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Paw-mark moments

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  • | 4:00 a.m. August 2, 2012
  • Sarasota
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A white-faced golden retriever sits next to a folded lab coat, peering over the top of his surgical mask with a serious expression. Stethoscope in paw, he delivers his diagnosis: “Chase two squirrels, and call me in the morning.”

This image is one of the favorite creations of Steve and Anne Udell, owners of Murphy’s Musings — a greeting-card company that specializes in animal-themed cards.

Started in 2008, the company, which is named after Anne’s late Springer spaniel, Murphy, features cards with subjects that include humor, special occasions, occupations and sympathy.

But this isn’t the Udells’ first foray into the animal kingdom. The Osprey couple is quick to describe themselves as “animal-lovers.” Both grew up around dogs, and they’ve each owned pet-grooming businesses, including Steve’s previous Longboat Key business, You Dirty Dog.

In fact, they say their mutual love for man’s best friend is one of the things that brought them together in the first place.

Twelve years ago, Steve was running a pet-grooming shop, called Precious Furs, when Anne’s friend brought her in and introduced the two. They found that in addition to animals, they had other things in common, and they quickly hit it off.

“We both loved animals, and we had a similar sense of humor,” said Anne. “We had a lot in common.”
The two found that their skill sets complemented each other, and after Steve sold You Dirty Dog, the couple found themselves reflecting on the relationships they’d made in the dog-grooming business.

“We got to know a lot of people from all walks of life,” says Steve. “To a lot of these people, their dogs were like their children. These were their babies, so they were really trusting us to take care of them.”

After selling the business, the two realized that they had lots of amusing anecdotes from their time spent with the animals, and Murphy’s Musings was born.

“The idea actually came to me in a dream,” says Anne. “The name came to me, and I decided they were going to be greeting cards.”

The couple enlisted the help of Anne’s nephew, a graphic designer in New Jersey, and, together, they created four prototype cards, featuring photos of previous customers’ pets paired with clever captions.

The group divides the work into three departments that best accommodate each person’s particular talents. Steve is the businessman; Anne’s nephew does the production; and Anne makes up the creative department.

She’s never considered herself a writer, but she says she’s good with one-liners, and she credits her “skewed view of the world” for many of her jokes.

“Sometimes, I’ll hear something that I think would make a good card, and sometimes I’ll look at the photo, and the caption will just come to me,” says Anne. “I keep a notebook next to my bed, and I have a big board of photo and caption ideas right by the TV.”

The couple began offering their cards to local stores free of charge, to test out demand, and the cards sold quickly.

“That’s when we knew we had something,” said Steve.

They then began shopping their cards at trade shows around the country, and, today, they have a licensing agreement and are distributed all over the country at Walgreens and FedEx stores, as well as local establishments, such as Southeastern Guide Dogs, where proceeds from card sales benefit the nonprofit organization.

As the company continues to grow, the couple enjoys the opportunity to work together and relate to people through their creativity.

“It’s fun work,” says Anne. “There’s no better gift than making people laugh. When someone tells me they open up one of the cards and laugh out loud, that’s a really rewarding experience.”

Fido photo shoots
Many of the animals featured on Murphy’s Musings greeting cards are pets of friends and customers of the Udells’. Anne shares the story of one photo shoot with the couple’s own dog, a pug/Chihuahua mix, who was especially tough. The card features the dog, named Schmutzie, on her hind legs in the rain.

“It took three months to get Schmutzie in that first photo,” said Anne. “She’s always got ants in her pants, so I had to hold a piece of bologna above her head with fishing wire to get her to pose.”

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