More Than Swag: Pet Tags for a Cause

Robyn Jacobs wasn’t scared when two wandering, off-leash dogs—a pit bull and a mastiff mix—approached her at Rocky Gorge Reservoir in Laurel, MD, where she was walking her own dog.

She’s an animal lover, and the bully breeds don’t faze her, but the dogs were skittish when she tried to read the tags on their collars and one grazed her hand with a warning bite.

“It took a half an hour to get this dog’s name tag—it was all metal and I couldn’t read it,” said Jacobs, whose hand-crafted pet tags bear the animal’s name and phone number in large, black letters, which are much easier to read than engraved metal tags. “I kept thinking, if it were one of my tags, I would have been able to see it from a distance.”

It’s just another reason why Jacobs started a business, called Pet Tag Creations, in 2008.

From her home in Hampden, Jacobs rolls brightly colored polymer clay into flat sheets with a pasta machine, cuts out the shapes with bone- and heart-shaped cookie cutters and layers the colors together. She adds multi-colored clay decorations on top in the form of paws, hearts and yin-yangs. She also presses pet-friendly words, like “Woof,” “Meow,” and “Dog is Love,” into the clay with embossing powder.

Once the assembled tag is baked in a convection oven, it’s hard, solid, nearly unbreakable and waterproof.

Trained in calligraphy, Jacobs hand-writes the animal’s name and number on the back and seals the information permanently with varnish.

She’s perfected the process since she first displayed her handmade pet tags at DogFest, the annual fundraiser for the Baltimore Humane Society, in 2008. She now attends pet expos and craft shows everyweekend, as well as selling her tags on her website, individually and wholesale. Her tags are also available at Breathe Books in Hampden and The Barking Cat in Gaithersburg.

Jacobs also donates up to 20 percent of her profits to various animal rescues.

“I wanted to develop a business where I could use profits to support animal rescue efforts,” said Jacobs, whose program Tags to the Rescue raises money for rescue organizations.

Professionally, though, Jacobs got her start working with teens, not animals, and she’s incorporated internships into her pet tag business.

Jacobs was the outreach coordinator for a Baltimore nonprofit organization called Citizenship Law-Related Education Program, from 2003 to 2004. Later, Jacobs was also the internship coordinator with the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development.

In these jobs, she helped hundreds of teens learn work skills to help them navigate the tricky world of the city and their future careers.

“I had worked with a lot of kids and I wanted to bring that component into my own business,” said Jacobs, who currently trains two interns. “I know that working with kids at an age where they can go one direction or another, and giving them a positive role model, can let them use that same energy to divert it into something that’s more positive. We can put them on a positive path.”

Jacobs has used eight interns over the past several years to help her with crafting, marketing and communications. She trains them in social media, email newsletters, advertising and sales.

Currently, her interns are older than the teenagers she started with, but Jacobs believes that she still has plenty to teach a young adult.

Eric Powell, a 27-year-old Ellicott City resident who interns with Jacobs, said, “I figured it would be a good use of my time to help Robyn market the business and pad my resume in the process.”

He believes he is learning some valuable skills.

“Overall, I’ve learned some of what’s involved in running a small business and become more well-versed in the online strategies that can be used to spread the awareness of a small business and its mission,” Powell said. “I think that any skills I can obtain through this internship will not only help me in my effort to find a full-time job, but will also help me be more successful once I do find a job.”

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