The Adorable Story of The Pound Puppy Toy Dogs

James Logie
Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash

The market for stuffed animals is a pretty tough one.

With so many options, it can be difficult 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 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 sell over $300 million during the ‘80s.

And they were a huge hit. This will be all about the creation, and success, of the Pound Puppies.

What Were The Pound Puppies?

Just hink 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, the Pound Puppies had their own unique look compared to other plush dogs.

They were a whole collection of them and they came in a variety of colors such as brown, gray, white, and some with spots.

One of the first things that set them apart is that each came in unique packaging.

They were considered a good alternative for kids who wanted an actual puppy.

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.

Creating The Pound Puppies

The Pound Puppies were created by Mike Bowling. He was not a toy inventor or had any connection to toy companies. He worked in a Ford Factory.

He had bought his daughter a doll in 1983 and she became completely attached to it taking it everywhere she went.

Seeing the impact this toy was having on his daughter, he kept having thoughts of creating 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.

He came up with Pound Puppies and created a crude prototype that he would stuff with pellets.

All the ideas were right there from the start including the crate to carry them and the adoption papers.

Bowling didn't know about the toy industry but he knew enough to copyright the name 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.

He 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 to less than 100 million in a short time.

Atari was the top dog, obviously, 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.

Nintendo hadn’t swooped in to save the day yet so these companies were looking for something else to try to recover.

Bowling stuck with it and got in contact with Canadian toy company Irwin. Irwin had been pretty burned over by Atari and was looking for some low-risk opportunities with simple toys.

Pound Puppies looked like that good opportunity. Irwin would first release Pound Puppies in Canada.

They were an immediate hit. They offered more than your regular run-of-the-mill stuffed animal: they had some character to them.

There was more of a sense of ownership for small kids with the adoption certificate, too.

Tonka Trucks and Pound Puppies

Toy truck maker Tonka had had a deal with video game company Sega but also got burned by the video game crash.

It was now 1985 and Tonka--like Irwin--wanted to get on board with something low risk. The advantage Tonka had is that Irwin had done all the leg work in Canada.

Tonka loved Bowling’s idea and premise with the Pound Puppies, and they had actual market research that showed they were a success.

Tonka put out the Pound Puppies in 1985 and really pushed the idea of ownership for kids.

They were a great solution for parents who don’t want to buy a real dog. Tonka also emphasized that the Puppies need to be walked, bathed, and had had all their shots.

This would help teach kids responsibility.

In 1985, Tonka sold 2.5 million of them. This was at a price of $30 per puppy. Converted for today, that's around $70.

The Pound Puppies TV Special

Before there was the cartoon series, there was the Pound Puppies TV special.

It was 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 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 around- which was rare for the time. They introduced the toys first, 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. It 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.

The Pound Puppies Cartoon Series

The Pound Puppies film was a big enough hit that Hanna-Barbera got the rights for an animated TV series.

The show was broadcast on ABC from September 1986 to February 1989.

The show was kind of based on the film but would never make any mention of Violet.

The cartoon 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, Bright Eyes, and Howler.

The show also debuted the sinister Katrina Stoneheart. She has an evil daughter Brattina and goddaughter Holly who used to run the Puppy Pound but has now become a friend to the Puppies.

The rest of the show is basically Katrina and Brattina trying to tear down the pound while the Pound Puppies try to get themselves adopted to new families.

And at the end of each show, the Pound Puppies Pet Care Corner would take place and gave tips to kids on how to take care of their pets.

The Future Of The Pound Puppies

The Pound Puppies weren’t a very long last 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 a few short years, the Pound Puppies generated around $300 million. Converted for today that’s about $680 million.

There would be a rebooted cartoon in 2010.

Bowling would sell the Pound Puppies to Hasbro in 2011. The 2010 cartoon seemed to launch a platform for new characters that Hasbro put out in 2012.

This series would actually feature some high-end writing and won 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 to be 3 times as many as there are actual dogs in the U.S.

Not bad for a Ford assembly line worker from Cincinnati.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 0

Published by

Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


More from James Logie

Comments / 0