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Originally published August 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 12, 2007 at 2:03 AM


Sunday Buzz

Business is going to the dogs

By Rami Grunbaum, deputy business editor Proving that the dog days are indeed upon us, BusinessWeek launched the month with a cover story...

Rami Grunbaum, deputy business editor, and Seattle Times Business staff

By Rami Grunbaum, deputy business editor

Proving that the dog days are indeed upon us, BusinessWeek launched the month with a cover story featuring testicular implants for neutered canines so people can "restore their pets to anatomical preciseness." Price tag: up to $919 a set.

The New York Times followed with news that Garmin now sells a $599 GPS tracking system and GPS collar for your dog.

Not to be outdone, we bring you Seattle's entry in the "What do you get for the animal companion who has everything?" derby:

The new Perfect Petfeeder from Pillar Pet Products of Fall City, is a $699 automated device that will dole out kibble to Mork or Lola at the appointed hour, in the desired amount.

CEO Scott Mcllarky acknowledges that the Petfeeder's "biggest competition is basically a measuring cup and your hand."

At the price point of a midrange refrigerator, the sculpted, stainless-steel device will appeal primarily to high-end consumers who want something "you're not going to be embarrassed to have around," he allows.

But Mcllarky insists the device is no mere frivolity. Based on personal experience, he says that when a veterinarian orders the owner of an overweight or borderline-diabetic pet to restrict the animal's diet, "your relationship becomes all about the food."

Delegating the task of feeding to a machine means pets will learn there's no point begging, or going bonkers when the human comes home, he says. Mcllarky developed the first prototype to counter just such behavior from two cats that he and his wife put on strict diets: "They found ever-increasingly creative and obnoxious ways to demonstrate their displeasure at not having food available 24/7."

The device, Pillar Pet's first product, is only sold from the company's Web site. Mcllarky says he's happy with initial sales, but isn't ready to predict how big a bite the company can take from the estimated $41 billion Americans spend on their pets annually.

"Response," he says candidly, "has been everything from 'My gosh, it's way too expensive,' to 'This is exactly what I've been looking for.' "

Beware "senior" investment advisers

With the vast cohort of baby boomers poised on the edge of retirement, financial regulators are worried that unscrupulous operators dispensing bad advice could turn the golden years to dross.

In Washington, the state Department of Financial Institutions is considering ways to rein in advisers who use spurious designations such as "senior adviser" or "retirement financial consultant" to suggest a special expertise in this arena.

People who aren't licensed as investment advisers have long dressed up their résumés and business cards with titles that may not mean much. "What's new here is they are being used in connection with seniors," says DFI Securities Division director Michael Stevenson.

Nationally, the Securities and Exchange Commission next month will convene its second "Senior Summit" of regulators, law enforcement and community groups to coordinate efforts on the issue.

"More than 10,000 Americans are turning 60 every day — and the net worth of older Americans is growing to historic proportions. That has made seniors the prime targets for scam artists and securities swindlers," said SEC chairman Christopher Cox in announcing the gathering.

DFI's Stevenson points to a 2004 case where a Vancouver, Wash., husband and wife were charged with promoting themselves as "senior consultants" and advised a senior citizen to empty an individual retirement account in favor of a promissory note supposed to pay a 20 percent annual return.

In fact, the purported financial advisers funneled the $36,000 to their own family members. (That case is still not closed and the department hasn't collected any fines or restitution yet.)

Washington is among more than a dozen states that already have laws that essentially say, "If you hold yourself out as a financial planner or use similar terms, you're going to have to license yourself as an investment adviser," Stevenson says.

A couple states have recently gone further. Nebraska, for instance, prohibits anyone from using professional designations that claim or infer a special knowledge of the needs of senior investors. Massachusetts puts the burden on advisers who claim to be specialists in giving advice to elderly to prove their designation is certified by an independent national agency.

DFI isn't ready to ask for any such rule, but officials here are fairly confident that by the end of the year they will propose tightening the regulations in some fashion, Stevenson says.

In the meantime, he advises seniors to check out what's behind any special designations dangled by people offering financial advice.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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