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People's love of their animals keeps pet industry going strong

ALLISON MILES

By ALLISON MILES
May 13, 2010 at 12:13 a.m.
Updated May 15, 2010 at 12:15 a.m.

Small ribbon-clad baggies filled with sausage balls and liver squares await customers at Leo's Canine Cafe in Victoria.

The blue-and-white Victorian home on Vine Street doubles as a shop. Step through the gate and past the front door, and a variety of footwear, sweet treats and other goodies await you.

But people beware: you won't find much for yourselves. This store is for the dogs.

Brandee and Joe Bratton opened Leo's Canine Cafe on March 2, offering pampered pooches everything from cushy beds to tiny sneakers and meals, such as Old Fashioned Mutt Loaf.

The idea came to the couple after they brought Leo, a Portuguese Water Dog with a big personality, into their home. They also run Healthy Image, a private training center, and, after introducing Leo into the family, researched canine nutrition.

"Their bodies are a lot like ours," Brandee Bratton said, perched in a rocking chair outside the cafe. "We're learning there are diseases dogs get. We want to aid in keeping pets healthy."

The idea evolved from there.

After poring over recipe books, information guides and the like, they developed gourmet treats they say pets will enjoy, but are also good for them.

"It's the same as when we're looking at whole grain versus processed foods," she said.

The Brattons aren't the only pet lovers around.

Nationwide, the pet industry continues to flourish, according to data from the American Pet Products Association.

In 2009, the industry saw $45.5 billion in expenditures, but that number is expected to grow to $47.7 billion this year.

Much of that continued growth comes because people regard pets like family members, said Myra Trevino, who owns Pets Are People Too, a grooming and boarding business, in Cuero.

"We've humanized pets, they're like us," said Trevino, who has six dogs, three horses, a parrot, two parakeets and a rabbit. "When I have a real hectic day ... the one and only thing I want to do is go in, gather up my babies, put them in my king-size bed and plug in a movie."

As far as her business goes, boarding is always somewhat of a rollercoaster, but grooming is going especially well. Many people get their animals groomed once or twice a year and now is the busy season.

"Now I'm staying booked a week to a week and a half in advance," she said.

One thing that helps, she said, is that she caters to the working class.

She opens early if necessary and stays late for people who don't get out of work until 5 p.m. or so. She also tries to keep prices down.

"I'm not here to make a killing like some of the bigger places," Trevino said.

Eny Faultersack, who owns Animal Palace in Victoria, said she has seen some changes since the economy began hurting.

People are waiting a little longer to get their animals groomed, but they're still getting it done, she said. And, while they're still looking for high-quality foods, many are comparing prices more than in the past.

"We're trying to find overall products to kind of keep prices down," Faultersack said, explaining that while the shop once sold $50 or $60 collars, they now makes sure it has a variety, something to fit every budget.

Another recent change for the shop? Grooming on Saturdays.

Demand is up, partly because many people work two jobs to make ends meet and can't get in during normal hours.

"That's been a big change for a lot of people to do weekend grooming," she said. "But it's fine for us. We have four groomers."

As for Leo's Canine Cafe, the company is still in its beginning stages but things seem to be catching on, Joe Bratton said. The business hasn't had a big grand opening event, but has let itself catch on through word of mouth.

And it seems to be working.

Laura Flanagan stopped inside to pick up a few things for her new "baby," a Shih Tzu puppy named Lydia.

"I had to get her something in her signature color," the Victoria resident said, holding up a sparkly, lime green collar that boasted the puppy's name.

Flanagan found out about the store on Facebook and said she wanted to check it out for herself. She said liked what she saw.

"I love seeing people following their dreams," she said. "This is great."

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