BALTIMORE – Mundo, just a year old, wasn’t getting better, and Sevi Kay didn’t know what to do.
Mundo’s skin was so irritated she had wounds from scratching herself, and the doctor’s treatments weren’t working.
That’s when the Glen Burnie woman decided to see what she could do for her beloved German shepherd puppy.
“She started healing, she got better, she gained more weight,” after applying Kay’s homemade remedy.
Mundo’s coat became so shiny a neighbor noticed and asked Kay what she was using. That’s when Mundo Botanica, Kay’s East Baltimore canine herbal products company, was born.
Eight years later, Kay admits, “I’ve been working for my dog.” She’s grown her company through customers with sensitive dogs, and those who prize her herbal remedies and aromatherapy treatments.
She serves 450 wholesale accounts, 25 custom lines and has done sales in Japan and Singapore, among others. She conducts Internet sales through her Web site cybercanine.com.
Kay developed a canine line, including a lavender mist for skin ailments and a citrus spray that gives a dog’s coat a pleasing aroma. She makes a “Liquid Calm” massage oil of neroli and chamomile to help make a dog more mellow. Drops of the oils are applied to the dog’s coat and neck, or placed on tissue paper next to its bed for easy inhalation.
As it turns out, using aromas to calm dogs is not such an unusual idea.
The Humane Society of Harford County atomizes its own version of lavender and chamomile into the air to help relax dogs boarding at the shelter, what Executive Director Tammy Zaluzney calls “one of the most stressful places” for an animal.
“In the human world there’s reasons they use (lavender) in bedrooms and pillows,” she said.
The shelter also uses another herbal concoction to help calm new residents.
Zaluzney is also looking for an effective aromatherapy for her feline residents, though Kay warns that the essential oils cannot be metabolized by cats or birds.
“It’s just like giving your dog chocolate,” Kay explained.
Cats at the Montgomery County Humane Society listen to mellow jazz to stay calm and happy, but the dogs miss out on aromatherapy because the executive director is “extremely allergic,” according to Ashley Owen, director of humane education and public relations at the shelter.
“Whether or not they have an effect, is difficult to know,” said Zaluzney of her herbal remedies. “Definitely the motto kind of is: If it doesn’t harm, and it doesn’t hurt, then why not?”
She said if the dogs are calmer, they feel better, have fewer digestive problems, can be more adoptable and even respond better to training.
Dog trainer for more than 40 years and owner of Applewoods Dog Training in Laurel, Margot Woods, isn’t really buying it.
“Well, I suppose anything is possible, but I can’t imagine what on Earth you would do with training,” Woods said.
She has had students who tried various natural remedies and reported back negatively.
“It’s one of those things that works well for people . . . and if it can help the person it will therefore help the dog,” Woods said of a possible aromatherapy use.
Peter Eyre, veterinary pharmacologist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, agrees that the effects of certain smells may work more on a psychosomatic level, benefiting humans and not animals. He points out that people get good feelings from the smell of coffee and fresh-baked bread, “Is that psychological, or is it an effect?” he asked.
He did note that aromas can have some physiological effect.
“There’s no question that animals and people respond to smells,” Eyre said. “It’s a fascinating area.”
Kay takes criticism in stride: “I’m not for everyone, I’m for some people.”
There is some research evidence of the positive effect of smells.
A small 2005 human study published in the science journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that, “Aromatherapy massage is a valuable relaxation technique for reducing anxiety and stress, and beneficial to the immune system.”
Kay is self-taught by trial-and-error and the Internet, and calls herself a “formulator,” not a chemist.
“You don’t have to be a certified chef to make cookies,” she points out.
Many customers were so satisfied with the results of her canine line that they started using the products themselves. That spawned a human line that will soon include makeup and men’s products.
But there are things that Kay has found she can’t handle with her herbal remedies. Mundo was diagnosed with cancer of the blood vessels in 2004 and doctors had to remove her swollen spleen. Kay drew the line at chemotherapy, however.
“I would have killed her,” Kay said.
Instead Kay put Mundo on a daily regimen of organic vitamins, to supplement her already established people-food diet.
“The vet tells you . . . ‘These are table scraps.’ I take offense to someone calling my food scraps,” she says. “Whatever we eat, pretty much, they eat.”
More than a year later, Mundo is still going on long walks and sleeping on cotton sheets on her futon (she prefers cotton fabrics, Kay explained). She’ll turn 11 in June, and Kay is ready to celebrate: “We’re going to have a birthday party for her.”