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That’s Independent: Pet Stores Are Barking Up Their Own Trees

by David Toussaint
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Mar 31, 2014

At a time when many dog and cat owners don't like to call their beloved animals "pets," as it sounds like they are claiming superiority over Fido and Fluffy, "pet" stores are changing with the trends too. Organic foods are all the rage, as are safer toys and behavior consultants, as well as animal welfare tie-ins.

A quick look at four independent pet stores around the country gives you a glimpse of what you can find when you don't hit the big chains. To borrow a line from a familiar dating site, "Woof!"

Tailwaggers, Los Angeles

Tailwaggers now has two locations in Los Angeles, appropriate considering its Hollywood background. The first store opened in 2003 and got its name directly from The Tailwaggers Association, a longtime dog charity foundation that claimed Bette Davis as its chairman and Howard Hughes and Walt Disney among its members.

Owned by Todd Warner, the store was envisioned first as a non-profit to help rescue dog and cats. "I realized that cost is the number one concern for rescue animals," says Warner. "The ones with medical problems are the first to get put down or left to suffer. We work with rescue organizations that can’t take the dog."

Browse Tailwaggers and you’ll find organic products and food, beds, toys, and a full-service pet salon. If you go online, hit their "Events" link to find out about animal welfare services. Every year before the Oscars, Tailwaggers even has its own awards show: The Waggies. I wonder if animals are allowed to pee on the red carpet.

Auggie’s Doggies, Fort Lauderdale

If you head to Auggie’s inside Marando Farms your first stop is more like Animal Planet than a typical pet store. Auggie’s shares space with the local farmer’s market, where you can mingle with rescue pigs, goats, ducks, and rabbits-none of which are for the eating. It’s an appropriate gateway into Broward County’s most popular healthy animal-food store.

"We view ourselves as partners with our clients," says Audree Bern-Farnsworth, who owns the store with her husband, Gary. "We listen, we try to educate them, give them the best food for their value."

Auggie’s priorities lie in supporting small, local vendors, resulting in a shop that is 99 percent China-free. Unlike big chain stores, Auggie’s also specializes in evaluating pet needs and working with you to find the best food and supplies for your animal.

Diet is integral to good health, with many studies linking bad nutrition to animal allergies, which is why, if you check out the list of options on Auggie’s web site, you won’t see the typical line of eats you get at the supermarket or PetSmart.

My personal favorite: They sell sourced-from-the-USA antlers for your pet to chew on. Deer and elk shed their antlers naturally, so no one is harmed in the process. The buck really does stop here.

Pawz, Palm Springs

Palm Springs brings to mind lots of things today, like big fluffy, furry things you want to cuddle up with all night. But enough about the new bearded muscle dudes: The California desert also has Pawz, which defines itself as carrying "hip apparel and modern accessories for groovy pets."

The best "accessory" to Pawz, however, is that 20 percent of all profits go to local animal shelters. They hold benefits like Project Ruffway, where you can enter your pet to be America’s next top dog, and in which 100 percent of profits go to local animal shelters.

Browse their website and you’ll discover products that fit in perfectly with the glamorous desert oasis that surrounds them, a blog, and, here’s the belly rub, a list of pet designers and special outfits and looks for "Jewish dogs" and "biker" pets. No word on whether owners can borrow any of the outfits.

Whiskers, New York City

Opened since 1988, Whiskers’ two locations in New York City are run on the idea that animals thrive best when surrounded by what they lived with in the wild. Owner Randy Kline stresses that she nor anyone on her staff is a veterinarian, but that the store is committed to emphasizing holistic health options for your pet.

"We are better known for the products that we don’t carry," she says, adding that Whiskers started out after the death of her and her husband’s dog. Kline says that they found a holistic veterinarian near the end, unfortunately not soon enough, and that the antibiotics contributed to the animal’s downward spiral. The couple was in the computer business and made a major career shift.

Head to Whiskers and you can find consultants in the back, who are more than likely going to give you advice that’s quite different from what most vets say. They also have zillions of products and services, from refreshers to dental products to vitamins and homeopathic remedies. And they deliver!

Run by "animal crazies," Whiskers even has its own line of products and a blog for you to follow. Combine that with books and videos on animal health, and you truly have a full-service independent pet store.

David is an established columnist with EDGE. Follow him on Twitter at @DRToussaint.


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