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The Cone Collar turns 40!

An Interview with the Inventor, Peter Marschall

By Athena Maroulis

Peter Marschall shows no sign of slowing down despite approaching his eighties. Each day, you’ll find him in the workshop across the courtyard from his front door where, over the last 50 years, he has created over 25 commercially successful inventions, amongst a horde of other concepts. To celebrate the recent 40th anniversary of his most famous invention we spoke to Peter Marschall about his remarkable career, in particular his creation that has helped millions of dogs worldwide to make successful recoveries and thankfully put a stop to dogs wearing clumsy and uncomfortable buckets on their heads.

Peter lives in a large, old ochre-coloured farmstead on the fairytale island of Fyn in Denmark where, together with his wife, Karen, he has raised three children and enjoyed the company of 4 family dogs. Peter and Karen tenaciously transformed this dilapidated home, despite the warnings of friends and family. He recalls that, whilst rebuilding, they often had to camp with five people in one room, through all weather, as they gradually restored it from one end to the other. As we talk, it seems that this is a recurring theme throughout his life. A grand vision, unbridled curiosity, a tireless work ethic and a strong determination to see his concept realised.

Despite the significance of his life’s work and its positive impact on the health of animals and humans globally, ‘Peter Marschall’ is not a household name, but ask any dog owner about whether they have used or seen his Buster Cone Guard and they will know it well. The classic ‘Buster Cone Collar’ is a global icon that is so well-designed that it remains a market-leading veterinarian’s tool and is still produced in Denmark at a rate of over 30,000 a day for export all over the world. His famous collar has had many names over the years, including “The Cone Collar”, “The Collar” and its current one, the “Buster Collar”, although many have nicknamed it “the cone of shame”, for its use in controlling canines who have no self control when it comes to licking their healing wounds.

We speak to Mr Marschall about how his famous design came about, how his daughter has followed in his own inventing footsteps, and find out whether he will ever retire.

How did the idea for the “Buster Collar” came about?

“Back in the seventies, our lovely golden retriever Chang kept having recurring ear infections. He would constantly scratch, and it would cause big sores in and around his ears. The vet recommended cutting a hole in the bottom of a plastic bucket to place over the dog’s head to prevent him scratching at his ears. This was the standard veterinarian advice back then. I thought this was a pretty rudimentary solution, and I was also reluctant to destroy my useful bucket! So instead, I formed a cone-shaped protective collar around Chang’s head, which I thought was quite primitive. I had the material from a lamp competition that I had just been a part of.
When I returned at the vet with this device attached to my dog, he was very impressed at this simple solution to a major problem of dogs licking their wounds after surgery, stitches or any other bandages they might have on. I saw that it was a much better solution to the bucket because a dog can rest and eat much easier with this guard on.”

How did the ‘Buster Collar’ become such a huge success?

“I was pretty sure that I had made a product that would solve a problem and therefore find a market but it took a lot of research. One of the biggest challenges was to find the right kind of plastic to produce the collar in. It had to be cheap, withstand the frost and cold and also be smooth and easy to assemble as well as easy to clean. After a year of research, I succeeded with the first prototypes.

When we started making it to sell, I found myself laying on the floor in our living room and cutting 10 pieces an hour in the selected sizes.

I decided to go on a small introduction tour and after visiting a number of veterinary clinics around Aarhus. I realized I hadn’t thought about what the price should be and was reluctant to tell them a price because I just had no idea. I had spent a lot on developing the product and buying materials and so there was absolutely no money left for myself at this point. I decided to give all my samples away as demonstration pieces, so the vets could test the product. Then I had some more time to run through my calculations. Imagine going out to sell a product and not knowing the price of your product!?

My last visit was at the largest animal hospital in Aarhus, where one of the country’s most talented veterinarians was also the owner. He invited me to his office and for a long time after I had made my sales pitch, he stared at me. Suddenly he said “You are really not suited to be a salesperson. You must contact this company on Fyn, that sells products to the vet industry.” I realised it would be best for me to find a partner. So I called the company that the vet had mentioned and, to my huge surprise, they already knew everything about me and my tour “around the country” which was rather amusing because I had only made it to the Aarhus area. That led to almost 50 years of collaboration where we produced a number of other products for veterinarians and farmers.”

How did you become an inventor?

“Ideally, I wanted to be my own boss and be self-employed and to be the one to decide what I found relevant and interesting to work on. It’s a bit like being a composer or an author who spends a long time on a project and after completion, might realize that no one finds the solution interesting. It’s always a gamble, but the process of finding a solution to a problem has always driven me. Still today this process fascinates me and it has also been a huge privilege, as I have spent many hours in my “play ground” also known as my workshop.

Suddenly, I had become an inventor and that is a very special lifestyle.

If I hadn’t had the huge support from my wife, who always believed in me, none of the things I had made, would have ever become anything. She was happy for a success, but was not bothered if it became a failure.”

What else have you invented?
“Once the dog collar was made and put into production, we also made ones for parrots and other animals. It was essential that this collar was transparent. If a parrot can’t see it’s feathers, it will die. We’ve made them for cats and other animals and I know that we have also made some very large sizes for bears.

Throughout the 50 years, I have created a long list of projects and solutions. I’ve designed and created all different kinds of other products such as plates and chairs for disabled people, instruments for artificial insemination of pigs, a device for giving for birth-control tablets to cats, a fixation system for people with cancer receiving radiation therapy, self-inflatable packaging balloons for florists, special beds for horses to use during operations, a mobile VET hospital which is also an ambulance, a back-pump to use in Africa. I’ve designed a handful of family homes, 80 animal clinics and animal hospitals, special bandages, and many, many more things.

One of the latest things I created is a special locking mechanism for my daughter’s company Siccaro. She came to me with the problem that she couldn’t find any good solution to close the WetDog drying coats she had just invented. I’m getting old now and I know the importance of a good clasp that can be operated easily in case people have arthritis. It should be easy enough to use for children or even with gloves on. It is really satisfying to use my special ClickLock and many of her customers who have disabilities are able to use the WetDog robes without a problem.”

Can you tell us about the dogs you have had in your life?

“Our first family dog was a rescue dog called Chang, who was a golden retriever. He was the reason why I created the ‘Buster Collar’ so even though he had his issues, he was a lovely dog and the reason behind a large part of my career as an inventor. We then had a dog called Tasha who was half Bernese mountain dog and half Labrador, she was lovely with our children. She then gave birth to a litter and from that litter we kept Simba who’s father was a Labrador /German Shepherd so he was quite a mix. Simba was an incredibly clever dog, he used to go and collect our children from school and help out in all sorts of clever ways. Our last dog was called Bogart who was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Now, my wife and I are enjoying a little less responsibility without our own dog but we enjoy taking care of our daughter’s Labradoodle, Luna, from time to time.”

What projects are you working on at the moment?

“Right now I’m designing a piece of furniture that doubles as a walking stick and can fold out to become a chair. It is more of a furniture design piece and it has been a tremendously enjoyable process to get back to my furniture designing which is more focused on my original studies all those years ago.

Another area that I have been hard at work is helping my daughter’s business. She has ended up following in my own footsteps after initially wanting to make an absorbent textile for the hairdressing industry. She soon realized that she could dry her dogs really well with this. My daughter, her name is Lissen, has always been a huge dog lover and would also ride her horse every day when she was young so it made sense that she would start designing for dogs and work in the pet industry, just like I have. She launched in 2013 and is doing really well and she has those extra business skills that I never really got the hang of which makes me very proud. Her dog drying coats work extremely well and I’m proud to see her succeed in her business. She calls me often to get my opinion on things but these days she calls me less and less which I assume means that things are going well for her.”

Do you think you will ever retire?

“Ha! I don’t know what that means. I love what I do and I ‘work’ every day – every day is an opportunity to learn, create and have fun in the workshop so as long as I can, I’ll keep developing new ideas.

Nobody really knows that I am here on South Fyn and have made this product which has become so famous, but I have a great satisfaction knowing that something somewhere in the world every second around the clock makes use of something I’ve created.

I have had a great life with dogs, and been very close to some. But also with people. Everywhere, I still see the new opportunity for both of them and I hope to be able to come up with new products for a long time for both animals and humans.”

*** This article is yet to be published within a formal publication ***