Bluffton resident Kim Simpson still remembers the surprise and gratitude she felt last winter upon seeing her old dog perform a new trick.
Hope, her 15-year-old Lab mix, had been suffering from pelvic and joint pain, leading Simpson to carpet her kitchen three years earlier to keep the dog from her losing footing on the tiled floor.
But Hope continued to struggle with poor mobility, and Simpson began to consider putting her down to end her pain.
She brought Hope to veterinarian Julie Snyder's Beaufort home for a final treatment approach -- applying tiny rubbery tubes to each nail.
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The results, Simpson remembers, were immediate.
"It was instantaneous," she says. "Hope was much more stable and more confident," adding that she began walking easily on Snyder's linoleum floors.
She calls the tubes "an absolute lifesaver."
Snyder calls them "Dr. Buzby's ToeGrips." She has since received a patent and is selling and shipping them in increasing numbers.
Already, a few hundred dogs in 27 states are wearing ToeGrips, Snyder says, adding she recently shipped her first order to Canada. A packet of 20, complete with four spares and lubricant to assist with their application, costs about $20.
The product bears her maiden name -- Buzby.
"It's just a little more catchy," Snyder explains. The grips are made of a rubber-latex composite that provides traction on any slippery surface.
A friend had developed and shared a prototype last fall but had no interest in bringing it to market, Snyder says, leading her to make further refinements.
ToeGrips come in four sizes -- "I'm positive we are the only people in America to have aggressively measured dog toenail circumferences," she says with a laugh -- and offer what Snyder calls an unrivaled mix of durability and comfort.
"There are a ton of dog boots on the market, but ... they have to be taken on and off throughout the day," she says. "Dogs can wear ToeGrips for up to three months."
It took about 10 minutes for Snyder to apply them to Hershee, a 12-year-old chocolate Lab, at the Animal Medical Center of the Lowcountry on Lady's Island on Aug. 28.
"It can be like taking a little kid to get their hair cut," she said, gently sliding a neon green tube on to one of the dog's nails. "There's usually a little squirm involved."
But ToeGrips' benefits for dogs like Hershee far outweigh any initial apprehension, said Dr. Nicole Uranko, a Pennsylvania veterinarian and Snyder's friend.
While cautioning that the product should not be substituted for joint supplements and medications for pain and arthritis, Uranko believes they can make a substantial difference in elderly dogs' quality of life.
"I've put them on at least 40 dogs in the past two months, and 95 percent of their owners say it's made a huge difference," she said.
Uranko adds that old dogs aren't the only potential beneficiaries, explaining that her 1-year-old Newfoundland terrier is wearing them after tearing some ligaments.
"It's such a simple idea," she said. "But it can make a big difference."