many other designs were born out of necessity and customer requests. Untold time and seed money went into researching and finding the perfect leather selections, sourcing the best hardware, and developing my crafting methods. (Did you know I use only American hides and guarantee everything I make?) After all, if it’s not the best then there’s nothing special about it.

Creating a Specialty Niche

Volunteering my time with several local service dog groups, I learned about all the amazing things dogs can do to make their partner’s lives more complete. I realized that off-the-shelf pet products were not very functional for people with limited dexterity. I came up with a Fastener-Free Leash and Fastener-free collar designs that can be used without any buckles or snaps. It changed people’s lives! Imagine finally being able to handle your new service dog on your own, for the first time, without assistance. I also discovered there was a need for a SAFE leash that would not get tangled up in wheelchairs. My quick-release Wheelchair Lead continues to be a unique favorite. Most recently, I developed a Wheelchair Hook attachment too. I am still surprised how few options there are for people with disabilities; I love finding solutions that actually work.

A Life Changing Phone Call

I volunteered to help a local service dog group modify some of their balance/mobility harnesses that did not fit the dogs very well. I realized that existing equipment was not well designed for either the dog or the human. Trainers and their clients complained these harnesses were cumbersome, hard to buckle, and not very stable. Some dogs were uncomfortable and did not want to wear the awkward harnesses.

One day in 2009 I got a call from Patti at Freedom Service Dogs. The conversation went like this. “Hi Katrina, we need you to design a balance and mobility harness for us.” Me: “No, sorry. I don’t make harnesses.” Patti wouldn’t take no for an answer: “We really need you to do this. We need 4 of them ASAP. I’m confident you will figure it out.” Well okay then, I was left no choice!

I accepted the challenge and engineered a Mobility Support Harness for brace and balance from the ground up. The harness had to be easy to use, stable, and fit the dog correctly. After several appointments with a veterinary orthopedic surgeon and canine physical therapists (both before and after the design phase), I settled on a design that distributed pressure correctly and  evenly across the dog’s body, without restricting the dog’s movement. The design process included finding the right materials and engineering a folding handle that was stable and balanced. After putting all the pieces together for a prototype, we were ready for the litmus test–does the harness work as intended? Freedom Service Dogs placed some prototypes with their trainers and clients, and provided real-life feedback. After a few final tweaks and final approval by the veterinary pros, the harness design was good to go and performed exactly as intended. The Mobility Support Harness was born, and is often referred to as the “BLD MSH”. The harness design was so successful I was asked to speak at the Assistance Dogs International (ADI) Trainer’s Conference in 2009, and again at the International Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) conference in 2010. Now, my harness design is well-known in the service dog community as one of the best, most comfortable, and user-friendly harnesses available. As time went on many design improvements have been implemented, in direct response to customer requests. There are now many variations and options available to customize the harness to individual needs.

A Rewarding Career

I fell in love with creating special equipment for these wonderful dogs, and really enjoyed helping people find gear that truly met their needs. Bold Lead Designs developed a specialty niche dedicated to providing functional equipment to meet the specialty needs of service dogs and people with disabilities.

This little harness project changed my life. I had no idea that my invention would be in such high demand. In the beginning, I completely underestimated the need for this type of quality, custom-fit equipment. My life formed around my work creating quality dog equipment so I could keep up with the demand. In 2010 I knew it was time to quit my “day job” and focus full-time on providing this specialized equipment.

Help & More Space

As a solo-entrepreneur, I did almost everything on my own; product design, manufacturing, website design, marketing, networking, order fulfillment, shipping, customer service, and all of those other little things that are crucial to running a business. I had amazing support from my family and friends, and from an excellent organization dedicated to my success as a small businesses owner, the Mi Casa Resource Center. However, I was struggling to keep up with the rapid growth of my company, and finally hired my first employee in June, 2013. My team has since grown steadily.

Bold Leads started in a spare room in 2006, in 2009 it took over my house’s basement, then in 2013 moved to a commercial office/warehouse space, which was quickly outgrown. In 2015 I purchased a 3000 sf. commercial building for BLD’s permanent home that will accommodate our planned future growth. Today, I am honored to have 8 amazing full-time employees who are fully dedicated to my company’s mission (with more jobs opening soon!).  I am so proud to be a job creator and to have surrounded myself with such compassionate and talented individuals. My team truly cares for one another and each of us a misfit in our own way. As cliché as it sounds, we’re truly family here at BLD.

I feel great satisfaction with my career and know I’m making a difference. Every thank you note and phone call I get reminds me of how blessed I am to have such wonderful, loyal, and appreciative clients. So here I am today, loving my job and looking forward to the next brilliant design opportunity. By the way, I still make great dog leashes! –Katrina Boldry