Where to Shop for Your Pampered Pet

Finding the best for your four-legged pal

We’ve come a long way from the days when dogs were relegated to the backyard. Now dogs — yes, cats and other furry friends too, but especially pups — are treated like members of the family. For many, they are as precious as a child.

What the pet industry calls the “humanization” of pets in recent years has transformed the way we relate to them. They ride in car seats, eat whole-grain and grass-fed food, and have blueberry facials. As a result of all the care, pets are healthier, and no doubt happier.

So is the pet industry — according to the American Pet Products Association, spending on pets has increased 270 percent since 1994. Much of that increase has come from growing consumer interest in higher-quality, eco-friendly pet food. 

“They want wholesome food that contains all human-grade ingredients. They want meat that’s truly meat with real fruits and vegetables. They don’t want processed food, synthetic food, chemicals or byproducts,” says John Phillips, co-owner with his wife Sandy of The Wholistic Pet in Bedford. Both have advanced degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and medical technology.

The store, in business for 20 years selling an array of green pet products (for horses too), has an onsite facility that makes many of the animal health and wellness products it sells, including nutritional supplements such as probiotics, essential fatty acids and concentrated joint support that meet the stringent quality standards of the National Animal Supplement Council. The store, which ships its products all over the world, will start making and selling its own food line next year.

The demand for locally sourced, locally made pet food comes in part from the numerous recalls that have happened in recent years; the worst, the 2007 recall of melamine-contaminated food from China.

Another reason for the demand — statistics that showed a significant increase in pet cancers. “Research has attributed the increase to the use of commercial pet foods that began in the 1950s,” says Tammi Martin, owner of Pet Pantry Provisions in Exeter. “Dogs aren’t built to digest the grains in that dog food. There is a movement to put them back on a natural, unprocessed diet of protein, fats and carbs that they can digest.”

At Pet Pantry Provisions, along with the store’s other offerings, there are many options for that kind of diet. Three of them are specialties: Better Than Bones, a dog treat that is grain-free and meat-free; Better Bellies yogurt with organic live cultures; and Butchers Feast, a dehydrated blend of locally sourced fruits and vegetables, including all the required vitamins and minerals, along with fresh, grass-fed, locally raised meats and free-range poultry. The blend can be used as a basis for people who want to cook for their pets. Suggestions are provided for adding additional meats and vegetables based on the individual dog’s requirements. “This makes it convenient and healthier,” Martin says.

It’s not just pet food that’s eco-friendly. Stores are carrying a wide range of all-natural, eco-friendly products, including kitty litter. Pam Rohdenburg, general manager of One Stop Country Pet Supply in Keene, says the old clay kitty litter is out; litter made from corn, wheat, walnut shells, even green tea, is in. She also points to Lupine, the North Conway-based company that makes leashes from recycled soda bottles. “People want products that are recycled (or can be), biodegradable, and safe for their animals,” she says.

Those animals can include more than dogs and cats — One Stop Country Pet Supply also sells bearded dragons, milk snakes, tree frogs, hermit crabs and other nontraditional critters. And yes, she says, people can get just as attached to them as their dogs and cats. “They’re much more responsive than you might think,” Rohdenburg says.

Another part of holistic health for pets is to feed their spirit with socializing, and Four Your Paws Only in North Conway has it in spades, so much so they have an events calendar on their website. Now in its 23rd year of operation, the business — which has a wide selection of pet products, sold in the store and online — has pioneered dog happenings like their play groups, yappy hours and birthday parties (they have an onsite pet bakery with all-natural cakes and cookies for the occasion).

“We have events in as many as nine of the 12 months,” says Kathy Ahearn, co-owner with husband Brian. “In February, we’re having a Puppy Bowl to coincide with the Super Bowl, which is big up here.” Dogs (there’s a weight limit) wearing team bandanas will chase footballs up and down a floor that’s marked like a football field. The March event, the year’s biggest, is a puppy party with clowns, balloons and all the trimmings. Ahearn says her business, which is a five-time New Hampshire Magazine Best of NH winner, is all about community involvement.

For sure, the tender care pets are getting these days will cost a smidge more, but pet store owners say, consider what you’re likely to save on vet bills. 

Categories: Features, Pets