Two Pet Store Openings

by Eva Saks

Two premium pet store chains – Red Barn and Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies – opened  branches near my house in Los Angeles on a recent weekend, proving yet again that doting pet owners are impervious to economic collapse. Being a madcap first nighter, I attended both Grand Openings. Each had its charms...and its flaws.

Saturday was the Red Barn launch in North Hollywood. This festive occasion featured free samples and a raffle. I was delighted to note that the store – though located in a rather downscale strip mall featuring 24-hour fast food – sells a number of healthy products, including three different brands of raw food. (Pets eat better than people around here.)  You still have to hike past the Science Diet, but at least there’s Party Animal Organic at the end of the rainbow. As Leslie said, the revolution has begun. At least for pets.  

A variety of pet food vendors hawked their wares and gave away samples. For my money, the best was a brilliant red fly swatter. I have long wanted such a low-tech device, as preparing my dogs’ raw meat with the windows open attracts flies. (In all fairness, raw meaty bones are biologically appropriate for flies as well as dogs.)

The vendors were a mixed bag. Some were excellent, some less so. Several brought new pet products making their debut, the oddest being Equidae – a HORSE KIBBLE made by Canidae. No horses attended the opening, so I did not get any firsthand reactions. However, I’m sure the equine community is thrilled that they will no longer be stuck with fresh whole food and can join the community of those eating extruded fractional foodstuffs. As it happens, the first ingredient in Equidae is alfalfa, a cheap grain associated with the development of intestinal stones and colic in horses. 

In general, I was more impressed by the shoppers than the vendors. One older matron noticed me reading ingredient labels and sidled over to whisper in my ear (with strong French accent): “These commercial products are not good for pets, you know. I grew up on a farm in Canada, and our dogs killed chickens for dinner. They were much healthier than dogs that eat this processed food.”  What brand does she feed?  “I cook for my baby,” she replied proudly. I asked where she got her recipes, and she smiled in triumph. “From the labels of canned food! I just use the first ingredients: fresh chicken, broccoli and carrots in a crock pot!” 

Incidentally, I was pleased to see that the same Cloud Star Mutto cookies I bought for $2.50 at Big Lots were selling here for $6.50. This gave me an excuse to indulge in excessive spending.

The high point? After thoroughly casing the joint, I went home and got my Shelties. They had a fine time at this fiesta eating treats, meeting locals, and being fluffy. They are the  quintessential party animals. They gave Red Barn two paws up…actually, four paws up…actually, eight paws up. 

*  *  *  *  *

Sunday was the Centinela Feed premiere in Encino, a swankier area with accordingly higher prices. This gala featured – what else? – free samples and a raffle. Wearing my Ralph Nader hat, I queried the vendors about their health claims while eating a complimentary nitrite-filled hot dog. 

Stella and Chewy’s, an excellent company which makes only raw food and whole food treats, adorned its table with the vendor’s adorable Yorkie. Good news! This company, which used to sell a freeze-dried raw dinner containing both duck AND goose under the name “Duck Dinner,” has changed the product’s name to “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Such truth in packaging is very welcome, especially to four-footed allergy sufferers as vulnerable to goose as Superman is to Kryptonite. Congrats to S & C on a witty corporate solution that eliminates the Protein Roulette I decried in my October 16th blog.

I learned something interesting from the rep for Lotus Natural Food for Pets. I mentioned that my Sheltie, Momo, could not eat Lotus products because they all contain salmon oil, and he is allergic to salmon. She responded, "A dog allergic to salmon will not be allergic to salmon oil because salmon oil does not contain any salmon protein." I researched this claim after going home. Astoundingly, according to Nancy Scanlan, DVM, it is true – in theory. Pure oil contains no protein, only fat. Theoretically, it will not trigger an allergic response. However, in practice it is almost impossible to extract the oil without contaminating it with protein. So an allergic reaction will probably still be provoked. (Jean Dodds, DVM, recommends flaxseed or coconut oil for dogs allergic to fish oil.) Still, the Lotus rep was onto something.

Centinela Feed garnered bonus points for having a nice selection of Hannukah treats, chews, and dog clothing, along with the usual abundance of Yuletide items. I favored the Kosher bone plush toy. On the down side, Centinela is selling Science Diet. Why can’t a  chain that bases its image on healthy holistics kiss Science Diet goodbye?

I was determined not to spend any money at Centinela Feed, but then I noticed a gorgeous oversized dog bed suitable for Momo at half price. What kind of dog-ma would I be to pass it by? And didn’t Hobby deserve one of his own?  Luckily I made my money back when I won two raffle prizes: a Mrs. Beasley’s gift basket and a year’s supply of Merrick dog food. (How ironic!)

In conclusion, my dogs and I agree that both stores are well worth a look. Shop carefully, and you can find first-rate, well-priced products at each place. Momo and Hobby are eating and sleeping well.