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Wonder Walker

Hmm ... something’s just not right with that kitty ... wonder walker powers activate!

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True Identity: Joanne Gilman | Owner
Base of Operations: Brewster’s Buddies Pet Sitting, Baltimore, MD

When the cat sibling of a dog in her care became lethargic and wouldn’t eat, Joanne Gilman transformed into Wonder Walker! She called upon her associate’s degree in veterinary technology and asked if the pet was straining to or couldn’t urinate during trips to the litter box. If so, he needed to go to the emergency clinic right away. The kitty could have a life-threatening obstruction that needed immediate medical care.

The client “took my advice and texted me the next day,” Gilman says. “I was spot on, and her cat received prompt medical treatment, with follow-up surgery to remove bladder stones to prevent another blockage.”

She adds, “The cat greets me very happily at every visit, as if he knows I had something to do with him feeling better.”

Pamela Mitchell is the editor-in-chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Spot the senior Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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America's Coolest

A Houston Groomer Offers an Experience for Dogs and Owners Like No Other

Pet health — both physical and mental — comes first.

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The Pet Barber, Houston, TX

OWNERS: Paul Willis, Kristen Cover; URL:thepetbarberhouston.com; FOUNDED: 2014; OPENED FEATURE STORE: 2018; EMPLOYEES: 5 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 1,700 square feet; FACEBOOK: thepetbarberhouston


PAUL WILLIS BEGAN his grooming career at the age of 17. He bathed dogs in a salon, working his way up and attending The New York School of Dog Grooming.

After graduating at the top of his class, Willis moved into show grooming, and later facility design on a corporate level. That last role inspired him to take a different approach within his profession.

“I was sick to my stomach of everything being about the bottom line,” he says.

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Pet health — both physical and mental — comes first at The Pet Barber in Houston, TX. Willis and his wife, Kristen Cover, own and operate two shops in the city, with their second opening in the Montrose neighborhood in 2018 and earning a 2019 PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores Honorable Mention.

A Cage-Free Spa Day

Paul Willis enjoys building fixtures himself, including this pipe and wood shelving featuring food and treats.

Once a Pet Barber groomer assesses a dog and communicates with the client about any issues, the pup enters one of the salon’s Master Equipment PolyPro tubs its Ariel hydrotherapy tub. Water remains a constant 89 degrees in winter and 81 degrees in summer, thanks to direct-heating and digital controls.

“We bathe them in the optimal temperature,” Willis explains. “There’s no uncomfortable warming up or cooling down.”

Dogs getting hydrotherapy enjoy 22 micro-pulsating air jets.

“It gets the bath salts and shampoo into hair follicles and loosens dead skin, bad oil and mites. There’s also a UV light that kills all bacteria,” he says of the hydrotherapy tub, which was made for people, but Willis saw the potential for pets.

When it comes time to cut, groomers use scissors instead of clippers from start to finish.

“It takes longer, but the outcome is amazing,” Cover says. “We also offer hand stripping, which can be difficult to find.”

When their dogs are not being groomed, pet parents can choose between kenneling and cage-free daycare. Most opt for the latter as the couple has created a relaxing and fun atmosphere with soft music music and voices, and fresh air.

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Pets can lounge on couches or at a groomer’s feet, or play in a 500-square-foot room with rubber flooring that leads to a covered 10-by-35-foot turf yard.

“They’re happy here,” Willis says. “Our clients tell us that as soon as they get in the vicinity, their dogs know exactly where they are going and perk up. Then they can’t wait to get through the door.”

Cage-free daycare costs only $7.50 per appointment.

“We don’t want cost to be an issue,” Cover explains. “We have daycare, and we want their grooming experience to include it.”

It has become so popular that the couple offers it at standalone pricing, as well, for $15 half and $25 full days, plus in packages.

More Barbershop, Less Salon

The Pet Barber also stands apart from corporate competitors — and from other independent shops — with its decidedly masculine aesthetic. While Willis and Cover hired professionals to assist with structural, plumbing, electrical and HVAC changes to the run-down former laundromat, they handled all interior design.

The result: stained concrete floors in a dark bronze, a mix of white painted and tiled walls, and wood-and-pipe fixtures, the latter of which Willis built himself. Groomers wear dark denim aprons with leather patches featuring the shop’s stylishly simple logo.

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Old-School and Modern Marketing

The couple isn’t afraid to stray from expected marketing methods either. Cover manages efforts, embracing email and Facebook to engage with current and/or potential clients, but she also uses door-to-door marketing as an effective form of advertising.

“We create door hangers in a very nice paper, almost a linen texture, that looks expensive and reflects our brand,” she describes, adding that while they outsource some drops, the most effective campaigns have Willis doing the hanging himself.

“I get to engage with people,” he says, on everything from services to products, all of which contribute to good pet health. Willis adds that in 2020, they plan to repeat the practice in the neighborhood’s many upscale high-rise residential buildings.

Cover says, “If we drop 500 door hangers and get 10 calls, it pays for itself and then some.”

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Five Cool Things About Pet Barber

1. BUCKLE UP: Heavy Houston traffic poses a challenge to clients, so The Pet Barber offers pickup and drop-off service in its GMC Acadia SLT. It ranges from $25 to $40 depending on distance, and each dog rides safely in a caged-off bucket seat with a safety harness.

2. QUALITY FIRST: The shop sells a limited number of products — and only those Willis and Cover use themselves and recommend. “If they work well for our pets, I want to sell them,” he says. They mark them up modestly. “I’d rather sell a product and make 25 percent, one that I believe in that actually does good, than sell something just to make a 150 percent profit.” Among their most popular are Show Season’s Soothe Shampoo and SOOS Dead Sea grooming products, and Orjen and Fromm food and treats.

3. bathtime: Willis took a test bath in the hydrotherapy tub himself. “That way, I can speak to the client from personal experience about what it does and how it feels,” he says.

4. MUD BATH: Madra Mor Spa Mud treatments — Fortifying, Shed Safely, Soothing, Mobility — are also available during grooming appointments, complete with a 15-minute hot towel wrap. Lucky pups!

5. FAMILY BUSINESS: Willis and Cover’s kids, 5-year-old Teddy and 9-year-old Jack, can often be found at the shop. They love to greet customers and, of course, play with the dogs. They also appear in Facebook Live videos. “This really connects our family to our client family,” Cover says.

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Benchmarks

14 Inspirations for Your Collar and Leash Displays

Turn unexpected items into fixtures.

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PLUMBING PIPE. LADDERS. Picket fencing. Indies are experts at turning unexpected items into fixtures for their stores. These pet businesses use these and other pieces to display collars, harnesses and leashes, all of which can be a challenge to show well and keep neat.

Firehouse Pet Shop
Wenatchee, WA

Thirty-four wooden crates make up this collar-centric display, shown here with manager Traci Simon. They clip around on rods within, grouped by color, and mix with housewares. At the center sits an antique metal file box owners Jennifer and Allen Larsen found at an antique store.

COST & SOURCE: $15 each for crates at Walmart, $40 for file box

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Wishbone Pet Care
Missouri City, TX

Tammi Bui used copper pipes and fittings to create a perfectly petite collar display, which fits into a wooden stool and spins for easy access.

COST & SOURCE: $30 for each 10 feet of copper piping, $19 for cutter, $3 each for fitting at Home Depot

TIP: Don’t be intimidated by the idea of cutting pipe. Bui says, “I used copper pipe because it’s the easiest type to DIY. The cutter is very easy to use.” Also, don’t make the arms too long, so customers can easily reach collars farther in.

Harbor Pet
Greenport, NY

More than 400 collars hang on the wall at this store! Kim Loper kept it simple when creating this fixture, purchasing pre-cut steel plumbing pipes around which to attach the collars.

COST & SOURCE: $350 at Home Depot

TIP: When using pipes for a neat and attractive display, Loper says to “Clean them really well and spray paint them black. They are black, but the original black will rub off on the collars and stain them.”

Animal Connection
Charlottesville, VA

Pattie Boden Zeller turned a section of deck railing on its side to create this rustic display. Collars attach around one or two posts, depending on size, to keep the selection tidy while allowing easy access for shoppers. Leashes drape over Western-style star hooks.

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COST & SOURCE: $10 for fencing at yard sale, $5 each for hooks at Atlanta Gift Market

TIP: Zeller recommends straightening these products several times a day. “I think everyone should have to work retail apparel and neaten clothing displays at least once in their life. Then they would be respectful and put things back where they found them! Maybe.”

Belly Rubs N Suds
Ashburn, VA

Teresa Hogge hired a local carpenter to build this spacious hutch. Collars and leashes hang on built-in dowels, with harnesses clipped to shower rings.

COST & SOURCE: $1,550 for hutch by Virginia Wallen, $1 each for curtain rings at Bed, Bath & Beyond

Flying M Pet Grocery
Houston, TX

Trace Menchaca brainstormed this eye-catching tree fixture with the woodworker who created other displays in her store. Leashes and collars hang from hooks amid leaves and a wise old owl, with additional collars shown on an adjacent wooden ladder.

COST & SOURCE: $0 for the fixture, as it was a thank-you gift; $0 for the ladder, as it was a dumpster find

Bark on Mulford
Rockford, IL

Plumbing pipe for the win again! Kaye Busse-Kleber found a similar fixture on Pinterest, and her husband, Gordon Kleber, made it for her as an anniversary gift. It’s super sturdy and allows the colorful products to draw the eye. “It’s attached to the floor and wall and is definitely not going anywhere! It’s the first thing you see when you walk into my shop.”

COST & SOURCE: $250 at Home Depot | Practice patience when building such a fixture, Busse-Kleber says. “It did take a while to assemble to make sure all of the fittings went together. Lots of swearing and multiple trips to Home Depot occurred!”

Southern Barker
Lexington, KY

Harnesses show perfectly on wooden children’s hangers, Leslie Stewart says, and hang neatly on a rack.

COST & SOURCE: $1 for hangers at online supply store, $15 for rack at Hobby Lobby

Cool Dog Gear
Warrington, PA

Sue Hepner and Paula Jaffe cut a section out of a wooden-slat bed frame and turned it into their collar display. Hepner says she likes that they can “clip all the collars on it so that the customer can just stand back and look and not have to rummage through the pegs looking for their favorite pattern/color … great way to display, and the peg holes on the tags are no longer ripped.”

COST & SOURCE: $20 for the frame at a second-hand shop

Bath & Biscuits
Granville, OH

Danielle Wilson refurbished this classic cabinet, then added shower rods around which to hang the collars. Leashes simply drape over the open door.

COST & SOURCE: $45 for cabinet at local antique market, $10 each for shower rods

TIP: Move away from slatwall and pegboard, Wilson recommends. “After I brought in pieces like this cabinet to showcase my products, my sales went up.”

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House Of Paws Pet Boutique
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Carly Patryluk hired SaskAbilities, which employs area individuals with different physical or mental abilities, to build several fixtures in her store, including this collar and leash rack, that she then finished with stain and paint. Collars attach around the rods, with leashes clipped to a wire up top.

COST: $200

Sweet Paws Bakery
Gainesville, FL

Curtains rods do the trick at this store, keeping collars neat and tidy. Colleen O’Fallon says, “I organize each pattern together, and then by size. So I have all the houndstooth together and then go extra-small, small, medium, large and extra-large.”

COST: $20-25 per rod and accessories

Natural Pet Essentials
Charlottesville, VA

Tried and true slatwall and hang rails in chrome keep up to 270 collars in order.

COST & SOURCE: $100

TIP: Kimberly Matsko advises, “In order for this to stand out, it has to be kept fully stocked. Empty bars are not as eye-catching or appealing to the consumer. They enjoy having a lot of options.”

Harmony Animal Hospital
Jupiter, FL

Monique Pierpont uses a wall adjacent to her front desk to display collars, leashes and harnesses. She likes the slatwall because it’s “slick looking.”

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America's Coolest

A Rhode Island Herbal Specialist Turns A Century-Old Farmhouse Into A Holistic Destination

This pet store uses a holistic approach to pet care and management.

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Fetch RI , RICHMOND, RI

OWNER: Johnna Devereaux; URL:fetchri.com; FOUNDED: 2014; OPENED FEATURED STORE: 2017; EMPLOYEES: 4 part-time; AREA: 1,500-square-foot retail, 850-square-foot The Fetch Room; FACEBOOK: FetchRI; INSTAGRAM: FetchRI


FETCH RI OCCUPIES a Colonial-style house built in 1908. Much about the property appealed to Johnna Devereaux when she was looking to grow her pet business in 2016.

The land spans a half acre in Richmond, RI, and groundbreaking herbalist Heinz Grotzke founded Meadowbrook Herb Farm and formulated all-natural remedies there for decades. Devereaux has been studying the healing properties of herbs since she was 15, with one of her mentors being Susan Clements, who once taught at the farm.

She loved the house.

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“It was so charming. With the wide-plank wood floors and different rooms, it had this aura of quaintness.”

Devereaux did have one reservation, though.

“The doorways were 15 inches wide. I didn’t see how a Great Dane and human would fit through them together.”

After the landlord agreed to make that change, there was just one last requirement before she would sign the lease: Diego and Lola, her rescued American Stafford Terriers, had to approve.

“The second they arrived, they were chill,” Devereaux recalls, which was unusual for them in a new place. “That’s the soul of the house and the property — holistic and supporting of the mind, body and spirit. It’s been cleansed by all of the herbs.

Fetch RI reopened there in February 2017.

A Holistic Approach to Petcare

Johnna Devereaux and her American Staffordshire Terriers, Diego and Lola.

A clinical pet nutritionist, Devereaux performs in-depth assessments of dogs and cats, regularly consulting with their veterinarians, and makes diet recommendations. She carries only the highest-quality food and treats, among them Small Batch and Bones & Co., all made in the USA and meeting her exacting ingredient standards: no artificial ingredients, chemical preservatives, wheat, corn, soy, propylene glycol or plastic.

Animal Essentials serves as the backbone of Fetch RI’s supplements section, but Devereaux’s own products take up a significant amount of shelf space. Salves and teas help restore balance to the body, contain ingredients from her own gardens and are made in her at-home apothecary.

“I’m sensitive to where herbs come from, whether or not there are heavy metals in the soil, so I grow my own. I make salves for wound care and paw protection, and hot spot remedies. I also formulate teas because I’m a huge advocate of adding water to a dog’s food, and it’s another way to deliver herbs.

“If we’ve interfered somehow and interrupted an animal’s system, I provide tools to help the body heal itself.”

She also offers products and services that help to rebalance the mind and spirit. Toys and puzzle games will engage a bored pup, as will a session in The Fetch Room.

Devereaux converted the detached garage into an 850-square-foot private play space in 2018. Lola served as inspiration.

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“She was friendly, had met more than 100 dogs, but then got bit on the nose at the store. It was traumatizing for her, and now Lola is dog-reactive. As someone who had a dog I suddenly couldn’t take anywhere off-leash other than our backyard, I understood and wanted to help others in the same predicament.”

The Fetch Room features a rubberized floor and has agility and nosework equipment at the ready. Customers can rent it by the half hour for $25 or the hour for $45. In addition to giving reactive pups a place to let loose, it attracts those without fenced yards and people who don’t like dog parks. The climate control also makes it a popular destination during hot, cold and/or wet weather.

Like-minded trainers also use the space to hold classes throughout the week.

“I want Fetch RI to be a truly holistic destination. Good health is not just about nutrition, but also positive physical and mental stimulation.”

A Holistic Approach to Management

Joining pet parents and their pups in the training classes are Devereaux and her staff. She wants them to not only understand what services Fetch RI has available, but also to enrich their relationships with their own dogs. She provides a variety of such perks.

“I’m blessed to have a phenomenal team of employees. I want them to want to keep working for me. I buy them lunch or dinner at least twice a month. We have bonding experiences. I recently took them to Six Flags, and we rode roller coasters and played games and ate whatever we wanted. To keep a good team, you have to supplement their wages in ways that are meaningful to them.”

PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)

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Five Cool Things About Fetch RI

1. ALL ARE WELCOME: The store’s 1,500-square-foot multiroom layout allows customers with reactive dogs to steer clear of others. During slow periods, Devereaux will even post an employee at the door so that a reactive dog can have the place to himself. “We want the experience to be the same for all of our customers. We want them to understand how much we care about their pets.”

2. LET’S PART-Y: The Part-y Bar measures 12 feet and offers just about any body part safe for dogs to devour. (Get the name now?) There are also supplies for celebrations, from birthday bandanas and hats to cake mixes and bakery items.

3. A FORAGING SHE GOES: Devereaux recently took a foraging course so she could learn how to find herbs and other ingredients not growable in her gardens. Among them: seaweed for salves. “I go out in the ocean and forage at low tide. It makes me so happy.”

4. SAY CHEESE: More than 1,000 Polaroids of canine and feline visitors hang on the store’s Wall of Fame.

5. TEST DRIVE: Devereaux says, “We go beyond selling customers what they came in for — and help them make the right choice for their pet. For instance, when a customer comes in looking for a harness, we encourage them to bring their dog in so we can fit the harness on the dog — because if it doesn’t fit right, it won’t work right. We encourage the owner/dog pair to try a few varying harnesses so they can see which works best. We allow the duo to ‘test drive’ the harnesses on the grounds of Fetch RI for a real-life scenario with cars driving by and distractions.”

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