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Animal Connection

An experience that addresses the whole pet.




Animal Connection, Charlottesville, VA

OWNER:Patricia Boden; WEBSITE:; OPENED: Founded in 2002, opened featured location in 2003, renovated in 2006; AREA: 2,000 square feet; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 2 part-time; FACEBOOK

PATRICIA BODEN TAKES a holistic approach to caring for pets. She has applied those same principles to building her business, Animal Connection in Charlottesville, VA.

Boden’s journey from advertising exec to pet store owner began when her dog Ernie was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Their veterinarian recommended neutering and chemotherapy, but she was firmly against the latter.

“I’d seen enough people going through chemo to know that I didn’t want that for my dog,” Boden says. 

She began looking for a holistic vet and for a provider of prepared raw food, which according to her research would be the best diet for Ernie as he lived with cancer. Both searches proved more difficult than Boden liked.

“There was no central place to find alternative modalities and resources,” she says. An idea began to form, and in 2002 Boden founded Animal Connection. She credits Ernie — who lived seven more years — with not only being the inspiration for the store but also encouraging her to open it.



Creating A Holistic Experience

To choose the location of her business as well as its layout and décor, Boden worked with feng shui and reiki experts. 

“I want people to stay and shop, not run in for a bag of dog food and run out,” she says.

Instead of standard retail fixtures, Boden uses furniture  to display  products. There are more round pieces than square.

“You don’t want all hard edges. They don’t allow people to feel as if they can move easily through the space,” she explains.


Essential oils factor into her holistic approach, with scents calming hurried humans and de-stressing pets in the grooming area.

To help customers choose from the more than 500 natural foods for dogs and cats available, staff members provide nutritional counseling. It can involve animal communication, kinesiology, and consultation with a traditional or holistic vet to find the right diet for a particular pet.  

A similar consultation can happen if a customer wants to address a behavioral issue with their dog or cat. In addition to appropriate food and supportive products, Animal Connection may recommend force-free training from trusted professionals in the area. Staff members also refer customers to other animal communicators, energy healers and massage therapists when needed.

Groomers at the store consider dietary and behavioral issues, as well, when working with pets in their care. This holistic approach works wonders with animals who fear going to the groomers. 

“Animals leave here happy, not afraid, and it’s earned us a real following,” Boden says.

In the future, Boden would like to expand the store’s menu of services to include daycare, dog walking and on-site training. Her ultimate dream, though, would be to have a holistic vet as part of the Animal Connection team.


“That way, we would have all good things for pets under one roof,” she says.



Five Cool Things About Animal Connection

1. BARK LOCAL: Boden’s advertising experience shines through with the store’s Bark Local tagline. It goes on all materials, from shopping bags to biscuits to swag. “It sets us apart. It lets people know that we live here, work here and are involved.”

2.HIDDEN MESSAGES: The expert who helped design the store painted reiki and Chinese symbols on various walls before the final coat of yellow was applied.

3.MASTER MIXER: Boden uses her extensive knowledge of essential oils to make her own blends, including a secret recipe that works wonders on dogs with itchy skin.

4.NEIGHBORHOOD ROUTES: A groomer hits the road once a week, going to a specific neighborhood. This allows for service to all regular customers in a particular area on a set schedule. Groomers also can use the trailer, parked out front, for overflow during busy seasons.

5.HORSES, TOO: Charlottesville has a large horse community, with Boden a member herself. She studies with and carries training materials from Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for and lead character in The Horse Whisperer.



P.L.A.Y. Media Spotlight

At P.L.A.Y. — Pet Lifestyle & You — toy design is definitely a team effort! Watch PETS+ interviewer Chloe DiVita and P.L.A.Y.’s Director of Sales Lisa Hisamune as they talk about the toy design process, the fine-tuning that makes each toy so special and why every P.L.A.Y. collection is made with independent retailers top of mind.

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