First, let’s distinguish between the manufactured kind, which comprise over 95% of the pet fountains available, and the handmade kind. To our knowledge there is only one company dedicated solely to the creation of handmade cat fountains and pet fountains and that is ThirstyCat Fountains, author of this post. Of the manufactured there are a number of brands such as Drinkwell, Pioneer, Petsafe, Catit and others. The differences between how these two different kinds; manufactured and handmade, pet fountains are made, and why they cost what they do are numerous.
The manufactured pet fountains are made in factories in China, mostly of plastic so there are the material costs which are not great for a single fountain but considerable for the great quantities they make. The plastic components are formed in molds and assembled by the workers and as there are a number of components this requires several different operations to assemble a fountain. There can be as many as ten pieces or more that need to be put together. So there are the labor costs.
Numerous machines, molds, stamps, presses, etc. are required and these all need to be serviced and maintained so there are the machinery maintenance costs and occasional replacement costs. The floor supervisors or foremen, administration personnel, the factory owners or renters also figure in.
Then you have shipping and distribution, marketing and middlemen, advertising (print and online) and corporate personnel costs including attorney fees, insurance, etc. Finally, the brand owners and, if any, shareholders need to walk away with a profit.
From the highest priced (about $85) to the lowest (about $25) of the manufactured pet fountains the mean price is about $55. After the expenses above are factored in, each fountain brings in a reasonable, though not great profit, but because so many fountains are produced these are very financially viable enterprises.
Now for the handmade: Each ThirstyCat fountain is made, one at a time, by hand, from start to finish. The bowl is thrown from wet, bagged clay. After throwing it is slowly dried then trimmed. The base of the center pieces are thrown then hand-formed into leaves or flowers or raised basins with channels or any of many other designs we create, or they are carved and glaze-painted with any of a variety of motifs, many which we’ve never done before. We’re always adding new designs. The bowls and center pieces are bisque fired to about 1945◦ F which drives out all moisture, burns out organics and carbon and releases gasses.
The glazes are made from scratch of dry, raw minerals, weighed out on a gram scale according to a recipe, dry mixed, wet mixed, screened through an 80 mesh screen and mixed again before using. We apply them by spraying each fountain, one at a time, in a spray booth which gives a smoother surface –contributing to both their beauty and ease of cleaning. Here is a video of how we apply our glazes.
Before glazing, each fountain bowl and center piece is cleaned with a sponge to remove any dust that may affect the glaze, wax resist is put on the foot of the pieces and a 3 X 5 card is made for each one with all the fountains particuars – diameter, height, details of the center piece, cord cover and any other characteristics of note.
After the glaze is applied, the foot of the bowls and center pieces are scraped and sponged to make sure they don’t stick to the kiln shelves, any glaze touch up that may be needed is done. Everything is loaded into the kiln for the glaze firing. This is done usually on four or five levels, level by level with witness cones at each level to inform us how the has kiln fired. The glaze firing goes to 2,232◦ F. We normally bisque and glaze from twenty to twenty five fountains at a time, about twice a week. Each glaze firing takes about 15 hrs. to complete with another 8 hours or so to cool before removing the ware.
Once all the fountain bowls are out of the kiln, about twenty four hours after loading, the cord grip is built in and left for a minimum of four hours. Then the specially made rubber bumper feet are applied, (you won’t find these in any hardware store), the pump is prepared and installed and the fountain with it’s center piece is assembled. If it is to have a straight copper component, that will already have been cut, filed and polished, or, if of a more complex design, it will be made to fit the particular fountain. This may involve annealing (heating to cherry-red with a torch) and shaping, filing, polishing, etc.
The card is updated with the fountains’ new size (they shrink in the glaze firing), what length of copper and or vinyl has gone into it, what pump it has (we use different sizes), a note if it can or not take a European pump, which (custom made-for-us) foam filter it has and what the cord cover design is. The fountain is then tested. We look for smooth, satisfying flow, no pump noise and no splash.
Once satisfied of those requirements the fountains are photographed in a photo tent. Because each fountain is one of a kind, every fountain needs to be photographed. The images are loaded into the computer and color and light corrected for accuracy. We keep the fountains by the computer during this phase to assure that the images look exactly like the fountains. This is done for each image of each fountain. Normally we use three photos of each.
The fountains are then prepped, dried, the components put into small plastic bags which are put into the fountains, and the fountains are put on the outgoing shelves in preparation for boxing and shipping. Each fountain is then listed on our website with its full description and details. And that’s all there is to the creation of a ThirstyCat Fountain. A ThirstyCat fountain costs on the average about $130. The lion’s portion of that cost is based on the time and skilled work that goes into the creation of each one, which, as you now know, is considerable.