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Aiden Doane and Jesse Emilo are active. Not just a couple-hours-per-week active, but all-the-time active. The Jackson Hole, Wyoming, residents spend a great deal of time outdoors doing a great many activities. In fact, the only activities the couple won’t do are the ones their dogs, Tuckerman and Yaz, can’t participate in.
“Like most people, we love our dogs and, like family members, they dictate what we do. If there’s an activity they can’t do, we’ll do another one that they can,” Aiden said. “Our dogs are the entire reason we got involved with this crazy idea.”
The crazy idea Aiden is talking about is Rex Specs, the highly effective dog goggles she and Jesse created when their dogs developed eye problems related to the intense, high-elevation UV rays. Their design is so effective at keeping out the sun’s harmful rays, as well as protecting the eyes from twigs, dust, and other debris, that Rex Specs has become popular for all types of dogs — from those who swim, hunt, or hike to those who serve law enforcement agencies, search and rescue teams, and the armed services including the Coast Guard and U.S. Special Operations.
The company has been such a success that Aiden gave up her job as an accountant to run the business full time, while Jesse continues to develop prototypes when he’s not working as a contractor.
Rex Specs was forged out of Aiden and Jesse’s love for their dogs and a creative knack for problem solving. The couple spends a lot of time exposed to the high mountain sun. During the summer months, Jesse and Aiden take long hikes in the Wind River Mountains, and it’s not unusual for them to spend hours on their boat fishing the Snake River for cut-throat trout. During the winter, the couple backcountry ski and, of course, there’s Aiden’s daily 3-mile run. And on all of these activities, Tuckerman and Yaz eagerly tag along.
The problem was that Tuckerman and Yaz developed eye problems from UV ray exposure; UV rays are more intense at high altitudes. Tuckerman showed signs of pannus, a fibrovascular tissue that commonly appears on the cornea. Yaz has light pigmentation around one eye that is particularly vulnerable to skin damage from sunburn. To solve the problem, Jesse applied his skillful hands, talent for creative problem solving, and the bits and pieces of about 30 standard ski goggles designed for human skiers.
“We would fashion a pair and then try them out on the dogs, checking their reactions to see if they were comfortable,” Jesse said. “And then we developed the interchangeability of the lenses so that they can be swapped out depending on need and conditions.”
For each pair of Rex Specs, there are three spherical polycarbonate lenses available: clear, smoke, and blue mirror. All of the lenses provide UV 400 protection. Because of the spherical lenses, dogs have a wide field of vision and there’s no interference with eye movement.
The real trick was getting the straps right. Jesse and Aiden were able to make Rex Specs stable through a network of counter-pulling straps that not only hold the goggles in place but allow the dog full range of jaw movement. “The prototype took us six months of trying, and it was the strap structure that took us the longest to work out,” Jesse said. “But it was worth it because the goggles don’t slide off or shift while the dog is running through bushes or swimming.”
And those who use Rex Specs are happy with the goggles’ effectiveness. Brian Edwards works with Piper, a Border Collie who has the very specialized job of keeping wildlife, particularly flocks of birds, off the tarmac at Cherry Capital Airport in Michigan. The work puts Piper in direct conflict with deer, squirrels, moles, and other rodents as well as flying stones, twigs, and dust kicked up by helicopter rotor wash.
“We’ve had a pair of Rex Specs since they were first available and haven’t looked back,” said Piper’s handler Brian Edwards. “Piper has a lot of gear, but by far, his shades are the most important piece of equipment. He wears them on and off duty.”
Currently, Rex Specs are one size fits all so long as your dog is between 30 and 100 pounds. If your dog is greater than 100 pounds, you can purchase an extender strap so the goggles will fit comfortably. Aiden and Jesse have developed a prototype for smaller dogs, but they are not yet ready for market.
Both Aiden and Jesse take compliments about Rex Specs gracefully. “We love our dogs, and they needed something to protect their eyes,” Jesse said. “So we just made something.”
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About the author: John Geluardi has worked as a journalist for 15 years, mostly as a political reporter. He has also written feature-length stories on culture, crime, and presidential campaigns. He has won numerous first-place awards for stories, such as ones on the vice presidential candidacy of Matt Gonzalez, the legendary Caffe Trieste, mislabeled homicides in San Francisco, and the killing of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk. He published his book, Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of the Medical Marijuana Industry, in 2010. John is a longtime dog owner and dedicated student of the language of dogs. Each day, he looks forward to long walks with his dog, Corso.