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Phil Klein, Co-Founder of Whiskers Holistic Petcare, Dies at 81

At the NYC store he founded with wife Randy, he was an advocate for natural care alternatives for domestic animals.

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(PRESS RELEASE) NEW YORK — Phil Klein, co-owner of Whiskers Holistic Petcare, died Friday morning, November 24th at home in his sleep, at 81. Since the pandemic Phil had not been physically present in the store as eight years prior he suffered a massive heart attack, making him very high risk should he get Covid. Of course, he missed going into the store, said his wife and partner of 42 years Randy Klein. “He would go in every day with gusto. Never angry or with frustration.”

Phil and Randy Klein are a New York story if ever there was one. Having met 43 years ago at a bus stop in front of the New York Public Library, they were both going to the same stop at 34th Street to Penn Station – one to Flushing and the other to Long Island. That became a ride of love, and they married a year later in 1982.

You could say that fateful meeting started them off on the same road into a shared future that led to Whiskers Holistic Pet Care. Born from their commitment to trying to save their own dog from cancer and the frustration and anger with traditional recommendations and medicine.

Through Randy and Phil, Whiskers Holistic Petcare grew to become a recognized pioneer in alternative pet care and a delightful mecca for pet owners in the East Village, Astoria, throughout New York, and around the world online.

Valuable for the continual education Phil shared on how to care for dogs and cats and pretty much any other pet you have, Phil made Whiskers a place intensely fun to visit, both for animals and humans in his embrace of East Village bohemia for pet lovers and their pets, and for the endless unique products to discover.

Going to Whiskers was not just an errand on a list.

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They didn’t expect it to become as established as it is, or even as big. But from meeting on a bus so many years ago, and sharing a love of animals and exploration, Whiskers grew into a business that is much more than a “mom & pop” shop.

Education was Phil’s motivation behind the store. “His whole goal,” says Randy, “Was to help people because when our dog got sick, there was no one to go to, and he didn’t want people to have that experience.”

Whether in the store where Phil held court on a stool in the corner, or by phone, you could talk to Phil about any problem your pet was having, and he would direct you on steps to take. It’s not that he was a vet or claimed to be one, but his knowledge of both the traditional and alternative pet care worlds, his interaction with many veterinarians, his own continual learning through daily exposure to innovative products, trends, books, and concepts in alternative pet care, made him a top consultant to turn to.

His priority, says Randy, “Was that everyone’s pet be treated by their caretaker in the most unemotional way, so right choices could be made with a sense of clarity.
“Phil didn’t sugar coat anything,” she continued. “He was honest and tough. Some people couldn’t handle his style. But if you sat with Phil, you would get the honest truth and the courage to do the right things for your pet. He would say, you’ll know when it’s right for your pet and for you.”

Phil Klein was a Vietnam veteran, played the drums and loved to ride his motorcycle any chance he got. Randy and Phil created Whiskers from doing their own research into pet foods, non-traditional solutions in pet care, and finding alternative vets, such as the great Dr. Martin Goldstein, author of The Nature of Animal Healing and founder of Dr. Marty Petfood, who also became a great friend through the years.

Randy and Phil introduced what were revolutionary and pioneering concepts in pet care in the 1980s, along with a close group of vendors, rescue groups, and animal care professionals. They worked together in another business for 13 years in word processing. Having a sick pet and doing the work to try to help her led to a total change in the business they wanted to be in.

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In 1988, Phil found and bought a tiny space on the current site of Whiskers that expanded into what it is now – made up of two former retail stores and a restaurant. They discovered new products from what you would call “small batch vendors,” who were also searching for better pet care methods made for animals based on what their needs would be in their natural habitat and environment.

Whiskers concepts became mainstream over the years, with a boom in pet care manufacturers changing their ingredients and products to meet a more educated public.

But nothing can duplicate the experience of sitting with Phil and the Whiskers Holistic Pet Care store or the people behind it. Several protegees have been mentored directly by Phil for many years, including Joseph Rahey, Randy Klein, and others who have worked with Whiskers on a long-term basis. They share information on caring for pets with the same commitment and interest in animal health that Phil did. Phil’s legacy will go on through them.

Now is a time to remember. If you have memories and tributes of Phil that you would like to share, we invite you to share them here or send emails to healthypet@msn.com.

“Phil would tell people with very sick animals, ‘You want them to be ‘happy, happy, gone.’ That was how he felt about his own pets and that was how he felt about life in general. You don’t want them to linger or make others see them suffer. You’ll know when it’s right for the pet and for you.”

The Whiskers family offers condolences to Randy. May his memory be a blessing. Survivors include Randy Klein, his wife of 42 years, co-founder of Whiskers Holistic Pet Care; his cousin, Betty Edel; and his “brother-from-another-mother”, his closest friend, Richie Armento.

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“Happy, happy, gone.”

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