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Creature Feature
The “animal attraction” continues for pet owners in the Greater Philadelphia Area

by Leigh Stuart and Bill Donahue

Dogs, cats, ferrets, chinchillas, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, parakeets, snakes, lizards, turtles, tarantulas, hermit crabs, even pet rocks. The list goes on and on.

America is a nation in love with its pets. Based on the Greater Philadelphia Area’s profusion of pet-centric boutiques and spas, animal rescues and nonprofit organizations devoted to enhancing the quality of life for critters of every fur, scale and feather, pet owners in this neck of the woods are no exception.

The bond between a pet and its owner—or, if you prefer, “pet parent”—is special, and we’re happy to celebrate that bond here. On the following pages are some of our favorite services, products and companies that underscore the love we feel for the animals with which we share our homes, our hearts and our lives.

We present ourBest of Pets.


A Box for Your Boxer
Looking to have a carefully curated collection of all-natural dog goodies arrive at your doorstep each month? BarkBox delivers


Michael and Jennifer Clements wanted to do something special to celebrate the 12th birthday of Molly, their pit-husky-Rottweiler mix. Through an advertisement on Facebook, they discovered a service that, to them, truly seemed like the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s called BarkBox, a curated box of all-natural treats, chews and toys, with packaging and products designed to—and this comes straight from the good folks at Bark & Co., BarkBox’s parent company— “create moments of insane joy for dogs.” The concept is simple enough: Dog owners visit the company’s website, barkbox.com, to determine the size of their dog (“small and cute,” “just right” or “big and bold”), select a delivery plan (one month, three months, six months or a full year) and, voila, within a few days the first package finds its way to the homeowner’s doorstep.

So does BarkBox deliver on the promise?

“Molly liked everything in it,” owner Jennifer Clements says of her pup’s reaction when the first BarkBox arrived at their home in New Britain. “It was about $125 for six months, and I would say the first one we got was worth at least $45; the Kong alone was probably $20, and the food items were all healthy and natural. It was really convenient. … I haven’t seen any minuses.” —BD


Bone Appétit?
Discerning dogs crave EataBulls, all-natural dog treats from Bucks County that support a worthy cause


Six years ago, Newtown resident Jodi Specter decided she didn’t like the quality she was seeing from store-bought dog treats. So she decided to create her own.

“It was when all the food recalls started,” she says. “I was nervous about giving my dogs anything that was bought in stores, so I started making my own [treats], using dried items like banana chips and chicken. I experimented a little and started making these bones.”

“These bones,” as it turns out, quickly became a hit. Using only pure beef marrow bones, coated with dried “human grade” chicken breast, Specter—a vegetarian, by the way—perfected the recipe over time and ultimately turned the bones into a brand: EataBulls.

“The marrow bone lasts forever, and you can even reuse them,” she says. “The dog will eat all the chicken off the bone, and then you can put peanut butter or whatever you want inside it [similar to a Kong chew toy]. It’s something that will keep them busy all day.”

EataBulls are available through eatabulls.com, as well as in local pet-centric retailers such as Dogs & Cats Rule and the Chic Petique in Philadelphia. Proceeds help support American Bulldog Rescue, a nonprofit organization (of which Specter is president) devoted to rescuing and finding “forever homes” for American bulldog breeds in need.  —BD


Well Groomed
Through Grooming Hands, owners build bonds with horses, dogs and other pets


Barbara Schuster grew up in Lower Bucks County. Like many girls her age, she had a healthy obsession with horses. She did anything she could to ride them, to work with them, to simply be near them. As she grew older, she was able to find jobs that enabled her to take care of the animals she loved—everything from cleaning the stalls, to feeding them, to caring for their health. She even worked at racetracks, caring for thoroughbreds.

“I saw the need for them to be handled in a different way,” says Schuster. “They would run, and run hard, and then when they were done they wouldn’t move much. Just like with people, when you go out and run around and then sit down, you get stiff, you get sore and your muscles tighten. … So I would start massaging them, and I found they started feeling better, and even running better.”

In the process, however, she noticed that when she groomed the horses, the buildup of static electricity would sometimes shock and startle the horses. This, in turn, sparked a light bulb she quickly identified as an opportunity. In 2011, she started working on her idea, and by September 2012, she had a formal business entity—B Comfee LLC, based in Dublin—to bring her idea to life: Grooming Hands.

Grooming Hands are unique, handmade gloves ideal for grooming horses. Each glove has a thermo-plastic palm with anti-static properties, as well as specially placed massage points for easy gripping and optimal pressure. Specialized tips on each glove’s middle and ring fingers enable the massaging of horses’ muscles, simultaneously acting as a brushing tool. Although ideal for loosening dirt, dead skin and parasites such as ticks, Grooming Hands also allow the user to wipe safely around a horse’s eyes, nose and other delicate areas.

Schuster designed the product specifically with horses in mind, but Grooming Hands have proven an effective grooming tool for other domestic animals. The growing list includes not only dogs, cats and rabbits but also pigs and alpacas. 

Grooming Hands, which retail for $20 per pair, are available through the website groominghands.com, as well in bricks-and-mortar locations such as Weavers Way Co-op in Mt. Airy and KT Saddlery in Perkasie.

“I spend quite a lot of time brushing the horses, and I can see the relaxation on their eyes [when they are groomed with Grooming Hands],” says Schuster, who currently makes each pair of the gloves by hand but has a manufacturer in mind to help streamline production. “You can tell they are thankful. I want that same bond to grow between pet owners and their pets, and I’ve been so happy to hear these gloves have played a part in that.”  —BD


Taking Action
Through Hero Dogs, canines learn to improve the quality of life for military veterans in need


Hero Dogs (hero-dogs.org) wholly lives up to its name, as the organization not only helps heroes—America’s underserved military veterans—but also creates heroes out of the dogs it places with veteran partners.

The organization seeks to “repay people for their heroism,” says Jennifer Lund, who founded the organization in 2009 and currently serves as executive director. And the organization does just that, by raising and training service dogs to be placed, free of charge, with deserving veterans to help improve the veterans’ quality of life.

The dogs help veterans who have been honorably or generally (under honorable conditions) discharged from the service and who have a disabling medical condition, whether or not that condition is related to his or her service. The hero dogs perform tasks including helping provide balance support, alerting his or her partner to sounds such as a doorbell or phone ringing, waking a partner from a debilitating nightmare or seeking help for a partner should an emergency arise.

The process of training a hero dog is not a short one. In all, it takes three years for a service dog to become ready to go off with his or her veteran partner. The first two years are spent training the dog, and the additional year is spent training the veteran and dog together. Not all puppies make it through the training program; approximately one in three dogs “graduates” to become a successful service dog.

“When I see the applicants to the program’s lives, they have been pretty dramatically changed,” Lund says. “Many veterans are really, really struggling and looking for a way to put their lives back together. A dog is not a miracle, not a cure, but it is a very, very powerful way for people to establish a connection, establish a relationship.

“It’s a win for the dog, too, because dogs that are successful in the program like their job and think it is fun because they’ve been trained with positive reinforcement,” she continues. “The dogs like having work to do.”

To date, Hero Dogs has placed 10 dogs—primarily golden and Labrador retrievers—with veteran partners. Veterans throughout the greater Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas, as well as in Northern Virginia, are able to apply for dog partners, regardless of branch or role in the service; Hero Dogs does not presently serve the Greater Philadelphia Area. “People contribute in many, many ways to the safety and security of our country,” Lund says. “Veterans have many roles in the military and even if they were a mechanic or cook they still contributed and are still a hero.”

Lund emphasizes that services are provided at no cost to veterans—“and that’s for the lifetime of the partnership,” she says. “[Each dog] costs us about $40,000, and that is covered entirely by donations. … The dog is actually a bargain if it gives a person the independence they need.” —LS


Plan for the Best
Owners invest in their pets’ health through Newtown Square-based Petplan


In many homes, pets are as much a part of the family as a brother, sister or auntie; for this reason, it only makes sense to insure a pet in the same way one would insure a human relative. From retinal to audiological, from simple to complex, and from basic illnesses and lethargy to larger issues such as different types of cancer, pet insurance can address myriad issues.

Pet insurance in the United States has been in existence for approximately 20 years, according to Jules Benson, BVSc, chief veterinary medical officer with Newtown Square-based Petplan pet insurance. Yet, he says only 1 percent to 2 percent of the 175 million cats and dogs in the United States are covered.

Pet insurance works much like human insurance in that there are various levels of coverage, with varied annual limits. With Petplan (gopetplan.com), for example, one can opt for a plan with a deductible of $50, $500 or somewhere in between, with an annual limit of $22,000. These choices, as well as factors such as the age and breed of the pet, along with the area in which pet and owner reside, will determine the cost of a policy. The average policy, Dr. Benson says, costs between $380 and $400 per year.

Pet insurance policies are useful for a number of reasons, centrally in helping out with unexpected medical costs. For example, in case of a severe medical ailment that could cost thousands of dollars, a family might find itself in the nerve-racking position of having to determine if it can afford to provide a pet with necessary treatment. It is important to note, however, that no pet insurance will cover a pre-existing condition, according to Dr. Benson, and quotes are based on the pet’s medical history. Unlike human insurance, however, there are no networks so pet insurance can be used at any veterinarian in the United States and Canada.

At present, Petplan insures more than 150,000 cats and dogs nationwide. The company’s recently renovated headquarters in Newtown Square facility features an indoor dog park, as well as a kitten rescue and cat adoption in partnership with the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society, also known as PAWS.  —LS


Fenced In
With K9 CarFence, a Glenside inventor aims to make car travel for dogs safe and stress free


The best ideas are born of necessity, as the old saw goes. You don’t have to tell Ira Stahl.

He was driving to work one day, his two Pomeranians on the front seat beside him, when someone cut him off and forced him to stop suddenly. His dogs, Peanut and Little Bear, came away with little more than injured pride, really, but the incident stirred his inventor’s mind.

“I wanted a better way for my dogs to be happy and free while traveling in the car,” says Stahl, who has been inventing thoughtful solutions to everyday problems since he was 12 years old. “One of my dogs likes to look out the window, and one likes to sit down, so I knew I needed something flexible as well as safe.”

The result is the K9 CarFence (k9carfence.com), a patented product of Stahl’s own design that enables dogs to travel safely and stress free, without harnesses, cages or confining seats. In matters of sudden stops, the K9 CarFence’s protective netting absorbs the negative energy of the pet’s forward movement, thereby keeping them safe. It also prevents pets from distracting the driver, which is critical because driver distractions caused by unrestrained pets have been linked to thousands of car accidents per year, according to Stahl. Given the right conditions, an unrestrained dog can have deadly implications—for the dog and the owner alike.

K9 CarFence, which has been crash tested for dog safety, fits in the front passenger or back seat of any car and SUV, and it folds down quickly and easily when not in use. The company offers different versions of the product based on a dog’s size; the K9 CarFence TLC-2X, for example, is most appropriate for small to medium-sized dogs. As a value-added feature, K-9 CarFence also protects upholstery and leather seats from scratches often caused by the paws of a roaming dog. What’s more, the product is manufactured in the United States.

“All it takes is a sudden stop,” says Stahl, who also runs Stahl Electric Inc., a prominent electrical contracting firm based in Glenside. “It was stupid of me not to protect my loved ones. I just knew I had to come up with a better way, and I think I have.”  —BD


The Wolf Within
In his new book, author Bryan Bailey suggests a deeper understanding of a dog’s wolf-like nature can strengthen relationships between pets and their owners


Domesticated dogs in modern America seem to bear little resemblance to their wolf ancestors, but these canines have more in common than one might suspect. So says Bryan Bailey, a nationally recognized animal behaviorist and author of the new book, “Embracing the Wild in Your Dog.”

“There’s a perception in America that a dog is more human like than wolf like, but that’s a misperception that can have consequences ranging from the minor to the fatal,” says Bailey, who has devoted his life to understanding canines and other animals he defines as “social predators.” “Dogs still have a phylogenetic relationship with wolves, and they still have the instincts that have been carried down through the ages.

“As an example,” he continues, “look at a dog and a wolf as two matching homes. The wolf has 39 rooms with 39 lights on. A dog has the same number of rooms, but some of those lights have been dimmed. … People think a dog is governed by the same sense of altruism and the same moral compass that they have, but we’re talking about a social predator, and it has its own rules that it governs its life by.”

If his words sound cautious, even dire, it’s because he knows better. Yes, he has dogs of his own, which he considers part of his family, but he also understands what they are—animals that are wild at heart and deserving of respect. With his book, he simply wants dog owners to have a firmer understanding of how a dog’s ancestral ties to the wolf can affect its behavior. Although Bailey’s book is by no means a training manual, he hopes readers will use it to develop a more harmonious relationship with the “best friends” we, as a nation, have come to share our homes with.

“Embracing the Wild in Your Dog” is available through tamingthewild.com, as well as through Amazon and other online booksellers. Bailey has also written “The Hammer,” a follow-up he refers to as “a dark book” about the aggressive side of dogs, due for a summer release.

“I can’t imagine my life without a dog,” he says. “I’ve had pizza with my dogs, shared a McDonald’s cheeseburger with them; I’m sure they’ve lapped up some bad beer on occasion. That’s fun, but it ends there. When you come back to reality, you understand that a dog is still jaws, claws and paws, and it governs its world by those things.

“Is there love [between a dog and its owner]? I’m not sure. Is there loyalty? Absolutely.”  —BD
 

Suburban Life Magazine