Where pets get back to nature

business profile Bark!

February 14, 2007|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,special to the sun

When Guy Hawkins took in his in-laws' cat, he was not expecting to fall in love.

Charlie is all white and an elderly 16 years old, but Hawkins and his wife "love him dearly" and hope to keep him around for a while. "The vet, she was adamant about getting a better quality of food than at the grocery store," said Hawkins, of Fulton.

Quality cat food is what brought Hawkins to Bark!, a natural pet food store in Clarksville. Hawkins saw a difference in Charlie's coat with the change in diet.

What started as a pet food aisle at Roots Market - an organic food store - has grown into a shop dedicated to "green" products for animals. Bark's success mirrors the popularity of the natural foods industry.

A freezer full of raw pet food dominates the front of the tiny store. Customer Rissa Miller said, "We like to get our dog unusual flavors like goat and rabbit, things that you can't pick up from your butcher." Miller's rescued Greyhound, Lochrima, is a frequent visitor at Bark!

Owner Jeff Kaufman said people shop at Bark "just because it's healthier. ... To get natural, healthy wholesome ingredients, what could be better than that?" he said. In addition to Bark!, Kauffman owns Roots, a gift/clothing store called Nest, and Great Sage restaurant with partner Jody Cutler.

Roots opened in 2000. As Kaufman's natural foods market has grown, he moved home goods and pet supplies, respectively, into their own stores in the same Clarksville shopping center. Bark opened December 2004.

"We really didn't have an idea how big a success it would be," Kaufman said of Bark!

Many of Bark!'s customers also buy organic goods at Roots, he said. "Once you've got consciousness about what you're eating ... you don't want anybody in your family - including your pets - to be partaking in" unhealthy food, Kaufman said.

"It's actually such a pleasant shopping experience going into Bark as opposed to the big-box pet stores," said Miller, who lives in Catonsville. "One of my favorite things about Bark! is that no matter what I buy, I know I'm giving her [Lochrima] something good."

The store has been so successful that Kaufman is opening a new, larger Bark in Olney in March. A Roots Market in Olney will follow.

Although Bark! sells T-shirts and toys, pet food is the store's top seller. Bark! manager Kelli Rosenberg said that the current philosophy in pet food is to have fewer grain fillers, mirroring cats' and dogs' natural diets. "There's a belief out there and a huge following of the raw diet," Rosenberg said.

Store managers carefully research every item on the shelves, including peanut butter dog biscotti from Organic Doggy Kitchen, a Virginia business.

"We really were looking for a treat that was wheat free, organic and from a local person because we wanted to support local businesses," Rosenberg said of the biscotti. She said that grain allergies are common in dogs. "We try to find options that are wheat-free," she said.

"It does take a tremendous amount of research," he added. "We go to these big pet food shows. ... Each time we go, there are more and more vendors" with organic pet products.

Bark! supports several animal-related charities and donates discontinued foods to Animal Advocates of Howard County. The shop also runs demonstrations and education events monthly. On Feb. 24, Miller is to teach customers how to bake the homemade dog cookies she makes for her Greyhound.

Miller is promoting Let Them Eat Cookies: A Greyt Cookbook for All Great Dogs, which Roots and Bark! helped sponsor. Miller and her partner, Nathaniel Corn, created the book as a fundraiser for Greyhound Rescue Inc. "I will probably go over a lot about ... quality ingredients," Miller said.

"A lot of people treat their animals like their children," Rosenberg said. "What they're doing for themselves as far as healthy living, they're starting to do for their animals."

Bark! is at 5805 Clarksville Square D, Clarksville. Information, 443-535-0200.

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