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How a Tough Year and a Ridiculous Looking Cleaning Hack Started a Business.

DATE 2 / 7 / 2019

2009 was not a banner year for my family. Among other things, I had had a heart attack, a freak thing at 48, a massive MI in the form of a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. It hit like a searingly painful bolt from the blue during the dessert course at my mother’s dinner table. One minute I was enjoying a brownie, and the next I was reeling backwards, clutching my chest and swearing like a sailor. My two young sons looked on in horror. I was a single mom with a lot to live for.

The change I never saw coming.

During the months of rehab that followed, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to work. I had been a painter by profession, proficient enough to have always sold well. My beautiful studio waited just 20 feet from where I spent my afternoons, but I had noticed that a lifelong tremor in my hands had suddenly increased tenfold. Controlling a paintbrush for the perfect glint in a portrait’s eye or the delicious details of a still life had become nothing short of impossible. At times, my hands flew around like nervous parakeets. I had no idea what to do, but surviving the heart attack had made me optimistic. I’d figure it out.

Salvation came in the form of a shelter dog.

One morning, to finally oblige my son, who had for months begged for a dog, we went to the local shelter to look. To say that he chose the sickest, saddest looking dog the shelter had to offer is almost an understatement. Her name was Lilly. While the other pups gamboled and scampered around behind the glass, this heartbroken Miniature Australian Shepherd sat quietly with her head down and her back to us. She had been dumped in the afterhours kennels sometime during the night. I tapped the glass. Her head turned just enough for me to see an unexpectedly white-speckled eye. Was she blind? Poor thing. I so wanted to ignore the puddle slowly spreading beneath her, and her matted, dull coat, but I couldn’t. I’m ashamed to say I attempted to veto my son’s choice. He had recently lost a dog to cancer. I pointed out the other happy, healthy dogs. I argued that we had enough challenges at home. No dice.

So we waited, seated on the floor of the meeting room, while the attendant brought Lilly in. Unhooked from the leash, with everyone calling to her at once, Lilly looked only at my son. Of the 5 people waiting to meet her, she walked straight to the one who had just suffered through 2 miserable years of epilepsy from a football concussion. She stopped for a beat to sniff the air in front of him, and then lay down with her eyes on his. A moment later her sweet head dropped gently onto his ankle and she closed her eyes. It was an incredibly magical moment. This dog somehow knew exactly where she was needed.  

Nurse Lilly

As it turns out, it was that watchful, motherly aspect of Lilly that would launch my business. Each day, while my son was at school, she transferred her nurse duties over to me. I’d arrive home from cardiac rehab, and Lilly would climb onto the couch next to me. I’d nap. She’d watch. I’d wake to find her nose next to mine. It was a little unnerving…had I stopped breathing? She would not leave my side.

So much love…and fur!

Lilly had never been inside a house before, and her heavy coat immediately began to shed everywhere. I blew through sticky roller refills nearly every two days. Finally, in exasperation, I went to PetSmart for something better. They recommended sticky rollers. There was nothing to do about it. I’d had enough of the sticky roller racket. Everywhere I went, Lilly fur went with me. I started to notice other people wearing their pets as well. Polar fleece, the uniform of Colorado, is the best pet hair magnet you can wear. I could not stop seeing it. Why had no one solved this problem?

Then one afternoon, on my way to the sink to scrub around it with an old toothbrush, I noticed Lilly’s muddy pawprints on the couch and stopped to brush them off. When I looked back at the brush, I saw a little bit of fur trapped there. I brushed my polar fleece. More fur. I raced upstairs and stole everyone’s toothbrushes and cobbled together the first Lilly Brush in the garage that afternoon. By the time my sons came home from school I had nearly cleaned the whole house with it. It wasn’t perfect by any means. The brushes wore down quickly, and the hair tangled the bristles, but it was the start of an idea. It was something.

Next post: How to Protect Your Idea Prior to Filing For a Patent

Founder, Elsie Hamilton

www.lillybrush.com