How a pet project became a money-making business

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Tue, 2008-08-19 09:28.
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Aromas of cinnamon, carob and honey fill the tiny kitchen in Corrie Hanton's Lakewood apartment. 

After pulling a large apple cinnamon muffin in a bone-shaped cake pan from the oven, she explains that the healthy treat is designed for a special occasion -- like a doggie birthday party.

The muffins are among a range of pet food created by Hanton, who extends her holistic approach to nutrition to her four ferrets: Joey, Hobbes, Haley and Jools, who regularly enjoy home-cooked meals.

In January, she decided to do the same for other animals. She founded Pet Pastries, a home-based business that sells freshly made pet food with specialty ingredients. That includes using herbal remedies in custom treats for pets with specific health issues.

For example, she puts the dietary supplements glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM -- which some humans take for joint health -- in some of her snacks for animals with malformed hips or arthritis.

Hanton believes that a healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce trips to the vet and prolong pets' lives.

To address the lifestyle aspect, she plans to open a holistic wellness center for pets.

"This is somewhat new territory," Hanton said. "But I think if it was available it would catch on."

The wellness center, to be called Pet Pastries and Playland, would include separate indoor and outdoor play areas for pets of different sizes, a coffee shop where owners and pets could hang out together, and a clinic featuring the services of a holistic veterinarian.

Finding the right facility, though, has been tough. Especially since Hanton is only looking at Lakewood. She likes the area because it's walkable and pet friendly. But she's been unable to find a big enough retail space and is waiting for something to open up.

Until then, Hanton is focused on filling pet food orders for neighbors, animal shelters and people across the country who find her online.

Hanton and her husband, Michael, moved to Lakewood from Trumbull County in 2005 to be closer to their work with an event marketing company. After about a year, both decided that the industry wasn't for them.

"We quit on the same day," she said, noting that they had no real plan at the time.

But, it all worked out. Her husband put his full-time focus on a home remodeling business that he had been operating on the side. And Hanton, who grew up on a 100-acre farm in Trumbull County, focused on her true passion: working with animals.

"I had an opportunity to say, What do I really want to do?" she said.

She had just finished a two-year correspondence program in holistic care for companion animals and began putting some of her new knowledge to use when her ferret, Joey, was diagnosed with a tumor of the pancreas.

She put him on a ferret version of a macrobiotic diet, cutting out most sugar and avoiding the use of processed or refined foods. She put her family, including son Kyle, on a similar diet at the same time.

Soon, Hanton began making pet food for friends, family and the animal shelters where she volunteered. She also made contacts at K9 Kingdom, a doggie day care in Richmond Heights where she had picked up a part-time job.

"Late last year, I realized the business needed to be on the books," Hanton said. "I realized I was actually making a decent living off of it."

To date, she said dog snacks, which come in more than a dozen flavor varieties including peanut butter and oatmeal banana, are by far her most popular product.

Debbie Frye of Manassas, Va. said she found Pet Pastries shortly after it opened in January while searching for doggie treats that included vitamin E for her chocolate lab, Puma. She hoped the vitamin could help heal the facial scar Puma was born with.

Frye tried feeding the puppy vitamin E supplements, but she would spit them out. Now she buys a three-month supply of vitamin-filled treats from Hanton for about $100. Frye freezes them, as they lack the preservatives found in commercial foods. Puma, and Frye's black lab, Max, gobble up three or four a day, she said.

Frye said it's tough to measure the effect of the vitamin E, which is often used in skin care products and is sometimes promoted as being able to soften the appearance of scars.

But she said she plans to continue feeding Puma the treats, in addition to a regular diet of store-bought dog food and home-cooked meals.

"It's not going to hurt her, it's only going to help her," Frye said.

Tony Buffington, a veterinary nutrition professor at Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, pointed out that the medicinal effects of many herbs and dietary supplements are up for debate.

In most cases, "it's not scientific, it's emotional," he said.

Buffington also said there's no research he knows of that shows homemade food is better for an animal's health than store-bought food.

"The quality of most of the commercial pet food is better than the quality of food humans eat," he said.

Buffington says it comes down to the owner's personal preference. Most important is to be sure that the animal's nutrition is balanced, he said. He recommends consulting a veterinarian before making any drastic changes to a pet's diet.

[Via - Cleveland.Com]

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