Two Dogs Diverged

October 8, 2010

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Paisley sat below an anxious acrobatic squirrel, one who timed his aerial leap a second too late and fell to earth.  Except he didn’t make it to the earth, instead he landed squarely into Paisley’s open mouth.

To appreciate the importance of this event let me rewind a bit to introduce Dixie, Paisley’s squirrel hunting mentor. Dixie had spent years chasing squirrels from our suburban yard.  She was fast and efficient.  She’d stay low like a cat on the prowl watching the twitchy little creature dig his hole.  The squirrel’s head would pop up and quickly scan, Dixie would drop and freeze.  Then at just the right moment Dixie would lunge.  Her pursuits could cover a fair distance as the neighbors did not have fences.  It was the land of free range squirrels.  As fast as she was she never caught a squirrel, but she never gave up.

Years later we moved to downtown Charleston.  Our house was fenced in on a smaller property, but the trees were active with squirrels.  Soon after moving we brought home Paisley.  She would sit on the porch keenly watching Dixie’s tactics and when Dixie gave pursuit Paisley would bark her support.

For greater exercise we would visit the local parks.  One of our favorites was White Point Gardens.  The park is full of oak trees and alive with squirrels, though even I could tell something was different about these squirrels.  They were bigger than what Dixie had chased before.  Not only were they bigger, I’m sure Dixie and I shared this thought at the same moment, they were slower.  She immediately went into her crouched prowl at the sight of tubby tree rats.  I knew the signal Dixie was looking for and as soon as he dropped his head down Dixie bolted.  The squirrel had no idea.  He made a dash for the nearest tree but Dixie cut him off.  So he zigzagged toward another. And then it happened.  Dixie dropped down and closed her jaws around the prey at the same time she lost her balance on a tree root.  In a second she was rolling across the ground with grey fur flying from her mouth.  As she regained her footing she looked around for the squirrel, but he was already half way up the nearest tree.

Paisley continued to carry Dixie’s torch, scanning the trees and preparing herself at every opportunity to be in the right place at the right time.  What Paisley lacked in speed and agility she made up for with patience.  So we return to the accidental squirrel falling right into Paisley’s open mouth, victory of a dream nearly forgotten.  For all the years of preparation it was over in a moment.  Paisley was not prepared for the squirrel to squirm and so, like Dixie, she quickly dropped it.   They were two dogs sharing a passion for pursuit, and though their methods diverged the destination remained the same.


It was all I could do to keep my gag reflex from releasing the contents of my stomach.  Sweet Dixie, the first dog I called my own, and I had just visited Sullivan’s Island beach. At last call she came running to jump in the car.  I did not notice, with the intense ocean breeze, the dreadful stench emanating from her.  We were only a few minutes in the car when she poked her head from the back seat, putting her neck in close proximity to my nose.  Big mistake.  I nearly wrecked the car as I inhaled her freshly applied eau de mer.  I’d describe it as something between Four-day-old-decaying-trash-mixed-with-sun-baked-crustacean and Patchouli. I hung my head out the window for the rest of the car ride home.

Smells tell a story as much as speech or appearance.  For dogs it is the main story.  You may have heard that dogs have upwards of 200,000 smell receptors to our 10,000, but can you appreciate the importance of that?  Dogs meet in the parks, streets and beaches.  How are they to learn about the dogs they meet?  They’re naked (most of them anyway) so appearances can’t tell the story.  I’m going out on a limb to suggest that dog’s don’t bark in a dialect, “Woof ya’ll” (though that is a topic I would love to learn more about) so speech is out. And, even for a dog, touching and tasting come after initial “hellos.”  No, if you really want to get to know someone stick your nose in and get a good whiff.

Dixie could not have been more pleased with herself.  She could not wait to get back to her friends and family and share the story of her outing.  Sure enough, as we walked in the house my mom screamed “Ugh! What died?” When Dixie was chased into the backyard Johnny, our lab mix, was thrilled to smell her.  She just stood there like a proud peacock while he drooled.  What must Johnny have smelled? Certainly there was the overpowering stench of dead crab.  But did he appreciate the light scent of the sea breeze? Or, the faint undertones of salt water and white sand?  Perhaps a hint of sea oats? A delicate tinge of seagull, pelican or sand lapper.  Then there are the 3 to 5 other dogs that rolled in the creature before Dixie.  Were their signature smells in there too?

I’m convinced that dogs roll in whatever it is they roll in just to tell other dogs a story. “You wouldn’t believe it! I found raccoon poop in MY backyard!”  “Get a whiff of what they’re feeding the cat!” “I swear it wasn’t dead when I rolled in it.” “I just met my first hippie.”

Are you ready to learn from your dog?  Next time you shake hands with a stranger lean in and sniff.  What is their smell telling you?


June 1, 2010

We sat quietly in the Suds and Duds listening to the sloshing rhythm of the washing machines.  We were jolted from a stupor by the fire alarm-like buzz of our washer.  My girlfriend, Leah, rolled the buggy over to the dryer.  “I’m all out of quarters,” she said.  There were more in the car, but it was raining cats and dogs.  I looked at her, then outside and by the time I looked back Leah’s arms were crossed and she was in that tilted hip stance that said “Really?” It was an easy decision.

The morning rain is heavier than usual. Maggie sits on the front porch and watches it fall.  An umbrella pops open and five of us, me, my two children and the two dogs, shuffle off to the school bus stop. Maggie thinks how ridiculous we look, as she often does.  This morning my daughter explains:  “Did you know that they say ‘raining cats and dogs’ because a long time ago in England cats and dogs lived on the roofs of cottages and when it rained they would come down from the roof and people thought it was ‘raining cats and dogs’?”  I begin to question her as the bus arrives.

Watching the traffic go by was a favorite pastime of Maggie and our other cat, Bastet.  They would sit and watch from the roof of our first apartment.  Unlike the cats on cottage roofs though, they would come inside when it rained.  They hated the water, Maggie especially.  Perhaps it started with the bath we gave Maggie as a kitten.  When we found her she had grease smudges all over her, so into the bathroom sink she went. She screamed and thrashed like a wicked witch.  I think we ended up using oven mitts to hold her.  Sometime later a vet would share with us the trick of putting a cat in a pillow case (with their head out, of course) and washing them through the case. Sure beat a Hazmat suit.  Fortunately, no matter how traumatic the bath was, there was the solace of a warm towel.

In a matter of seconds I was soaked.  The car seemed a lot closer to the laundromat when Leah and I arrived, though it wasn’t raining then.  The car offered little protection from the torrent outside.  It was a dreadful old Datsun 200SX and the roof leaked!  I dug up the quarters and headed back out.  Under the sound of the rain I heard a tiny scared meowing.

I hear it again, a desperate little meow coming from above.  It amazes me a cat of her age can still shimmy up a tree.  Her tail no longer listens to her, she limps and lacks for a few teeth, but here she is staring down at me from a tree!  I get the ladder out and gently coax her back to earth.  When the kids get home from school I tell my daughter a different story about “raining cats and dogs.”

We awoke to a 2am pounding on our apartment door.  “You need to get out!  There’s a fire!”  Leah, the sensible one, was asking where the carriers were.  I, still in a stupor, said “just grab the pillowcases.”  They worked so well for bathing, why not use them as emergency escape pods?  We plopped Maggie in one, Bastet in another and out the door we flew.  My car was parked out front so I set the cats, in the cases, inside so they could roam a little.  The fire ended up being at the neighbor’s house and we were able to go back to our apartment after an hour or so.  When I went to collect Maggie and Bastet I found them comfortably curled in the pillowcases.

Inside in the Suds and Duds, Leah was pulling our sheets from the washing machine.  I stood in the rain listening. Leah saw me and stepped outside. “What are you doing?” she asked.  “Listen,” I said.  “Is that meowing?” We followed the cries back to my car.  It got louder as we approached.  I looked under the car and couldn’t see anything. The meowing was coming from the tires.   There was a wet and grease smudged kitten screaming  from inside the wheel well.

“What does she want now?” I say from a deep sleep.  I ask my wife because she and Maggie have a connection that goes way back.  Back to when Leah was pregnant with our first child.  Maggie would spend evenings perched on Leah’s belly purring the night away.  I’m sure I owe my daughter’s sweet disposition to those hours of soothing purring.  Maggie continues her wailing from the guest room (her room) at the other end of the house.
“I don’t know” Leah answers. “Did you give her water?”
“Is the chair where she likes it?”
Maggie in her old age has a few idiosyncrasies.  She can’t jump like she used to so we have to place objects where she can still do things herself, but with less effort.  Like a well positioned chair by the bed so she can sleep comfortably atop the pillows.
“I think so” I grumble.
“You think so?” I’ve always loved Leah’s turn of phrase. “What about the litter box?” she continues. Muttering I amble down the hall to double check these things.  Yes the chair is in place but no the litter box is not.  Maggie is wise in her senior years.  I slide the litter box out and make sure it is set properly.  I too have quirky habits, one is to have the cat litter in the box in a bowl shape rather than flat. I learned it makes for easier clean up, less “litter cement” stuck to the walls.  Maggie understands.  It’s late, she watches me quietly with half shut eyes. She’ll be asleep soon.

We carried the soaking wet kitten inside.  The Suds and Duds maven was kind enough to give us a warm towel.  “You did it now, that kitten is yours,” she said rolling her eyes for added drama. Seventeen years ago, Leah and I wrapped the kitten a in towel and took our seats.  The laundromat noises continued and the rain beat down outside. All we heard was the soft idling of Maggie.

The High Price of Air

May 25, 2010

I recently read an article about ice cream.  It stated that manufacturers are allowed, by law, to increase the volume of ice cream by aerating it up to 100%.  In other words they can put in equal amounts of mass and air to create greater volume.  Hey!  That’s not too unlike blogs.  By law blogs may contain up to 100% fluff and 0% content.  Allow me to up the content.

I decided to do a little research of my own.  I purchased a 1.5qt container of Breyer’s for $4.99 and a 14oz container of Haagen-Dazs for $3.49.  So right away I’m thinking it’s a deal for the Breyer’s, after all 1.5qt is 48oz that’s almost 3.5 times more ice cream than the Haagen-Dazs.  If I were to buy the same amount of Haagen-Dazs it would cost me about $12.00.  I just saved over $7.00!  It was a surprise when Breyer’s weighed in at 27.6oz.  Almost ½ of the volume is air.  I just paid over $2.00 for air!  By comparison Haagen-Dazs came in at 12.6oz, or 10% air ($.35 in cost).

So what does ice cream have to do with dog food?  At Dolittle’s we hope to teach customers about the value of pet foods.  One point we often bring up is perceived value.  A food may look like a good deal, but when you compare the density of the food you often find another story.  It takes a second to grasp, but 8oz of volume (recommended feeding quantity) is not the same as 8oz of mass (or weight).  The weight of 8oz of dog food ranges widely from manufacturer to manufacturer.  You can find pet food from 3oz per cup to over 5oz.  An aerated dog food [Brand A] might recommend feeding 2 cups a day, but a dense food [Brand B] might recommend 1½ cup.  As an example let’s say 1 cup of Brand A weighs 3oz and Brand B is 4ozs.  Based on the serving recommendations we end up feeding the same mass of food, but less volume of Brand B. Heady right?  And you thought you were reading some fluffy blog.

Back to ice cream for a second, let’s dig into the true savings.  Who’s ready for fun real world math?  If we remove the air from these ice creams and compare the cost of equal masses what are the true savings?  First take the price per . . . to avoid a brain freeze, let’s use the fast forward button . . . then subtract the two costs per mass and we get a savings of $2.65. (Table 1 reviews what you missed) Wait a second, where did the $7.00 savings go?  Nearly $5.00 of it went into thin air.

Unfortunately this experiment in density does not address quality or value it only helps us understand mass, volume, and the price of air.  Yes I saved over $2.50, but what did I really get with my money?  Judgment on value will be reserved for another time when we take a look at the ingredients used and the amount of calories manufacturers put into the foods.

CEO of Buy N' Large

photo by Flickr user Matt512

Before opening the doors to Dolittle’s in 1999 I dug deep into pet foods. One of the food companies was Natura Pet, a company committed to independent retailers. This ideology suited me well, and so I added them to the line up. Dolittle’s would be the first pet store in Charleston to offer Natura Pet Foods: California Natural and Innova.

In addition to Natura Pet, Dolittle’s opened its doors with Iams. Very soon after opening there was the announcement that Proctor & Gamble was purchasing Iams. Being a business newbie I acted rashly and tossed Iams out the back door. No corporately owned dog food, here thank you very much. My actions did not play well with some customers and the store lost them as food customers. Fortunately a good many stuck with Dolittle’s and made a switch. A year later Iams downgraded the quality of their foods and entered the vast grocery market (small vindication for my actions). Dolittle’s stayed the course with great new foods and established itself as Charleston’s source for healthy, all natural pet foods.

Flash forward 11 years and Natura Pet is being purchased by Proctor and Gamble. Again the store is faced with a difficult decision. Maybe I’m jaded now, maybe I’m more business minded but I don’t feel the need to react as I did with Iams. Our nation is so full of corporate ownership. Tom’s All Natural toothpaste is a subsidiary of Colgate Palmolive ref 1, and Kashi cereal is a subsidiary of Kellogg’s ref 2. How can we get away from corporations? The fact is among the three Dolittle’s stores Natura Pet makes up 50% of food sales I cannot just kick that out the door. However this corporate dog has bitten me before.

So, I have a cautious solution (one which I would love to see Natura Pet commit to as well). Dolittle’s will begin a Bad in the Bowl program. A list will be created that contains what Dolittle’s considers to be harmful or questionable ingredients. In other words, ingredients that are “Bad in the Bowl.” With corporate giants into everything from granola bars to yogurt it makes sense to watch the integrity of the ingredients. If Natura Pet, or any other food we offer, uses any of the ingredients on our “Bad in the Bowl” list then it will be phased out. If a customer finds an ingredient from the list first, then Dolittle’s will reward them with a $50 gift certificate to the store.

For customers who wish to switch, our friendly staff is ready to offer great alternatives (there are many). If you wish to stay with Natura as long as they uphold their current integrity, then Dolittle’s is supportive of that too. In the end it’s all about your wonderful, healthy dogs and cats. As long as they thrive on quality foods like Innova they should have the opportunity to eat it.

Your comments are welcome.

Ric Sommons
Owner – Dolittles

ref 1:
ref 2:

Bad in the Bowl

May 11, 2010

At Dolittle’s we are very conscientious about pet food ingredients.  Bad in the Bowl is our guarantee on the pet food products we sell. We read the labels so you can be assured that what you buy from our stores is high quality and safe for your pet to eat. In our 11 year history none of the foods we carry have been recalled due to ingredients.

If you ever find one of these ingredients in one of our foods we will reward you with a $50 gift certificate, and we will phase the food out of our inventory – permanently.

These are ingredients you WILL NOT find in our foods.  These ingredients are all defined by the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This list is a works in progress.

Meat (meat is a general term for animal protein.  You will find only NAMED meat in our foods. i.e. bison, lamb, or beef)
Meat Meal – Meal is an ingredient which has been ground or otherwise reduced in particle size. – AAFCO
Meat and Bone Meal
Meat By-Products (not all by-products are bad: liver, blood, bone to name a few.  Dolittle’s looks for each of these to be separate ingredients)
Poultry (again this is a general term for animals in the poultry family. Dolittle’s looks for these to be named individually. i.e. turkey)
Poultry Meal
Poultry By-Products
Animal Digest – AAFCO defines this as: material which results from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue.  Dolittle’s asks what animal(s)? and WHY?
Animal Fat – Again, what animal?
Hulls – as in Peanut Hulls, or Rice Hulls.  The outer shells of said grains, seeds, etc.
Mill Run – as in Barley Mill-Run, Soybean Mill-Run. Materials from mills, usually ungraded and un inspected – AAFCO
Corn Meal
Corn Gluten
Wheat Bran
Wheat Flour
Wheat germ
Wheat Gluten
BHA – an artificial preservative
BHT – an artificial preservative
Ethoxyquin – an artificial preservative
Colors or Dyes – These are only in food to make it more appealing to humans

Generally speaking Dolittle’s looks for whole ingredients.  When we see “umbrella” ingredients like poultry or meat we feel like they are open to interpretations. Likewise when we read hulls, or mill-run we see ingredients that another industry has used first.  Dolittle’s prefers ingredients originally intended for the foods in which they are used.  There is nothing “wrong” with many of these ingredients, like corn or wheat, Dolittle’s avoids them for the potential allergy problems that could arise.

The Devil’s Accessory

April 27, 2010

It was a crisp fall day in 2001.  There were dogs o’ plenty in the store.  They were celebrating our 3rd annual Howl-o-ween party.  A good time was had by all until the scene went macabre.  Seems a couple of dogs were in disagreement over who looked more ridiculous in their “jail bait” costume.  Each dog’s owner had them on retractable leashes when the fight broke out.  As the gnashing and barking escalated the owners arms worked furiously in windmill motions.  They looked like seasoned fishermen trying to reel in the biggest catch of their lives.  Others in the store began to panic.  Children started to cry.  I thought I might be able to reduce the chaos by stepping in.  I grabbed one leash just as the other dog circled around.  That leash hit my wrist and the other dog lunged.  That’s when I heard a “pop.”

The rest of the day is a bit blurry.   I remember blood.  Lots and lots of blood.  People fainting too.  Someone was chasing a dog out the back door.  I was happy the barking had settled down, though I couldn’t imagine where all the blood was coming from.  The guy was returning from the back door and in his hand was a pulpy mess.  His dog kept jumping up trying get at the carnage.  He was walking toward me. “Gee, buddy. I’m really sorry about that. Here you go.” he said as he held out the meatloaf he was carrying.  I went to accept it.  That’s when I realized it was my HAND he was handing me!

Did you ever really just dislike something and were unable to put you finger on why? I had an inkling of dislike for retractable leashes before that fateful day.  After losing my hand, well, then I REALLY disliked them.  Since my “accident” I have noticed a small ground swell of similar sentiment.  Turns out a lot of trainers don’t like the things either. They use words like “hate,” “worthless,” and “repugnant.”  Recently Consumer Reports and USA Today both spoke out about the dangers of these products.  Products which NOW carry warnings about loss of limb or eyeball.  Thanks guys.  Don’t get me wrong I love my bionic hand (Luke Skywalker’s got nothing on me) but if I could have my flesh and blood hand back, I’d take it.

What are we thinking?! These leashes carry WARNINGS and, they break! What if the shoes you bought warned you that you might lose a toe? Or, that you might not be able to come to a full stop when wearing them?  Would you buy them? (Okay, ladies, maybe shoes are a bad example.  But stay with me.)

People I talk to say they like these implements of dismemberment because it gives their dog “freedom.” I say,  a leash is a leash is a leash.  If it’s 2 feet or 30 feet it is not freedom.  Ultimately you still want to control your dog on a walk or in public.  By allowing them to wander 15 to 20 feet (150 in dog feet) away you are reducing your control.  They become unaware of when it’s okay to be by your side or off on thier own.  Accidents happen in seconds, how long will it take you to reel your dog back 20 feet?

I have become fond of my remaining body parts, so for me I’ll use a standard, non-warning carrying, unlikely to break, leash.  If I see a finger or a hand on the side of the road, I’ll know someone else chose otherwise.