Most people don’t end up turning sixth-grade science projects into successful business ventures. But Katie Mulich, now 20, is not most people.
Having invented a device designed to clean a dog’s paws without using brushes and buckets and towels, Mulich is the founder of the Paw Wash: the first patented product dedicated to cleaning a puppy’s paws.
Mulich drafted the idea one fall afternoon when she was 12. Looming over Mulich was her school project’s due date. She had yet to think of an idea. And then Mulich’s mom told her to clean her dog’s paws. Cleaning Sadie, a Lab-German shepherd mix, was one of Mulich’s normal chores. As per usual, Mulich trudged outside to gather everything, but then, as she was fetching the supplies, it occurred to her that there should be a better way. After conferring with her father, Mike, Mulich garnered a piece of PVC pipe and crafted the prototype for the Paw Wash.
“You just fill it with water to the fill line, and you add a few drops of soap, lift the lid off, and when you put the paw in there, you pump it up and down and it pulls all the dirt and mud off, Mulich says.
Positive reception for the Paw Wash was so high, Mulich decided to patent it. It took her 2 1/2 years to do it.
A competitor soon emerged. The Paw Plunger came out after Mulich had earned the patent. She took them to federal court.
“I debated whether to go after them or not, because it’s a lot of money,” says Mulich.
But Mulich found an attorney who would tackle the case for little money. She won.
“Theirs looked like a coffee mug, which mine has claims for,” says Mulich. “We have 18 claims. Anything that looks like it, or does it, is mine, and that’s where people get infringed.”
Mulich donates $1 of every sale to Wayside Waifs, the largest no-kill shelter in Kansas City, Mo.
“I think it’s a really smart tool for pet owners,” says Ashlee Parker, communications manager for Wayside Waifs. “I have a dog, and I just dread days like this when it’s wet outside because I know I’m going to get a mess inside.”
Wayside Waifs places more than 5,000 animals into homes each year. The adoption center commonly swoops in to rescue animals from shelters that use euthanasia to control populations. Recently, Mulich, an animal lover, adopted a Lab-pit bull mix from Wayside Waifs named Callie Rose. A 3-month old puppy, Callie keeps Mulich on her feet.
“She’s hyper all the time,” Mulich says. “It’s good because she gets me to go out, besides going to class. I walk her all the time.”
After the walks, Mulich cleans Callie’s paws with the Paw Wash.
Buyers of the product tend to be enthusiastic dog lovers. Among them is Allison Szasz, who has a Lab mix named Buddy.
“My dog wants to go outside a million times a night, and right now our yard is half-snow, half-mud,” says Szasz. “I got tired of all the towel stuff, and the Paw Wash is pretty awesome so far.”
Then there’s Sue Curry, who was so smitten with the Paw Wash after using it on her golden retriever, Gannon, she joined the company.
“I so loved the way it completely cleaned his paws (and they are big) after his daily walks that I asked ... how I could become involved in working for the company,” says Curry. “It really is a benefit not only to your house, no muddy dog footprints everywhere, but for your pet's health, too.”
A film studies major at KU, Mulich has decided to minor in business so she can better handle business decisions. Over break she created a Facebook page for the business, she’s been doing spots on local news programs, and she’s spent time working on the website, www.thepawwash.com. She’s busy, and hopeful.
And the grade Mulich earned for her science fair project eight years ago? An A.