The market for stuffed animals is a pretty tough one and with so many options it can be tough to stand out. It takes a unique spin to create a new stuffed animal that can make an impact
The Pound Puppies came out in 1984 and were released by Irwin and then Tonka. They were plush stuffed dog dolls that had droopy eyes and floppy ears. A 1985 cartoon would be released by Hanna-Barbera and the toys would make over $300 million during the ‘80s.
Pound Puppies were a big hit at my house We were big dog people so anything to do with dogs, and especially in cartoon form, would be all the rage. I remember my sister being the most into them but again, anything to do with dogs and puppies was ok with me,
I remember getting one for a birthday or possibly Christmas and they just had a unique feel to them. Like I was saying about there being a million stuffed animals out there, it was hard to stand out. There are also a ton of plush dogs you can get anywhere but what was it about the Pound Puppies that made them such a hit?
And they were a huge hit. This article will be all about the creation, and success, of the Pound Puppies.
What Were The Pound Puppies?
In case these are new to you think of the Pound Puppies like the Cabbage Patch Kids of toy dogs. Whereas Cabbage Patch kids had a unique look to them compared to other toy dolls and babies the Pound Puppies had their own unique look compared to other plush dogs.
There was a whole collection of them and they came in a variety of colors such as brown, gray, white, and some with spots. I think one of the first things that set them apart is that each one came in unique packaging. They were considered a good alternative for kids who wanted an ACTUAL puppy so it could take the place of one. Kind of.
Pound Puppies were said to have “had their shots” and you could feel free to give them a bath as they were machine washable.
When you bought a Pound Puppy, it came in a cardboard case that was shaped like a dog house. I’m thinking now how they “borrowed” the adoption paper idea that came with the Cabbage Patch Kids as each Pound Puppy contained an adoption certificate.
I’m thinking more how brilliant an idea this was to capitalize on the massive success of something but not totally rip it off. Kudos Tonka, you’re not just about giant metal trucks.
Creating The Pound Puppies
The Pound Puppies were created by a guy named Mike Bowling who was not a toy inventor or who had any connection to toy companies. He worked in a Ford Factory in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had bought his daughter a doll in 1983 and she became completely attached to it taking it with her everywhere she went. Seeing the impact this toy was having on his daughter he kept having thoughts of coming up with his own.
Since Mike worked on an assembly line, his mind started to go towards an automated production of a toy. Something that could be rolled out constantly and scooped up by kids everywhere.
He came up with Pound Puppies that were a somewhat crude prototype that he would stuff with pellets. I’m not saying he shot them but used the pellets as a filler. All the ideas that would be used with Pound Puppies were right there from the start including the crate to carry them with and the adoption papers.
Bowling didn’t know about the toy industry but he knew enough to copyright the name and to control the intellectual property. This was a smart move. He then put together the prototype and mock up of everything and started shopping it around.
It was turned down by 14 straight different companies.
How The Video Game Crash Brought Us Pound Puppies
If you’re not aware of the great video game crash of 1983, it was when the once dominate video game industry went from making billions a year down to less than 100 million in a short time. Atari was the top dog obviously (or puppy?) and everyone wanted to be on board with them, and video games in general.
Toy companies like Hasbro, Tonka, and Irwin had all been burned by getting involved in video games and then seeing it all blow up in their faces. Nintendo hadn’t swooped in to save the day yet so these companies were looking at something else to try to recover.
Bowling stuck with it and got in contact with Canadian toy company Irwin. Irwin had been pretty screwed over by Atari and was looking for some low-risk opportunities with simple toys. Pound Puppies looked like that good opportunity.
Irwin would release Pound Puppies in Canada first which makes me proud of my homeland for being at the start of some successful toy franchises. This would also happen with Jenga.
Pound Puppies were a huge hit here when they were released in 1984. They offered more than your regular run of the mill stuffed animal as they had some character to them. There was more of a sense of ownership for small kids with the adoption certificate too.
So since they worked in the great white north it was time to bring them south.
Tonka Trucks And Pound Puppies
This continues that theme of companies being burned by the video game industry. Toy truck maker Tonka had had a deal with video game company Sega but got screwed around through the video game crash. It was now 1985 and they, like Irwin, wanted to get on board with something low risk. The advantage Tonka had is that Irwin had done all the leg work up in the land of Rush and Bieber.
Tonka loved Bowling’s idea and premise with the Pound Puppies and they had actual market research showing they were a success. I’ll admit, as a Canadian, there are some profound differences between us and Americans but when it comes to kids and toys, we’re all honestly exactly the same.
There’s no difference in a 9-year-old watching Transformers in Flagstaff, Arizona compared to one watching in Winnipeg. They’re both on board with the cartoon and desperately want the toys.
If something works with kids in Canada, you can be pretty certain it will in the U.S.
So Tonka puts out the Pound Puppies in 1985 and really pushes the idea of ownership for kids. They are a great solution for parents who don’t want to buy a real dog and they push the idea that the Puppies need to be walked, bathed, and had had all their shots.
Pound Puppies were a hit up here but they became a frenzy down in the states. I don’t know if you remember the hype behind them but it was there and honestly almost as close to the Cabbage Patch Kids craze. But with less shattered hips in fights for them.
Tonka sold 2.5 million of them that year and considering the price they charged this was a lot of scratch. I have no recollection of this but they were charging an insane $30 per puppy! That is honestly nuts and converted for today is around $70. Did my parents have to sell a kidney to buy these for us now I wonder?
You could also get stickers and a personalized dog tag those nice people at Tonka would send you for a cool $3.50 sent by mail.
So the Pound Puppies are one hot property and that of course leads to a cartoon show.
The Pound Puppies TV Special
Before there was the cartoon series there was the Pound Puppies TV special. I vaguely remember this and it seemed to be used as a standalone show to see how people would respond to a cartoon version of the toys.
The difference that Pound Puppies had compared to other toys like G.I. Joe or Strawberry Shortcake is that they had no back story. The way toys were being sold in the ‘80s was to put out a cartoon series (whether it was a few episodes or a whole season) and build up the back story, characters, and mythology. The shows were used to drive the sales of the toys.
Pound Puppies did things the other way which is kind of rare for the time. They introduced the toys first, they were a huge hit, and then they tested to see if people would be interested in a cartoon.
This “film” came out on October 26th, 1985 and was around 36 minutes long and was produced by Hanna-Barbera. The plot is based around a puppy named Violet who comes from a wealthy family. She is being pursued by dognappers but is picked up and taken to the pound. There she meets a gang of puppies who are focused on finding homes for themselves. The rest of the film focuses on Violet getting back with her owners, which she does. Spoiler alert.
Fun fact: This film features some pretty big time voices including:
- Frank Welker aka Megatron and Scooby Doo
- Ed Begley Jr.
- June Foray who was the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel. She was also Lucifer in Cinderella. Did anyone ever know this? I sure didn’t
- Dan Gilvezan aka Spiderman in Spiderman and his Amazing Friends the cartoon from 1981 and Bumblebee on Transformers.
- Ronald Palillo aka Horshack on Welcome Back Kotter
- Jonathan Winters
- And last but not least Sorrell Booke aka Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard
Yowza, what a lineup. But don’t take my word for it, you can watch this thing from a sweet VHS rip on YouTube.
The Pound Puppies Cartoon Series
So the Pound Puppies TV film was successful enough that Hanna-Barbera was able to get the rights for an animated TV series. The show was broadcast on ABC from September 1986 to February 1989 which was longer than I realized.
The show was kind of based on the film but would never make any mention of Violet which might have been upsetting for a lot of kids. The show would feature some voice actors from the film and also featured a young Nancy Cartwright aka Bart Simpson.
The first season introduces characters like Cooler, Nose Marie (get it..) Bright Eyes (NOT Charleton Heston), and Howler (Bert Cooper from Mad Men, Howler? I hardly know her…). The show also debuts the sinister Katrina Stoneheart. She has an evil daughter Brattina (they’re kind of on the nose with these names) and goddaughter Holly who used to run the Puppy Pound but has now become a friend to the Puppies.
So Katrina Stoneheart had too much of a Cruella Deville thing going on if you ask me and she was voiced by Pat Carroll who was the voice of Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Her cat was voiced by Megatron and there was the evil Captain Slaughter who destroyed Wagga-Wagga which was the hometown of the Pound Puppies.
The rest of the show is basically Katrina and Brattina trying to tear down the pound while the Pound Puppies are trying to get themselves adopted out to new families. Holly
I also thought the theme song had a bit of a Fat Albert vibe to it. And it’s probably still going through your head…
And at the end of each show, the Pound Puppies Pet Care Corner would take place and would help give tips to kids on how to take care of their pets. Kind of like “knowing is half the battle” but for dogs…
The Second Season
The second season changed things up a bit not only in the look but the theme. It was re-branded as the All New Pound Puppies. They would change a lot of things including background, appearances, and some personality traits. I was getting a bit of a Poochie vibe from the Simpsons with this…
There was no more Captain Slaughter and Katrina Stoneheart has taken over the Puppy Pound and treats it like a prison. There are a lot of continuity problems but we were just stupid kids so probably had no idea. It does feature the return of Sorrell Bookes though!
The ACTUAL Pound Puppies Film
Do you remember this at all? I had no idea this existed until researching all this. It was called Pound Puppies Legend of Big Paw and came out in 1988. It was produced by TriStar Pictures and seems to be 100% based on trying to promote the toy line. It was financed by Tonka and would include a bunch of musical numbers. It followed a kind of Sword in the Stone/Excalibur theme and then was set in the late 1950s.
There would be a boy named Arthur and his dog Digalot along with the Bone of Scone so we probably don’t have to discuss this much more.
They pounded this thing out in 5 ½ months starting in the fall of 1987, and 2 ½ months of that was spent on putting together the backgrounds and layouts meaning all the animation was done in 3 months. This is pre CGI as well. That’s a pretty rushed job.
And it would show as the look of the movie didn’t follow that of the cartoon show. There was also no continuity, and it took a beating from the critics. The animation looked poor and the plot dull and lifeless. There was praise for some of the music, however.
Fans didn’t like it, the movie didn’t do amazing and would have a short run in theatres. There just wasn’t the interest in Pound Puppies that there had been and it ended up mainly playing in matinees. By the end of it’s run it only made $586,938.
This would be considered pretty much the last of the movies from the ‘80s that featured established toy properties as the main characters.
The Future Of The Pound Puppies
The Pound Puppies weren’t a very long lasting fad, but they definitely made their mark. In an age where there were so many monumental toys, it was very hard to stand out. To be able to create a toy that still drives a frenzy in the midst of all these heavyweight brands is an amazing accomplishment.
In just the few short years the Pound Puppies would pull in around $300 million. And converted for today that’s about $680 million. Not too shabby.
There would be a rebooted cartoon in 2010 that took on a kind of Hogan’s Heroes vibe to it.
Bowling would sell the Pound Puppies to Hasbro in 2011 but that cartoon from 2010 was produced by Hasbro so I’m not sure how that all plays into things. The 2010 cartoon seemed to be a launching platform for new characters that Hasbro would put out in 2012. This series would actually feature some high end writing and would win various awards for children’s television programming.
But all in all the Pound Puppies made their mark and sold around 200 million units during their run. This is considered being 3 times as many as there are actual dogs in the U. S
Not bad for a Ford assembly line worker from Cincinnati.