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Yesterday, I picked out some treats for a Secret Santa package exchange on one of my dog forums. I hope the recipients will be as happy with the selection as I was when picking them out. And I’m assuming they don’t read this blog in the meantime — though it’s a lot to assume that just because one doesn’t have a dog blog, doesn’t mean they don’t read them…

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It’s a grab bag for a couple of dogs who are lucky enough not to have any food allergies: Himalayan yak cheese dog chews, Zuke’s salmon formula training treats (a real favorite around here), Merrick beef tripe and liver steak patties (which smelled so powerful, they’ve got to be good). The clerks also threw in a couple sample pieces of Dogswell Veggie Life — chicken and sweet potato, and chicken and apple. Our dogs don’t get any processed chicken or beef, so I decided to pass along the freebies.

Their human is also getting some cute dog and Shiba-related trinkets. I’ll be announcing a giveaway later this week which will include an assortment of said items, so I will present those later.

All of the canine edibles come from “Local Pet Store A”, which is probably one of my favorite shopping places to buy anything, not just dog necessities. It’s not the biggest, cleanest, most spacious, or most well-lit pet store in town. But the people that work there make it more than just a site of commerce. I get a lot of pleasure from browsing the aisles, amused by the variety of pet goods, specialized formulas and novel proteins, packaging aesthetics, brand names, possibilities. This local pet store offers a range of sensations that I just don’t get at PetsMart, Petco, or online pet food retailers.

And the thing is, there are at least half a dozen other local retailers that offer this kind of familiar, friendly shopping experience, all within easy driving distance. I think we’re lucky to live in such a dog-friendly area of the world, where there are so many off-leash dog parks and pet stores offering a holistic, local, and independently-distributed goods. I’d like to keep this a great place to live with dogs by shopping locally, whenever I can.

Reasons to shop local:

  • You save money. When we first moved here, I assumed that corporate stores were capable of offering lower prices simply because they have the capacity to purchase mass supplies. However, I found my locally-owned pet stores to have quite competitive pricing.

    For example –

    • PetSmart’s price for Royal Canin, 10 lb., $31.99
    • Local Pet Store A’s price for Taste of the Wild, 15 lb., $29.99
    • PetSmart’s price for Deli Fresh refrigerated dog food, 2 lb chub, $9.99
    • Local Pet Store A’s price for Primal Raw grinds [just meat, needs supplements], 2 lb chub, $4.99
    • Local Pet Store B’s price for Natural Balance dog food roll, 2 lb. 8 oz chub, $8.99

    So you can get a greater quantity of a better quality food that isn’t even available at the national chains for less at your local store? Awesome!

  • You get better discounts. PetSmart has what they call a “PetPerks” card, which entitles you to “exclusive” prices on a rotating selection of stock each week. And they’ll also subscribe you to their mailing list so you can get spammed and told what to buy. Big whoop. It’s hardly a perk at all, in my opinion.

    Several of my local pet stores, on the other hand, offer cumulative discounts. At my most frequented store, for every $100 I spend, I can take $10 off my purchase of any “accessories” (i.e., not food or flea meds — treats, toys, nutritional supplements and most hardware are okay). So while there are limitations, I can basically spend that discount on something I probably would have bought anyway.My local stores also offer running discounts on certain brands of food — buy 10 bags of Primal Raw, and get $5 off the next bag, for example. So while you won’t find coupons for Canidae or Solid Gold or Orijen in your Sunday circulars, there are still ways to get discounts on brands of dog food that aren’t distributed through national chains. Which leads me to my next point…

  • You get a better selection. In preparation for this entry, I visited my nearest PetSmart to check out their dog food aisles. While there are at least six long, fully-stocked aisles, I was not impressed by the illusion of variety that was offered. Frankly, there’s little difference between Pro Plan, Beneful, and Purina One, since they’re all part of the Purina family. Royal Canin’s marketing strategy offering differently-packaged kibble labeled by breeds is just laughable, playing up gullible pet owners’ beliefs in breed exceptionalism. What was on the shelves, with the exception of Blue Buffalo and Wellness (the latter of which is a fairly new addition), was of average quality at best.

    Most disappointing to me is their selection of sturdy, long-lasting chews at PetSmart. Nearly everything they offered was rawhide-based, which many dogs have a problem digesting. While our dogs have never encountered any problems with rawhide, I prefer to give them other chews whenever possible. At the chains, I’ve had a hard time finding alternatives. At local pet stores, I have found pig’s snout, chicken feet, beef trachea, ostrich lung, natural shed antlers, deer shank bones, and much, much, more. My local stores also offer a ton of other edible dental chew brands that, frankly, are superior to the handful of common brands I’ve found at chain stores.

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    Photo taken 10 August 2010. Bowdu surveys the rawhide selection and remains unimpressed.

    The thing about non-national brands is that you have to be willing to explore. I try a lot of things for the first time when I buy them from little stores. I have to watch and gauge my pets’ reactions to determine if I’ll buy them again. When in doubt, examine packaging, read ingredients lists, poke and prod and ask the sales clerks for assistance (benefits of shopping in person versus online!).

  • You contribute more directly to your immediate community. This is obvious, right? But spending money at a locally-owned pet store goes another step further than keeping the money within the local economy. It’s also about sustaining the community in both quantifiable, financial terms and qualitative, social means. I don’t know of any local pet store owner who started their business with the goal of making tons of money. Aside from filling a market need that they felt wasn’t being met elsewhere, the “selfish” but ultimately profound reason was that such a business allowed them to earn a living in a pleasurable way. In a perfect world, we would all be working jobs that we enjoyed, while contributing positively to the world around us. The pet stores that I frequent create spaces for exactly the types of community-enriching commerce that I’d like to see more of.
  • Local stores are more likely to sponsor adoption events with a variety of local rescues. This is not to say that national chains don’t also participate in adoption activities; the better-managed stores do have connections with local animal shelters, and will make a conscientious effort to rehome pets whenever possible. But at least in my experience, I have seldom seen national chains make space for older or “special needs” pets. Rather, they primarily rehome puppies and kittens — the easiest ones to sell. And these adoption events are frequently spearheaded by corporate interests such that the event becomes more about advertising, or how much free, branded stuff you can give away for every adoption, and less, I think, about animal welfare as an organizing event unto itself.
  • Local stores are more responsive to feedback. Heard about a great new product that you wish you could get in town? Tell them about it, and it may be on the shelves as early as next week. Don’t like the fact that the store resells puppies and kittens from unethical breeders? Tell them, and then don’t shop there — it’s more likely to affect policy changes at a small business than a major corporation where decisions are made at an entirely different level, perhaps in another part of the country altogether.

    A corollary to this is that local pet store owners are more likely to know your name not just as a bunch of letters on your credit card slip. As a smaller store with a small staff, it didn’t take me long to recognize everyone that works at Local Pet Store A, and for them to remember me and my dogs in return. But at PetSmart, I see different folks working the cash registers nearly every time (granted, I only go once in a blue moon!). They often seem to be young, bored looking teenaged clerks who are probably just discovering how mind-numbingly dull the corporate world can be. In other words, the working conditions and the nature of the job results in high turnover, unless store policies foster a supportive work atmosphere by giving employees some kind of personal investment — which can be as simple as allowing them to dress the way they want. Or allowing them to bring their own pets to the store. Or playing the music they feel like playing, if they want to put anything on the speakers at all…

    Which leads me to my last reason why locally-owned stores are more deserving of your shopping dollars than national pet stores…

  • Your local store is less likely to play annoying Christmas music on repeat. And when I’m doing my holiday shopping this month, that makes a difference.

So maybe we have it good in the Bay Area, but I have to believe that other parts of the world have great locally-owned pet supply and feed stores, too. What’s it like in your neck of the woods? If you don’t know, check your town’s business directories and find out.

And if you really can’t find a locally-owned store worth patronizing on a regular basis, I dare you start one.

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Photo taken 5 December 2010. Lovely clutter at my local pet store.

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