If you’re in the United States, Artemis and I would love to invite you to take one minute to enter our Wet Hot American Instagram giveaway (worth $200+ in #ArtemisApproved prizes!) in partnership with Jersey City, New Jersey-based pet shop Hound About Town, which specializes in American-made pet products. In the past year, especially due to the pandemic, you’ve probably shopped from mass e-commerce distributors like Chewy and Amazon for your dog’s products, but it’s important to support your local pet shops, too. They are not just providing shelf space for pet products in your neighborhood. They’re also providing water and treats for hot days, personal recommendations for picky dogs and frustrated parents, and the opportunity to meet all the other dog parents in the community.
We spoke with Hound About Town co-founder Donovan Cain (who also owns a baby shop called Hazel Baby) about what it’s like to run a pet shop during a pandemic, why you should support your neighborhood pet care providers, and why fur babies and babies are pretty similar.
How do you go from being a couple who loves their dog to opening your own pet shop?
It really developed from a need—the neighborhood, in particular, was having a renaissance. There was new construction happening, some mixed-use buildings being built, and a lot of people relocating to the area. We would go to the park with [our dog] Wiley and realize that that there wasn’t a store fulfilling the needs in the community. There was a fish store that had some dog food, but nothing that was curated for people looking for good nutrition, quality, and locally-made goods.
“When you help a dog out—you’re helping people out, too.”
[My wife] Elizabeth came up with the concept. She also has a sister who is a certified dog trainer in California. We did a lot of research. We came up with he concept of selling USA-made products, like smaller independent, sustainable brands. For example, Planet Dog out of Maine, West Paw in Montana, and Mimi Green leashes, which is a woman-owned business in New Mexico.
We realized that we could support other small businesses and other people’s dreams while doing our own thing. We’ve stayed that course, which is really cool. And we’ve seen many of these businesses grow a lot larger over the years. Like Stella & Chewy’s—that was founded by a woman who had two dogs and was just trying to feed them. So she created this now-monster food brand. At this point, we have two locations in Jersey City and we’ve just celebrated our 10-year anniversary.
What is the definition of American-made at Hound About Town? Can it be designed in America or does it have to be manufactured in America?
It’s very much a manufacturing definition. We do have to make a few exceptions. American-made stainless steel bowls, for example, are very hard to find. It’s almost impossible. Sometimes, you have to make exceptions because you need to sell what people want. I’d say we stock 99 percent American-made products.
It’s made us identifiable in that way. We get a lot of inquiries from vendors and it makes the process easier when you’re able to just decline—or sift through all the choices.
That’s a great way to define your brand and let people know what you’re about. Tell us about the curated products in the Wet Hot American Giveaway we’re hosting.
The Bocce’s Bakery Say Moo Training Treats fly off the shelves in our store. People use them when they’re training—well, you should really be training all the time—and for walks. It’s a really good reward for dogs. We hand them out at our counter a lot, too.
Stella & Chewy’s Red Meat Wild Weenies are treats too, but we were introduced to the woman-owned brand when they first came out with dog food. They made freeze-dried dinner patties that we carried in our store, and we would recommend them as treats. We’d tell people to break them into little pieces. Any dog that came into store for samples would do backflips for them. The dinner patties are a complete and balanced diet, but the Wild Weenies are a supplemental food that dogs love.
I love the Mimi Green collars because they’re USA-made, super high-quality, come in a variety of styles and colors, and are also affordable. Sometimes, when you choose Made in America, there is a price premium, but these are more affordable. There is a metal plate with the dog’s ID woven into the collar. It’s a really cool feature.
The Mendota leashes are also affordable and made in Minnesota. Dogs can’t easily chew the hardware off because there’s a piece of leather encircling the clasp. They’re also round and they have a nice feel when you hold them.
West Paw is from Montana, and they make tough toys that also float in water. They make good products with good design, in general, like the plush toys and the beds. They’re made from recycled materials and the beds can fit into crates.
Yeah, we think dogs can be great companions for a variety of lifestyles, from single people to families. We see people all the time who are considering dogs, and they just need a little push. When you help a dog out—you’re helping people out, too. We meet people walking down the street with their dog all the time, and maybe we wouldn’t be meeting them if they didn’t have the dog. Dogs are great for civilization!
That’s a great point. Dogs are definitely so important for civil society. What’s special about shopping from local pet shops?
Our community comes first. We’re very unique in our neighborhood, but I’m sure there are places across the globe that have the same sense. I can’t even count how many dogs that come in every day to say hello. I think people sometimes feel guilty about it. But it’s fine! Dogs will drag their owners to our store when we’re closed. With a big box or major online retailer, you’re not going to have the heart and experience.
During the pandemic, we were fortunate enough to be an essential business. We never closed our doors for a minute. It was scary for our staff and shoppers, but we made it work, and I’m sure that a lot of people found comfort here. We saw a lot of people that we hadn’t seen in a while because they couldn’t get their products online due to sipping problems. But we were fully stocked up because we get weekly deliveries from four or five major distributors.
We’re curating the products—we’re leading people to quality brands.You’re getting personal recommendations from staff. We field questions all day every day about people’s pets! We’re a resource, and you’re not going to get that through an online shopping experience.
About four years ago, we switched from landlines to iPhones because we realized that’s how people like to communicate—and that’s how people communicate with us! People text us all the time to place special orders or ask questions or send us pictures of their dog playing with their new toy.
It’s like texting a friend, and it’s great that you give people an outlet to talk about dogs. Did you notice a rise in pandemic pups?
Yeah, absolutely. In June of last year, suddenly all the puppies started rolling through and it never stopped. People were trying to buy products ahead of time for the dog they were going to adopt. People were trying to adopt dogs and the rescue agencies couldn’t keep up with demand! It’s both really amazing and unfortunate for people.
It’s wonderful that you’re there at the very beginning of the dog parent journey for so many people! You also own a baby and kids store called Hazel Baby. Are there similarities to raising dogs and raising children? Y’know, fur babies and human babies.
We definitely consider ourselves dog parents, and we had a dog before we had a baby! There are a lot of similarities. Obviously, dogs and humans are very different, but there is a lot of nurturing and patience involved. Both babies and dogs rely on you to provide them the best care, good food, and products that are not toxic. You play an important role to them.
Photography by Lindsay Donnelly