A Feast Fit for a Dog

By Beacon Staff

Janey Robertson drove 18 hours from southern California to Whitefish with four big dogs, two cats, three rabbits, two cockatoos and her mother crammed in a Ford Expedition. She shared a hotel room with the same crew.

It’s safe to say Robertson likes animals. That’s why she and her husband have run a pet store called Tailwaggers in Whitefish for the past year. Now, as of Aug. 11, they have a Tailwaggers in Kalispell too, next to Bikology on Montana Street.

Tailwaggers sells everything dogs and cats need – and a lot they might not need, but just want. The store has a little for birds, bunnies and horses too. From Henrietta the rubber chicken to interactive cat toys that simulate mouse-like movements, Tailwaggers has games covered. The store also sells leashes, grass specifically designed to aid kitty digestion, canine cards, identification tags, bumper stickers, doggie breath mints and a lot more.

It’s the food, though, that really makes it apparent that you’re not in Petco.

“It’s doctor dog food,” said Jim Connell, Robertson’s husband. “We appreciate nutrition.”

Connell knows food. He owned a restaurant in southern California and now has shifted his focus from human gourmet to doggie delicacies.

All the food is natural and much of it is organic. There are no byproducts or harmful chemicals. None of it comes from China, where much of the mainstream pet food is made. It’s all American made.

In one dog food, the first six ingredients are forms of meat: chicken, turkey, lamb and more. That’s what dogs are supposed to eat, Connell said, and what they want to eat.

“Dogs naturally aren’t built for soy, corn or grain,” he said.

Connell said that if a dog were in the wild, the only way it would get things like corn or grain is from the animals it eats, what he called “gutting a kill.” The foods at his store contain minimal amounts of such ingredients.

A quick scan of the ingredients in various foods at Tailwaggers turns up a buffet of tasty bits: salmon, garlic, apples, eggs, cottage cheese, seaweed, sweet potatoes, buffalo, duck, horseradish, cabbage, and an array of other meats and vegetables.

Robertson used to cook chicken and veggie meals in a crock pot for her pets. Today, she said, so many different pet food makers offer comparable food, she doesn’t cook for her pets quite as much. But she still does some, and she also bakes ginger snaps that are sold at the store to satisfy the canine sweet tooth.

“If I eat good food, then I think my animals should eat good food too,” Robertson said.

Nearly every part of an animal – a cow or turkey for example – can be used for pet treats or food, Connell said. The best cuts go to humans, but the rest can go to dogs or cats. Snack bins at the store hold smoked kneecaps, pork snouts, lamb puffs, hooves, tracheas and more. A freezer contains meat: burger made from rougher cuts of animals, turkey necks and other parts of animals that can be cooked but are best served to pets raw.

“There’s nothing wasted in the animal anymore,” Connell said. “It all goes back to life.”

If you had one of the dog food packages labeled “venison” in your freezer, it probably wouldn’t be too big of a problem if it were mistaken for human food, Connell said.

“It’s the part of the venison we might put in a stew,” he said.

Even ground bones are used for calcium. When cooking for her pets in the past, Robertson said she used ground oyster shells sometimes as an alternative calcium source. One canned food at the store contains whole, cooked down chicken thighs.

“Dogs have special needs,” Robertson said.

Both Connell and Robertson have a firm grasp on what those needs are. They launch into discussions about the importance of glucosamine, fish oils, balanced diets and which ingredients target specific ailments. Robertson told a story of a dog that was going blind and then she completely changed its diet. The dog’s vision improved dramatically and it never went blind.

“Their response to (a poor diet) is like a rash from inside out,” Connell said.

Cats and dogs need to have their fun too. The store has toys that float on water, toys that fly through the air and some that just sit there like the Hide a Squirrel game, which says on its box that it’s “designed to develop a dog’s intelligence and puzzle-solving skills.” Along with toys are things like lifejackets and backpacks.

“Dogs get bored with the same toys all the time,” Robertson said.

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