Oscar stars will get Hilmar man’s invention in swag bags; he has his dog to thank

Richard Sargis inventor of the Safety Dog Leash with his dog Rocco in Turlock, Calif., on Thursday, March. 1, 2018.
Richard Sargis inventor of the Safety Dog Leash with his dog Rocco in Turlock, Calif., on Thursday, March. 1, 2018. aalfaro@modbee.com

The next time you see Meryl Streep or Denzel Washington walking their dogs, check their wrists. The superstars just might be wearing a new Safety Dog Leash made in Hilmar.

The leash created by Hilmar-based businessman and inventor Richard Sargis is ready for its close-up. It will be among more than 50 luxury items included in gift bags given to Academy Award nominees before the annual telecast Sunday night. The Los Angeles-based marketing company Distinctive Assets has provided the extravagant "Everyone Wins" gift bags, which aren't affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for the past 15 years.

"This Oscars opportunity was just cool how it happened," Sargis said. "We made one phone call and, boom, we're in the bag."

This year's package is worth more than $100,000 and includes an all-expenses paid trip to Tanzania, sessions with a personal trainer, a diamond necklace and Sargis' dog leash, among other swanky items.

The Safety Dog Leash retails for a down-to-earth $14.95. And its invention came from an even more humbling moment about three years ago. Shortly after he got his rescue hound dog and miniature doberman mix named Rocco, Sargis lost the grip on his retractable leash when Rocco bolted after seeing a cat.

The then 1-year-old pooch went running straight toward a busy intersection with cars buzzing through. A passerby was able to catch Rocco before he ran into the street. But an idea was born in that moment.

Sargis and his wife, Christina, began work on the Safety Dog Leash shortly after. Two years ago they filed for a patent, which is pending, for the leash design that consists of two attached looped straps. One strap snaps onto your wrist and the other to the leash handle. That leaves your hands free to put in your pockets, check your phone, pick up waste or whatever else you want.

The leash attachment is adjustable and can work for any age group or physique. But Sargis said it's particularly helpful to people with a weakened grip like he has from arthritis. The product's cheeky tagline, "When you leash expect it," also highlights its safety mission.

"This is for dog lovers and it is both a safety thing and a convenience thing for people," Sargis said.

The Safety Dog Leashes all have been assembled by Sargis and associates in Hilmar this past year. They provided about 70 for the Oscars swag bags, which will go to acting and directing Academy Award-nominees like Streep, Washington, Mary J. Blige, Woody Harrelson and this year's host Jimmy Kimmel.

Sargis has been looking for a celebrity to endorse his project since he completed the design. So he reached out to Distinctive Assets to be included. But he applied two days after the deadline for this year's awards, and wasn't sure his leash would make it.

Luckily, one of the firm's staff members was a dog lover, so his product sneaked in under the wire. Companies pay a fee, anywhere from $1,000 (what Sargis paid) to $19,000, to be included in the promotional gift packages. He is also looking into being included in future gift baskets Distinctive Assets provides to other awards shows — like the Grammys, Kids' Choice and Tonys.

Distinctive Assets Founder Lash Fary said the firm looks for "fun, fabulous and even functional items" to include in its gift baskets.

"With so many celeb pet lovers we always like to include at least one great pet-related item. The Safety Dog Leash is both innovative and useful ... so it was an easy yes," Fary said.

Now the hope is that one of the celebrities will notice Sargis' leash, and give it their casual or official endorsement.

"All I need is for one person to say, 'This is a really cool item I got in my swag bag, it's better than a trip," Sargis said. "Or maybe they'll tweet it out. It's just another way to get the word out about it."

Currently the Safety Dog Leash is only available for sale online through its website, www.safetydogleash.com.

The leash is not the first thing Sargis has invented. The Ceres native who graduated from Turlock High School came up with his first ideas for new products when he was just 16 years old. Now 64, he has several patents pending and three patents filed for his inventions. Some of his past creations include a decorative paper towel holder, a safety step for ladders and a fiber optics children's book.

He does all his inventing in between running his two full-time businesses, Behind-the-Wheel Driving School which he has owned for 24 years and All Occasions Limousine Services which he has had for 15 years. But for now he is focusing on his Dog Safety Leash and its potential. The "Everyone Wins" gift bags will be the product's official debut.

"This all started when Rocco got loose from us and started running toward an intersection," he said. "And now we're at the Oscars."