Marilyn Garnett’s best critic lives right in her own home. Every time a new batch of treats comes out of the oven, Dusty Lee is there to taste test. The pumpkin and peanut butter treats are big hits, but when you get right down to it, Dusty Lee prefers the beef or the beef-bacon flavored biscuits. You would, too — if you were a dog.
For the past two years, Garnett has been making her all-natural Dixie Pop Dog Treats out of her home kitchen in Otis, packing them up in black-and-white paw-print boxes and selling them at area stores — currently the Tradewinds Marketplace in Blue Hill, Danforth’s Supermarket in Hermon and at her own store, Beech Hill Pet Treats on Ashmore Road in Otis. Dusty Lee, a rescued Pomeranian, very much approves.
“I just love animals,” Garnett said. “I was a nurse at nursing homes and for home care, and I worked at a day care, so I’ve gone from taking care of the elderly and children to taking care of animals. It’s what I love to do.”
Garnett started making her dog treats for several reasons. She was looking for a change of pace from elder-care nursing, a job she’d done for 20 years. The long hours driving around doing house calls all over the state had taken their toll. She wanted to be home-based. And, as an animal lover, she was concerned about the commercially available food on the shelves and the stories about contamination and strange chemicals being found in the food.
“You see stories about dogs getting sick from the food we’re buying them, and it makes me sad,” said Garnett. “And it also got me thinking, ‘I could do that. I could make a treat that’s all natural.’”
She began researching recipes for dog treats in cookbooks and online. She made a lot of them, found out what dogs did and didn’t like and ended up with her own special recipe. Dixie Pops are 100 percent all-natural, completely preservative-free dog treats that have a limited fresh shelf life of only four to six weeks — though freezing them extends that shelf life for up to six months. That is, if your dogs don’t eat them all first.
They are made very simply, mostly wheat flour, cornmeal, oats, dry milk, brown sugar, organic eggs, a dash of vegetable oil, salt and garlic powder. She bakes them over the course of a whole day at a very low temperature so they don’t dry out and stay just moist enough. She puts organic pumpkin or peanut butter in a few of them, but her bestsellers feature her special ingredient: Wolfgang Puck-brand beef broth.
“The Wolfgang Puck is really the best. Dogs really love it. It has the best flavor,” said Garnett. “I can buy just about everything right from local stores. The only thing I can’t buy are the little organic bacon bits; those I have to order. Not everything is organic, either, but a lot of it is.”
Garnett started out simply baking her treats in her own oven, but the length of time required to make them meant that she couldn’t turn out very many treats at a time. Over this past summer, she invested in six new ovens, stacked in twos, and turned her kitchen and front room into her pet treat shop, selling everything from toys and dishes to grooming items. She’s now able to sell them at both locations in Blue Hill and Hermon, out of her own shop and for pickup Wednesday through Saturday. She’s also committed to selling the treats at a reasonable price — it’s $6 for a bag or $8 for a box. The number in each depends on the size of the biscuits you buy, which ranges from extra-small to extra-large.
“I don’t want to make it hard for people to buy them,” said Garnett. “Lower-income people and the elderly love their pets just as much as anyone else.”
In the next year, Garnett hopes to expand her line of treats to include a chicken flavor and also to include cat treats. She has two big orange tabby cats, Golden Nugget Boy and Sweet Pumpkin Annie, both of whom may feel a little left out, as Dusty Lee gets all the goodies.
“I have a good base of customers who pick up from me every few weeks. Their dogs won’t eat anything else, they say. So, naturally, cat treats are next,” said Garnett. “A happy animal is wonderful to me, because that means they have a happy family. Happy animals mean happy people.”
Beech Hill Pets is located at 1 Ashmore Road in Otis, and can be reached by calling 537-3008.