Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Pet toys going green

By Michael Wilner, CNN
Click to play
SimplyFido making organic pet toys
  • When Jean Chae's mom was diagnosed with cancer, family changed to organic foods
  • Inspired by their changes, family started a small business making pet toys
  • Toys are pesticide-free and give off the faint scent of natural herbs

One Simple Thing features people who, through small yet innovative ways, are making a difference in education, energy, the environment and the use of the planet's resources.

Brooklyn, New York (CNN) -- When Jean Chae's mother was diagnosed with liver cancer seven years ago, the entire family took a new lease on life.

"She really changed our whole lifestyle," Chae told CNN. For them, it became about going back to basics.

Cooking changed at home, for starters.

"She would purchase raw vegetables, fresh from the farm," Chae said. Sometimes her mother, Doreen, would come up with a new recipe that, Chae admits, would turn out hit or miss.

But then, in 2005, their household underwent an organic revolution that had an effect far beyond their kitchen table.

The family, led by Jean and her sister, Serah, launched Simply Fido, an ecofriendly pet toy company that uses natural dyes and organic cotton to create healthier pals for pups. (For the company name, the Chaes looked for a fun and universal name for a dog and chose Fido, Abraham Lincoln's dog.)

"Pets are like extensions of our family," Chae said. "We have to be responsible for their well-being."

With more than two years of research behind their efforts, their products are pesticide-free toys that give off faint scents of natural herbs. And the dogs can't get enough of the smell.

The yellow dye is made from gardenia seed, Chae said, and it's Simply Fido's best-seller. Pink was the color hardest to master, she said.

"Pets put everything in their mouths and eat them," Chae said. "Even if they play for hours with these toys, we don't have to worry about toxicity or what might be harmful for them."

Chae shows pride in the pioneering nature of the company she's built and the industry that has followed.

"We wanted to encourage other people to join," she said. "Now, six years later, there's a green toy association," with more safety standards and regulated steps towards organic certification.

"It may be a small step," she said, "but we are making a step."

Tiffany Lacey, the executive director of the Manhattan shelter Animal Haven, says the philosophy behind Simply Fido has seen traction throughout the pet industry.

"It's obviously important for the environment," she said, but "it's actually important for the pets as well. It's just a healthier idea."

Simply Fido has grown from 15 products sold at specialty stores to an international company with 35 items sold by more than 4,000 retailers.

But for people like Jean Chae, the green movement is far more than just a smart business move.

Doctors caught her mother's cancer early and, after surgery, Doreen Chae survived.

What the Chaes learned through the hardship of her illness still fuels their company today.

"She really changed our philosophy," Jean Chae says, smiling. "She helped us to think in different ways."