Fetching Ideas from a Virginia Businesswoman
Dogs don’t get MS, but thanks to Denise Clarke, they get to help cure it.
Denise and her husband Robert own Care-A-Lot® Pet Supply in Virginia, and they’re giving profits from special National MS Society-themed pet products to Promise: 2010, a multimillion-dollar campaign funding four vital initiatives in MS research and care. First came the MS Loofa Dog toy, whose goofy grin and scruffy orange fur charmed dogs and owners alike. Then orange collars and leads, and a line of treats with natural orange-colored ingredients like carrots and sweet potatoes. Next up: the Flappy toy, whose manufacturer says, “We make ‘em for dogs to shake ‘em.”
Denise had never heard of MS when she was diagnosed in 2002 after a year of symptoms. She went to three doctors “because you never want to believe the first two,” and began treatments because all three were unanimous in their diagnosis. MS was the first and only setback in the happy life she’d dreamed of since childhood, and she took it hard: “I stayed awake many nights crying and feeling a very deep sense of sadness that was unknown to me before.”
She remembers the exact moment that, as Dale Carnegie once put it, she stopped worrying and started living: her mom gave her a big hug and said, “Why is this happening to you?”
“I found myself saying, ‘Why not me? What makes me so different than anyone else who gets diagnosed with an illness?’ I made a decision that I wasn’t going to worry about the what-ifs. I made a choice to stay positive.”
Here the Clarkes’ story takes a turn that, in retrospect, affirms Denise’s decision to embrace happiness. Not wanting to bring a third child into a family with MS, Robert visited a doctor whom Denise now calls “Dr. Snip.” Much to everybody’s surprise — especially Dr. Snip’s — the procedure failed. In autumn 2003 sons Hunter and Chase were joined by a baby girl.
“I felt like it was God saying, ‘I’m not done with you yet,’ so we named our daughter Faith,” Denise said.
Those days of despair just after diagnosis now seemed like a brief deviation from a life of blessings. Another blessing, Denise realized, is that her disease responded well to a disease-modifying drug.
“I had the ability to reach so many more people through our catalogue and Web site, so I decided to use these avenues to further raise awareness and funds for MS research,” she said.
The Loofa Dog generated a $30,000 donation to Promise: 2010. “And that’s just the beginning,” Denise pledged. “All because I opened my imagination to a new opportunity.”
Care-A-Lot is a registered trademark of Care-A-Lot Pet Supply.
Photos: Clarke family; Joseph Lust