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Stroke of luck

A stroke of bad luck five years ago ended a dynamic business practice for Ashland’s Ben Bellinson, an advertising consultant for big media companies.

But a stroke of inspiration during recovery led the entrepreneur to found an online company that today sells vitamin and nutrition products for dogs in the U.S. and Canada, supporting vendors and partners in five states.

But first, about the bad luck.

While exercising with his wife at the Ashland YMCA late one Saturday afternoon in 2015, Bellinson collapsed and couldn’t move.

“The feeling was so unusual,” he said. “Nothing hurt, but I couldn’t move or talk.”

In what seemed like a moment later, he was being rushed by paramedics to Rogue Regional Medical Center. The next thing he remembers is being loaded on an air-med transport plane with his wife for a flight to Oregon Health and Science University’s stroke unit in Portland.

What followed were several weeks in recovery in Portland, a transfer to Medford for more weeks of inpatient stroke recovery, and then six months of outpatient sessions multiple times each week with physical, occupational and speech therapists.

“The stroke left me very weak, with damage to the left side of my body,” Bellinson said. “My left arm and leg were unresponsive. My speech was slurred and it was difficult for others to understand me. My face felt partially frozen.”

With the help of therapists, he worked to regain his ability to walk, to hold objects with his left hand, organize his thoughts coherently, and speak more clearly.

“I had to relearn to type, and slowly build stamina,” he said. “In the first months, working with a therapist for 30 minutes would exhaust me, and I probably slept 14 to 16 hours each day.”

Fortunately, Bellinson was only 53, in excellent health, and strongly motivated to regain as much of his old self as possible.

During the grueling recovery period, he had time to contemplate a new line of work.

“There was no way could I return to my consulting practice,” he said. “It required long hours and frequent travel.”

It was Bellinson’s goldendoodle Nelson that provided the spark of inspiration for a start-up — “the perfect pivot.”

Nelson was at his side during the long rehab. He was a big boy who loved to hike with his humans but had slowed down over the years. A daily glucosamine supplement helped, so Bellinson began to investigate the benefits of vitamins and supplements for canines. A seasoned researcher, he contacted experts at veterinary schools, corresponded with working vets, and profiled the dog nutrition business.

“I gave my dog hip and joint supplements because I wanted him to hike comfortably,” Bellinson said. “My dogs have always viewed these supplements as treats, so they have a dual purpose. We use them for training and we use them to help optimize their health.”

The more he spoke with vets and academics, the more confident he became that there was an opportunity to develop a line of high-quality products, if marketed well.

It was after researching demographics and business trends that he decided to investigate starting a primarily online brand of products for dog owners.

“I decided to start a company because the products are used daily and, once adopted, become repeat purchases,” he said.

“Also, dog ownership has increased over the last decade and continues to increase. A higher percentage of the population owns dogs today than before, and people are spending more money on their pets.”

He learned that the trend started with both young adults and retirees.

“Dog ownership has increased with people in their 20s before they have children,” he said. “And empty nesters are getting dogs in higher percentages.”

The company he founded, waggedy, has grown to a staff of nine, with plans to add team members in 2021. It sells its products on amazon.com, amazon.ca, chewy.com, and on its own website, waggedy.com. They’ll be available on other major e-commerce sites later this year and can be purchased locally at Grange Co-op stores.

To produce his products, Bellinson works with several contract manufacturers in California, Florida and Nebraska. All are certified by the National Animal Supplement Council and audited by third parties for the purity of ingredients and label claims, he says.

The company’s warehouse is located in Kansas City, Missouri, and its corporate headquarters is in Ashland.

The majority of waggedy’s products are proprietary and developed with formulating vets.

“We formulate multivitamins for dogs based on life stage,” Bellinson said. “Daily Essentials Puppy is designed for puppies, Daily Essentials Adult for dogs 18 months to six years old, and Daily Essentials Senior for the specific needs of aging dogs.”

The company also sells products for dogs that have or are prone to hip and joint issues, a product to improve a dog’s skin and coat, and an all-natural product for calming.

Products are promoted on social media, with a strong presence on Instagram and Facebook. The company also buys online advertising.

Bellinson grew up in Southern California, Sherman Oaks, and he graduated from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in history. His first job was with what became Lifetime cable television in the mid-1980s. He worked for the next 30 years in the media business, including 12 years at Walt Disney Company in various marketing roles.

When working as a consultant, he and his wife spent a night in the Rogue Valley at the start of a family vacation.

“We fell in love with the area and decided to move here to raise our children and plant new roots,” he said.

Bellinson is interested in building a lasting company that continues to develop products to improve the health and well-being of dogs.

“We have seven different products today,” he said, “and are developing one to two new products each year.

“I’m having fun growing the company, love the people I work with, and we’re growing,” Bellinson said.

His beloved dog Nelson died in 2019 at age 12 from kidney disease. His new dog Bernie, a bernedoodle, is a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle.

The dog, named after Bellinson’s dad, is a clever, energetic and gentle 2-year-old who loves to go on hikes in the Ashland watershed several times a week.

“He’s a loyal, 100-pound, Muppet-like friend,” Bellinson said. “He sits under my desk when I work.”

And, yes, he takes waggedy supplements every day.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Bernie poses with his 58-year-old, red-shirted human, Ben Bellinson. Courtesy photo