When Buddy went shopping last week, he sampled nearly as many treats as his owner Laura Zimmerman bought for him.
The terrier and basset hound mix was so pampered by the employees and manager at Treats Unleashed that Zimmerman said he probably wouldn’t need dinner.
The visit to the pet boutique has become a weekly event for the pair. Buddy even sniffs out the treats and sometimes the outfits he wants, Zimmerman said. She is willing to pay the extra cost to shop at a pet boutique because the products are of higher quality, she said.
Treats Unleashed offers a variety of products for pets, but its main attraction is homemade dog treats, manager Travis Naughton said. One of the most popular treats is the Jurassic Barks, made of chicken liver. My Fur Lady treats, made of beef, cheese and sweet peppers, are also a hit. The store, located at 1400 Forum Blvd., even has a pumpkin treat called On Golden Retriever Pond.
The treats, however, have more than cute names. They are made from all-natural ingredients that even people can eat, Naughton said.
“It’s actually more healthy than people food,” he said. “The treats have no salt, sugar or preservatives. Instead we use honey and sometimes molasses.”
The Peanut Barker Cups, for instance, are like peanut butter cups that have an outer layer of carob instead of a chocolate shell. Carob is caffeine-free and does not have the other chemicals found in chocolate that are harmful to dogs. The store also sells Valentine cupcakes, a peanut butter cupcake with yogurt melt for icing.
Besides treats, the store has a range of toys and collars, including some with rhinestones or pearls. Other items for sale are dog carriers, stylish clothing and strollers in pink or black.
Naughton sees treating pets luxuriously as an extension of compassion. Pets are often treated as family, even like children, he said.
The luxury pet service industry has grown since Naughton started with the company four years ago. More customers visit Treats Unleashed each year, he said.
Treats Unleashed isn’t the only business in Columbia catering to pets. Stylish boutiques and an agility center have opened recently or have moved to larger facilities.
Down the street from Treats Unleashed is the Meow boutique at 2010 Chapel Plaza Court. The boutique stocks toys and other merchandise for cats and cat lovers. Diversified with many items for cat lovers — cat dishes, T-shirts and home decorations — the store has more than 500 items with cats on them, manager Beth Abernathie said.
The boutique was opened 10 years ago with about 400 square feet and has since moved to a 2,000-square-foot building. Because of popular demand, the boutique launched a Web site so that out-of-town shoppers can purchase their Meow goods online, Abernathie said.
Next door to Meow is the 11-year-old Songbird Station, which caters to bird lovers. The business moved to a larger location in Chapel Plaza last month to keep up with demand, owner Mel Toellner said. It also provides space for Gigi’s, a pet boutique that sells leashes, beds, purses and other items from the East Coast.
A veteran among the pack of pet businesses is Pet Fair at 1706 I-70 Drive S.W., a grooming and boarding shop that has been around for about 40 years. Three years ago, its owners decided to turn the front of the business into a boutique.
“I think that people are seeing their animals in a different light,” owner Josie Mickey said. “They want to pamper their pets and want them to have things that they have. They like to dress their dogs up with pretty collars and fancy clothes, and so I just thought to go along with them.”
South Paw Acres at 5550 West Gillespie Bridge Road has offered day care and boarding for dogs since 2001. To ensure the health of all boarding pets, first-time dogs must pass a screening process, owner Faye Nowell said. A passing grade on the entrance exam brings a lot of pampering, comfy bedding, TVs for the dogs and music at night.
Bed and Biscuit, another pet boarding facility at 1412 Jade Road, offers heated floors and a grass playtime four times a day (indoors and outdoors), owner Candy Pezold said.
But for some businesses, there’s more to serving a pet clientele than doling out treats. Columbia Canine Sports Center at 4506 I-70 Drive S.E., for example, is more focused on dog agility than luxury. Dogs can train year-round at the center, which has training areas with recycled rubber mats to minimize injury, co-owner Virginia Huxley said.
“We wanted to build a facility to train dogs in a less crowded environment and one designed to minimize injury,” said Huxley, who is also the president of the Show-Me Canines Club and an MU cardiovascular professor.
The center hosted a dog competition this weekend that will continue from 8 a.m. to about 2 p.m. today.
Huxley said that pet businesses, including luxury ones, are growing in Columbia possibly because people have a need for companionship. She remembers that when she started teaching at MU 23 years ago, she was the only one on her street with pets. Now everyone on her street has pets, she said.