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Popularity growing for pet-related businesses

As more and more people add pets to their families, interest in niche products, services continues to grow

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December 5, 2022

NORTHEAST WISCONSIN – As much of the world hunkered down at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many turned to the companionship of furry friends – which in turn, unleashed a new wave of pet-related businesses – some right here in Northeast Wisconsin.

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), total U.S. pet industry expenditures in 2021 topped $123.6 billion – this compared to $103.6 billion in 2020 and $97.1 billion in 2019.

APPA’s 2021-22 owners survey showed pet ownership in 70% of U.S. households, which equates to 90.5 million homes.
This is up from 67% in APPA’s 2019-20 survey.

The survey notes that 14% of total respondents (pet owners and non-pet owners) obtained a new pet during the pandemic, and at least one in four new pet owners said their recent pet acquisition was influenced by the pandemic.

In reaction to the spike, today’s pet industry is filled with an array of retailers, products and services – creating even more room for entrepreneurs and small business owners to make their claim in the industry.

Bark & Brew
One such business – Bark & Brew – an off-leash, dog-friendly food and drink establishment first opened its doors in Suamico prior to the pandemic.

However, unforeseen circumstances forced it to close last November.

Owner Tara Brunette has since announced the pup-friendly business will reopen, likely within the next month or two – in a new building and community (2514 Glendale Ave. in Howard).

Brunette said starting a business that has food, drink and pets wasn’t an easy venture, but a vision that couldn’t be stopped.
“We researched and built a business plan and model over one-and-a-half years,” she said. “It was a tough process with many roadblocks and hurdles, but when we opened, it was more than I ever imagined. I wanted to cultivate an environment where dogs and humans alike could coexist and socialize and have delicious drinks.”

Not only did Bark and Brew have to find funding, but it also needed licenses, permits and compliance with the village, police, fire and health departments before the new location was a go.

Bearing that in mind, Brunette said she is fortunate to have finally found a building that would work as Bark & Brew’s forever home – an announcement she said has been met with cheers of excitement.

Brunette said Bark & Brew’s popularity isn’t all that surprising due to an upward trend of dog ownership she’s noticed as of late, and the massive amount of pride owners have in their fluffy family members.

“We are a fully off-leash indoor and outdoor facility,” she said. “Not only are the dogs getting playtime with other dogs, but we have dedicated staff (known as dog butlers) who ensure safety with entry/exit and dog/dog interaction.”

Brunette said Bark & Brew will continue to offer an open, relaxed concept with couches, table seating and bar stools.

“Our outdoor space has patio seating and lots of room for the dogs to run,” she said. “We have a full bar with many craft beer options, wine and amazing specialty drinks. We also offer a Bone Bar for our four-legged guests.”

As Brunette puts the final touches on the establishment’s new location in anticipation of its opening, she said a guest book signed by past customers is one of her most prized possessions.

“Reading the comments and stories confirms Bark & Brew did what I intended it to do,” she said. “We cannot wait to have our Bark & Brew community together once again, and we are excited for what the future holds.”

Pet sanctuaries, cafes and sushi – oh my!
As CEO and founder of Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary (151 N. Broadway, Green Bay) and co-owner of both the Pawffee Shop Cat Cafe (1745 N Casaloma Dr., Grand Chute) and Meowsabi Sushi (1686 Hoffman Rd., Bellevue) – Entrepreneur Elizabeth Feldhausen is the cat’s meow when it comes to all things feline.

When Feldhausen first opened Safe Haven seven years ago, it was one of two special needs animal sanctuaries in the country.
“When I opened Safe Haven, I wasn’t sure people were going to be interested, and now it’s become a huge thing,” she said.
The popularity of Safe Haven eventually led to its partnership with the Pawffee Shop Cat Cafe in 2019.

Pawffee Shop is a full-service coffee shop with local bakery goods, complete with a cat sanctuary featuring cats that are adoptable via Safe Haven.

Elizabeth Feldhausen said when she first opened Safe Haven seven years ago, she wasn’t sure people were going to be interested. She said now it’s become a huge thing. Chris Rogowski Photo

For those interested in soaking up kitten cuddles, Feldhausen said Pawffee’s cat lounge typically features anywhere from 10-15 cats at a time.

The next venture Feldhausen has her hands in is Meowsabi Sushi & Cafe – a future cafe, sushi bar and cat sanctuary.
After a year-and-a-half of joking around about the concept, Feldhausen said a partnership between Safe Haven and with the former owners of Phin Sushi became reality.

The groundbreaking of Meowsabi took place in mid-November.

In addition to the sushi bar, cafe and cat sanctuary, Feldhausen said the project also includes affordable, pet-friendly apartments that allow for large breed dogs.

“In addition to this cat cafe, we decided we’d put apartments upstairs to cater to people who have animals,” she said. “We’re going to make all of these apartments pet-proof, so they won’t be able to be destroyed by animals. We’re also not charging any pet fees, in an effort to make the community more pet friendly.”

A completion date for the project has not yet been released.

Say cheese
A quick online search populates a long list of photographers in the Northeast Wisconsin area that offer or specialize in pet photography.

Audrey Thomas, owner of Audrey Thomas Photography, said she never thought being a “dog photographer” was a realistic dream.

“I have always loved dog photography but was unsure if it was realistic,” she said. “I started photographing the foster dogs to help market them on social media to potential forever families at (Lucky 7 Dog Rescue in Green Bay).”

Those furry photoshoots led to Thomas becoming one of the only dog-focused photographers in the area.

“I learned so much and have been having a blast ever since,” she said.

// Audrey Thomas – owner of Audrey Thomas Photography, a dog-focused photography business – said she never imagined being a dog photographer was a realistic dream. Audrey Thomas Photography Photo

Thomas said she isn’t surprised with the uptick in pet-related products, services and businesses, because to many, pets are part of the family.

“From higher quality dog foods to artists that create personal, customized dog artwork, people are always looking for ways to best love and celebrate their dogs,” she said.

Thomas said her partnership with Lucky 7 Dog has connected her with clients from all over the state.

“I think the coolest form of advertising I have at the moment is the Lucky 7 transport van that is all decked out with my dog portraits and logo,” she said. “It travels throughout the country rescuing dogs.”

Describing herself as a dog lover first and a photographer second, Thomas said she thinks people get professional photos for their dogs for many reasons.

“Especially since the pandemic, I think people realized how much it meant to have a companion,” she said.
Angie Gill, with Northern Tails Pet Photography in Oshkosh, agreed, noting the uptick she saw during the pandemic has yet to slow down.

“As the younger generations have grown, the average pet owner has changed,” she said. “They all have one thing in common when it comes to their pets – they are family.”

Gill, who is also a nationally certified master groomer, said pet owners love to spoil their pets and see value in services like doggie daycare, grooming and pet photography.

“Not only do they want their pets to look good, but they want them to be well balanced and happy,” she said. “More and more couples are choosing not to have children, and instead have pets. Just like the younger generations, they too choose to treat and love their pets like family.”

Gill said grooming services are especially in high demand, as many dogs require regular grooming.

“Especially the popular doodle mixed breeds,” she said. “Not only has the increase in demand gone up, but the workforce has gone down. Simply put, there are not enough groomers for all of the dogs in our communities, (especially with the increase in pet owners).”

Food, supplement trends
Sometimes trends gaining popularity in the human world find their way into the animal kingdom industry as well – which in recent years has included fresher food options and supplements.

This past summer, Carnivore Meat Company, a freeze-dried and frozen raw pet food manufacturer in Brown County, broke ground on an additional 235,000-square-foot facility to keep up with industry demand.

At the August groundbreaking, Lanny Viegut, CEO of Carnivore Meat Company, said his company saw a gradual uptick in sales, sparking the need for an additional area facility.

“We’ve learned every demographic – from the wealthy to the front-line folks, men, women – love their pets and treat them like family,” Viegut said in August.

Another pocket of the industry gaining some traction is supplements – and within that are CBD products.

Aubrey Immel, a certified medical assistant and owner of CBD American Shaman (2416 W. Mason St., Green Bay), said the hemp-derived product market – which was legalized in 2018, is slowly trending up.

Aubrey Immel

“CBD is a great option for pets who struggle with stress from separation, vet visits, reactivity to storms or fireworks or have pain from aging or inflammation,” she said. “We offer tinctures, treats, food and balms for dogs, cats and even horses.”

Immel said the store’s animal lines account for approximately 15-20% of the overall sales but acknowledges there is a stigma associated with CBD.

“I think the market will continue to grow because the market itself is still fairly new,” she said. “So as people (learn more) about the benefits and the stigma continues to decrease, people will see it as a viable option.”

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