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Wellness Warriors

These 12 indies fight to keep
pets and people alike healthy
in body and mind.

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Independent pet business owners understand that achieving wellness requires a holistic approach. The companion animals they serve not only need an appropriate diet, physical exercise and regular healthcare, but also mental enrichment and behavioral support. The people they employ also need such elements in their lives.

These 12 indies have each made an area of wellness — or several — a personal and professional cause. Whether raising awareness of titer testing, and fighting to make it a legal form of vaccination, to going above and beyond to provide a suite of benefits for staff, they strive to improve the lives of pets and people in their care.

Samantha Youngblood illustration

Samantha Youngblood offers vaccine titer testing clinics four times a year at Youngblood’s Natural Animal Care Center & Massage. She does so for very personal and important reasons.

“I over vaccinated BZRK, my Boston Terrier, and she got cancer,” Youngblood shares. “When she was 2 years old, I took her to our regular veterinarian for a yearly exam. They gave her seven vaccines in one visit, and shot her up with steroids and Benadryl because she had had reactions before. I didn’t question it because why should I?

“Four months later, she had a mast cell tumor on her side. It was really aggressive and already spreading.”

BZRK underwent surgery to remove the cancer, and during discussions with her oncologist and the surgeon, and through independent research, Youngblood learned more about how over vaccination can negatively affect the immune system and its ability to prevent and fight disease.

It was also then that she discovered Protect the Pets. The program from veterinarian Dr. John Robb raises awareness about over vaccination and facilitates titer testing – a blood test that measures circulating antibodies to determine immunity. If a pet has the necessary antibodies, they do not need to revaccinate at that time.

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Youngblood partners with Protect the Pets for the titer testing clinics at her business. Pet parents arrive on the designated day, fill out the necessary forms and pay the program directly. Costs range from $50 to $80 depending on the number of tests being done. A registered veterinary technician on staff draws the blood and places it in a centrifuge before all samples get labeled, boxed and mailed to Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Pet parents receive results directly from the lab.

Blood samples get shipped to Kansas State Veternary Diagnostic Laboratory for titer testing

Blood samples get shipped to Kansas State Veternary Diagnostic Laboratory for titer testing.

“I don’t get one penny from the testing,” Youngblood says. “I do this because I’m trying to save lives.”

The clinics have grown quite popular, with as many as 27 pets attending one and from as far away as five hours. The increased foot traffic during testing hours, from noon to 4 p.m., does result in additional sales, but more importantly provides opportunities for education. Pet parents who plan to give rabies vaccinations per state law, whether antibodies exist or not, can learn about and purchase supportive products such as Adored Beast Apothocary’s Anti-

Vaccinosis and Herbsmith’s Milk Thistle.

They also can sign Youngblood’s petition to have rabies titer test results accepted as proof of vaccination, such as recently established by law in Delaware. She regularly contacts her Indiana senators and representatives in an attempt to discuss the issue.

“I’m just trying to get one of them to meet with me. I’m picking at them. I let them know, ‘I’m going to be a burr under your saddle until you contact me.’”

In addition to the clinics and legislative efforts, Youngblood holds classes on over vaccination at her business.

“I bring in BZRK and talk about her history and show them her scar. I don’t charge for these classes. I say, ‘Come in, listen to my story and watch ‘The Truth About Pet Cancer’ with me.’

“This is so personal. God uses my mistakes to help so many others. I’m sorry BZRK got cancer, but I’m not sorry because it can now save lives.”

Andy Wiltz illustration

EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
Andy Wiltz
WOOF’S PLAY & STAY, MERRIAM, KS

Andy Wiltz makes his team’s entire well-being a priority. He does this by offering benefits to all employees at his Woof’s Play & Stay location.

“I wanted to create a culture where people could have their needs met by working with me,” Wiltz says.

He has 18 staff members, most of whom are full-time.

“Health insurance is available for all full-time employees after 90 days. I supplement the cost of this each month. Paid vacation is available for all full-time employees: 40 hours after one year, 80 hours after two years. Part-time employees (24 to 30 hours a week) get 30 hours of PTO after the first year and 60 after the second year.”

All team members can take advantage of teledoc services at no cost to them. Wiltz also helps them prepare for life’s unexpected events.

The Woof’s Play & Stay team gathers for an annual holiday dinner and awards ceremony.

The Woof’s Play & Stay team gathers for an annual holiday dinner and awards ceremony.

“Supplemental insurance (life, accident, short-term disability) is offered, but not supplemented. By creating a group, they get it discounted, and it’s easier to get coverage.”

He also helps them get ready for life after employment.

“Retirement account contributions are available to all full-time employees after one year. I match up to 3 percent of their wages.”

He recognizes that providing such benefits may not be possible for many independent pet businesses and that it takes a creative approach.

“Because this business is small and not required to offer any of these benefits, it was hard to find a single company that could do everything. I work with Aflac for the supplemental insurance and the teledoc, Northwestern Mutual for the retirement account and Lockton Companies for health insurance through Humana.

“I have to piece this together, but we have incredibly low turnover. It’s worth the cost of offering this.”

Stacy Busch-Heisserer illustration

PET NUTRITION
Stacy Busch-Heisserer
Busch Pet Products, CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO

Stacy Busch-Heisserer began her pet nutrition education shortly after opening Busch Pet Products in 2010. Currently enrolled in the online Academy of Natural Health Sciences, she has completed its Canine Nutrition Program and Feline Nutrition Program, each 100 hours, and has begun Clinical Pet Nutritionist certification, which requires 500 hours. Classes through Royal Animal Health University and Dogs Naturally University are also a part of her current coursework.

She pays for her team to get pet nutrition certifications, as well. Among the courses employees have completed though Dogs Naturally University are Pet Food Nutrition, Raw Dog Food Nutrition and Acute Canine Herbalism. Busch-Heisserer touts the collective knowledge to her community and customers.

“When we complete a program or certification, I send it in to the business editor of our local paper for inclusion in their business section. I also have our certificates framed and behind the register, and I post on social media when we finish a certification. Occasionally I even post photos of the books I’m reading for my course. It reminds people that we are in it for the long haul,” she says.

“I want our customers to think of us as the first choice when it comes to the health and nutrition of their dog and cat.”

Johnna Devereaux illustration

Johnna Devereaux has been studying the healing properties of herbs since she was a teen, and she shares that knowledge with both pets and people at Fetch RI.

“I am known for my knowledge of natural remedies and nutrition. I love that I am able to help dogs and cats get well and be well,” Devereaux says. “Part of that is the responsibility we have to be healthy enough to care for and be there for our pets. My health directly impacts the health and well-being of my dogs, and so I owe it to myself and to them to do everything I can to make sure their lifestyle does not change. And so, my dogs have made me a healthier human.

She adds, “My customers appreciate that I practice what I preach — and they can trust what I am telling them because they can see the effects on my health and that of my staff.”

To help keep the Fetch RI team well during this time of year, Devereaux shares with them her Winter Wonderland Immune Syrup.

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“Most of the ingredients are from plants I have foraged, harvested and then processed in the very late summer/early fall. I use antioxidant-rich, immunity-boosting berries and plants to help support the body throughout the winter season. My recipe includes rugosa rose hips I de-seed and dehydrate, staghorn sumac, autumn olives, wild grapes, barberries, elderberries, ginger, garlic and cassia.

“I encourage my employees to begin taking a tablespoon of the syrup daily beginning Oct. 1 and to continue taking it until January. I offer it to my employees free of charge because their good health is important to me!

“It also gives them first-hand experience with the herbs and with the philosophy I have about how to support a healthy body, be it in our pets or us as humans. It allows them to be connected to what we are telling our customers in a more intimate way.”

Jeffrey Jensen interviews Aundra Hedges from Primal Pet Foods

Jeffrey Jensen interviews Aundra Hedges from Primal Pet Foods.

FEEDING FRESH FOODS
Jeffrey Jensen & Matt Brazelton
FOUR MUDDY PAWS, ST. LOUIS, MO

Jeffrey Jensen and Matthew Brazelton are no strangers to education. Their popular “In the Kitchen with Four Muddy Paws” series on Facebook Live and YouTube launched in 2018 and has introduced pet parents near and far to a variety of wellness brands. The store’s annual Raw Focus event features the Raw Bar Buffet, which lets customers see the products up close, learn how to incorporate them into their pet’s diet and pick up samples.

“The goal was to demystify feeding a raw diet and introduce all the options available. It was a great format for really engaging our customers and answering their questions and/or concerns,” Jensen says.

Because of COVID-19, though, they had to pivot. The live video series Destination: Fresh Foods was swapped in and took place in September. Jensen and Brazleton ran seven sessions, a mix of pet nutrition talks and meet-the-brand segments.

“Education is still a key component to everything we do, and we want to give our customers the opportunity to meet our brands and learn more about dog and cat nutrition safely,” Jensen says. “The added benefit is that they can either watch us live and ask questions or watch a replay at their convenience.

“Our goal for all of these events is to introduce more people to the benefits of adding fresh foods into their pet’s diet, the benefits of adding moisture into their pet’s diet, and why they need to. We’ve been able to significantly grow our raw food category for dogs and cats and differentiate ourselves from big-box and online retailers while also improving the health and well-being of our customers’ dogs and cats. Our ultimate goal is to have every one of our customers adding fresh foods into their pet’s diet every day.”

Lorin Grow and Natalie Bosch illustration

CLEAN AIR
Natalie Bosch
ALBANY PET HOTEL, ALBANY, OR

Natalie Bosch makes clean air a top priority at Albany Pet Hotel. Between the boarding and play areas and the lobby, there are eight air purifiers at work 24/7.

“They were originally implemented last year, when we were dealing with an awful case of kennel cough, but they have since proven to be critical and effective in preventing airborne illness long-term. As a business owner, I strive to provide the safest environment possible for the dogs, which is one of the reasons why air purifiers have become so important to me. Additionally, because we communicate so well with our clients when something like kennel cough sweeps through our facility, being able to provide a long-term solution allows the business to keep a revenue stream that otherwise would have declined from canceled reservations.”

Purifiers throughout the facility take on bacteria and viruses 24/7

Purifiers throughout the facility take on bacteria and viruses 24/7.

Clean air also contributes to the overall wellness of her team.

“Our employees are far less stressed when they aren’t dealing with kennel cough in our facility thanks to the purifiers, and they have felt much safer working in our facility throughout COVID-19 because they know they’re breathing clean air. With the one purifier in our lobby, I’d like to think our clients feel the same way.”

CIVIL & HELPFUL SOCIAL MEDIA
Lorin Grow
FURRY FACE, INC, REDLANDS, CA

Pet wellness groups on Facebook can be problematic. Everyone has an opinion, whether they are educated on the topic or not. Members can be judgmental. Combative. Unkind. Some or all of the above. That said, a group with a knowledgeable and caring moderator can help countless pet parents. Lorin Grow has created exactly that with Practical Pet Feeding and Wellness.

The owner of Furry Face, Inc. has grown her group to more than 3,100 members, and her moderation makes it an excellent source of information for a wide range of people.

She says in her welcome post, “Agreement and acquiescence are not mandatory, but courtesy and civility are! People in this group are in various stages of learning. Be kind and patient and remember that whatever you now know, at one time you didn’t! Opinions, experiences and input are welcome, but judgements are not! Allow others to ask questions. Accept that not all will necessarily agree (including me), but the discussion is what is most important. If you are responding to a post, even if you are in disagreement, you are welcome to do so. Remain civil and respectful of others who are learning and may be at a different place along that journey.”

Recent post topics include the latest research on feline eating habits, recalls on pet food, and queries on choosing natural flea and tick products. Grow also posts product specials for local members. It all fits into her philosophy on pet care.

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“Nutrition is the foundation of wellness, and that can continue to be built upon with a number of additional modalities like herbs, homeopathy, Bach flowers, zoopharmacognosy, cold laser, etc. When I started to reset my store little by little toward a holistic store, we discovered that people really needed and wanted what we were offering. I’ve attended the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association conference and their seminars, and continued to further my knowledge and work with vets in partnership with clients dealing with diabetes, liver issues, kidney issues, obesity, cancer, etc. Through this we’ve gone to great lengths to educate and help pet parents (and even some vets regarding nutrition) learn about their animals’ natural nutrition, functions, responses and more.”

SELF-CARE
Annabell Bivens
THE DOG STORE and YOUR DOG’S BEST FRIENDS, ALEXANDRIA, VA

Annabell Bivens gets ready to invert in the back room of Your Dog’s Best Friends

Annabell Bivens gets ready to invert in the back room of Your Dog’s Best Friends.

Pet professionals excel at taking care of others, no matter the species. When it comes to self-care, however, they sometimes fall short. Annabell Bivens makes sure staff of The Dog Store and Your Dog’s Best Friends regularly take a moment for themselves.

“We make staff lunches so everyone has a fresh, healthy option. We have a myofascial therapist to work on them, and there is an inversion table for staff to use as well,” she says. “We have to keep the staff healthy to make sure we can stay on top of our game. If we are at our peak, we can offer the best services possible! It’s been especially important since COVID-19 to make sure everyone does everything they can to stay healthy — and sane. We even have a company online yoga class subscription to work out at home and meditate to de-stress. The owner, Paul Haire, bought yoga blocks and straps for anyone who needed them! We want everyone to stay safe, but still get their workouts in.”

Alysa Slay illustration

To live a full life, dogs must have both their physical and mental needs met. Alysa Slay understands this and holds Camp Dogwood twice a year to teach pet parents how to care for their pups in this way and strengthen the relationship between them.

“Everything we do at camp promotes not only a physically healthy and conditioned dog, but also a dog who is happy, confident, relaxed and has a strong bond with their human. For me, this is true wellness,” she says.

Held on 600 acres of fields, woods and waterfront in Lake Delton, WI, the camp welcomes around 100 humans each session, with a slightly larger pup population that includes those of the 25 or so staff members. Unfortunately because of COVID-19, 2020 camps did not happen, but 2021 Spring and Fall sessions are scheduled for June and October, respectively.

Campers navigate the Dog Parkour course at Camp Dogwood

Campers navigate the Dog Parkour course at Camp Dogwood.

Among the wellness classes available will be Canine Core Conditioning and Dog Parkour as well as K9 Kitchen Pharmacy and CBD & Your Dog. Of Dog Parkour, Slay says, “Sometimes known as urban agility, it’s a challenging but fun physical activity in which dogs learn to interact with their environment. Just like in the human version, we work on ways to conquer obstacles, such as climbing, balancing and jumping.”

She adds that this class, in particular, represents the wellness opportunities that Camp Dogwood offers to participants:

“Being outdoors, the relationship with your dog, and balancing on a log.”

Kimberly Maevers illustration

COVID-19 SANITIZATION
Kimberly Maevers
FUN FUR U, LANCASTER, CA

COVID-19 hit the pet sitting industry hard. Kimberly Maevers fought back by taking Pet Sitters International’s COVID-19 Certification Course for Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers.

“As a professional pet sitter, it’s important that our clients know we are keeping their home safe,” she says. “Now I have a better understanding on how to sanitize all high-touch areas in my client’s home. We leave a notice behind explaining our COVID-19 protocols so they can feel at peace returning home to a safely sanitized space — while keeping their critters happy and safe, too!”

Maevers also makes sure to share her practices with prospective and new clients.

Beth Kidd performs energy work and grounding mat therapy on her dog G

Beth Kidd performs energy work and grounding mat therapy on her dog G.

ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES
Beth Kidd
DOGS BY DESIGN HOLISTIC WELLNESS CENTER, JEANNETTE, PA

Dogs with injuries or chronic aches and pains can find relief at Dogs by Design Holistic Wellness Center. Not only does Beth Kidd partner with a veterinary chiropractor for sessions in-store, but she provides massage therapy, energy work and grounding mat therapy herself.

“The modalities all work to open the energy pathways of the body so that the pet has better movement and range of motion,” Kidd explains. “With the pathways open, the body is better able to send and receive information from one part of the body to another, allowing for a greater chance to self heal.”

While not a top revenue stream for her business, pet therapies complement the other wellness services she provides, such as nutrition and other health consultations.

“I believe they can be beneficial to pets, and I love being able to offer them.”

Pamela Mitchell is the Editor-in-Chief of PETS+. She works from her home office in Houston, TX, with Ty the Boston Terrier as her assistant.

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