The Pet Lover's Guide

From dog yoga to “pet resorts,” local pooches, kittens and other furry friends can have it all.

It always comes back to those pesky carbs. “I’m not a fan of commercial pet food for a number of reasons,” says holistic animal-care expert Dr. Doug Knueven of Beaver Animal Clinic. “It’s made from ingredients that animals in the wild and the ancestors of our pets are never exposed to — for example, lots of carbohydrates. A lot of the problems cats run into come from [consuming] too many carbs,” and dogs don’t benefit from a carb-heavy diet either.

The ideal choice, Dr. Knueven says, would be “pre-made raw diets” found at specialty pet stores; they have the right balance of nutrients (not just meat, but also veggies and finely ground bones for calcium). Local independent pet shops (such as Animal Nature in Regent Square and Petagogy in Shadyside) stock raw pet food, which is better than the raw food you have at home.

“The meat we buy at the grocery store can be really contaminated with disease-causing bacteria,” Dr. Knueven says, but raw pet-food makers “are very aware of pathogenic bacteria and have ways of mitigating that.”

Prefer to cook for your pet? Offer a fully balanced diet, and skip the fatty or carb-laden table scraps. Pizza crust? Nope. Bits of gristle from that steak you just finished? Don’t do it. Keep it healthy, and change up your pet’s diet periodically.

■ Beaver Animal Clinic: 724/774-8047,
■ Animal Nature: 412/723-2194,

I’ll Have What He’s Having
The top-selling items at Pittsburgh’s pet-centric bakeries could make any human hungry. At Woof Stop Barkery, peanut butter-honey and pumpkin-cinnamon treats (soy-, gluten- and grain-free) have been a hit. And the new Bag O’ Bones (6-inch bone-shaped baked goodies), Bag O’ Bites (3.5-inch) and Bag O’ Minis (2-inch) are also popular.

While Woof Stop doesn’t have a storefront, goods are available at local stores (see the full list at or by mail (free delivery to Cranberry Township, Seven Fields and Mars).

At Bone Appetite Barkery, customers “usually purchase treats that  they would eat,” says owner Julie Smith. Her pumpkin, turkey-sweet potato and cranberry-sweet potato products were a hit for the holidays. For 2013, she introduced freeze-dried treats in convenient snack containers, including “Tail Mix” (with banana, mango, peach, Fiji apple, strawberry, blueberry and other fruits).

And for special occasions, you can’t beat the freshly baked 10-inch pawprint birthday cake, or even the mini “pupcakes,” from Doggie Delights.

Spa treatments, swimming pools, sprawling gardens … Pittsburgh’s pet-boarding businesses aren’t exaggerating when they call themselves “pet resorts.” At Lucky Paws Pet Resort, a day of swimming and romping outdoors can wind down with a blueberry facial and “fur butter deep-hair conditioning.”

Sound appealing? Stop by for a guided tour to see the luxury suites for dogs (complete with heated floors, cable TV, sound system), the multilevel cat condo (there’s even a fish tank in the “living room”!) and sprawling indoor and outdoor dog parks (open to non-boarders, too).

Misty Pines also offers a large outdoor area and a swimming pool, plus doggie yoga classes, spa treatments and obedience training. Specialty sessions include agility class and “dock diving” (advanced swim lessons); overnight guests enjoy elevated beds (though the floors are heated) and 24-hour access to an outdoor dog run.

Over at Camp Bow Wow, dutiful pet owners can keep an eye on their dog in real-time via live streaming webcam. Open for day-care or overnight stays, the camp’s “tasty campfire treats” and “spacious cabins” with comfy cots will ensure that your pet will leave with fond memories.

Paws Here A While is open to all pets who love romping in the sunshine, swimming and making new friends. But staffers keep groups small in order to focus on “special-needs vacationers,” who may need more patience or emotional support.

And the exclusively indoor K9 Kingdom offers a huge play space and lots of socializing, while keeping a close watch on conflict to ensure safety of pets big and small.  After a day of treadmill workouts and loving attention from the staff, overnight guests are treated to a frozen peanut butter KONG at bedtime.

■ Lucky Paws Pet Resort: 724/728-1484,
■ Misty Pines: 412/364-4122,
■ Camp Bow Wow: 412/931-9247,
■ Paws Here A While: 724/573-4665,
■ K9 Kingdom: 724/935-DOGS,

The Lowdown on Chocolate
Chocolate has a chemical in it called theobromine, a central nervous system stimulant that is toxic to dogs. The higher the cacao content, the more theobromine you’ll find, making dark chocolate especially dangerous. Since dark chocolate is becoming increasingly popular, thanks to its health benefits for humans, we need to make sure our chocolate stash is hidden in a dog-proof place.

Dining With Doggie
There you are, enjoying a relaxing lunch or dinner on the patio of a terrific restaurant. But what about your poor pup? Left at home. With a bowl. On the floor. And you call yourself a best friend?! Next time, bring him or her along to one of these spots, all of which welcome furry companions.

Atria’s Restaurant & Tavern
In the shadow of PNC Park, Atria’s offers spacious outdoor dining to people and pets, just steps away from the North Shore Riverfront Park & Trail. Order the pot-roast nachos and something little for your pooch.

Big Dog Café
Big Dog serves outstanding coffee and light food, welcoming pets to its outdoor patio.

Bruster’s Real Ice Cream
It's the sweetest stop in town for dogs, offering free “doggie sundaes” topped with crushed dog bones.

Cappy’s Restaurant
If you snag a sidewalk table, you and Fido will be treated to people-watching at its best … and great food, too.

Coca Café
This spot's known for innovative breakfast, lunch and small-plate dinners, but also for giving water bowls to its outdoor doggie guests.

Redfin Blues
From April 1 to Oct. 1, you and your dog can enjoy lunch, dinner, a breeze and the view of downtown by the docks.

Square Café
With sidewalk seating, this is a perfect spot for people-watching — and for some of the best breakfast and lunch in Pittsburgh.

Tazza D’Oro Cafe & Espresso Bar
Stop in for gourmet coffee and espresso with fresh pastries and light fare made with local ingredients. — Jonathan Wander

Is rawhide really so terrible? The once-popular snack for dogs, originally used as both a treat and a chew toy, now gets a bad rap from pet experts. The problem isn’t nutritional — slobbering on and chewing a piece of rawhide won’t make your pet sick. The trouble comes if and when the chunk of rawhide splinters into jagged pieces.

“The concern is that [dogs] could swallow pieces that can get stuck,” in their throat or elsewhere in their digestive system, says Dr. Doug Knueven. Want to get your pooch something similar to rawhide? Consider buying a sturdy rubber KONG toy with a hollow center, where you can stash a healthy treat; your dog can wrestle with and gnaw on the toy (and eventually earn the tasty prize) — all without the risk of being harmed by rawhide shards.

A Pet’s Other Best Friend
Heather Long, co-owner of the local pet-sitting service Au Purr, LLC, is quick to give one essential bit of advice to pet lovers in search of a walker or sitter: “Interviews and meeting with your prospective sitter are imperative! You would never hire a babysitter for your child pointblank, and furry ‘children’ are no different.”

She says it’s vital to hire a licensed, bonded and professional service instead of the neighborhood kid trying to make a few extra bucks. Looking for a reliable sitter near you? Start with Fetch! Pet Care, a nationwide network that hires only the best of the best. — Sean Collier


Leta Koontz and Laurie Held generated a buzz in 2004 when they launched “doga” (aka dog yoga) at Schoolhouse Yoga in Lawrenceville. Surprising as it sounded, the idea of yoga for dogs made perfect sense to caring pet owners who know the importance of exercise and stretching — especially for older canines.

The trend caught on, popping up in a few other cities around the country, and Koontz has continued offering doga at her studio and also through Animal Friends, where she teaches several times a year. You can also find doga classes at Misty Pines Dog Park.

The swimming areas at Lucky Paws, Paws Here A While and Misty Pines are all available to doggie day-care visitors, and aquatic dogs can also explore a gorgeous outdoor trail at Frick Park that offers a creek with a dam. Canines are welcome to romp in that, but Dr. Doug Knueven points out that stagnant outdoor water (think creeks or ponds) can harbor bacteria called leptosporosis.

Though he’s not a fan of frequent pet vaccination, he suggests outdoor pets be protected from this harmful bacteria. If you'd like your pet to swim for a good cause, the Dormont Pool hosts an annual pet-centric fundraiser during Labor Day weekend, where dogs take over the historic pool. Big and small pooches are kept in separate areas for safety, but all of them have a chance to play.

Go Ham!
Small furry creatures can be great low-maintenance pets for children. They generally cost somewhere between $10 and $25, and only need their cages cleaned once a week. But caring for hamsters, gerbils, rabbits and guinea pigs requires a gentle (and recently washed) hand.

The folks at Seahorse pet store (724/443-2920) in Hampton Township tell us that kids must always wash their hands before handling a hamster or gerbil because the scent of something they’ve recently eaten could cause the animal to bite. Kids also need to be careful not to drop, squeeze or step on their critter if it jumps out of their hands.  

Don’t get your feathers ruffled when considering a bird as a pet. Avian companions live in a relatively small space indoors; they are inexpensive to feed and rarely require vet care. But, as with any pet, don’t just wing it: Seek advice from bird owners or shops specializing in birds before thinking about buying one for the first time.

Donn Blosser, owner of Pretty Birds in Millvale, offers a simple rule for beginners: Purchasing a bird needs to be family commitment. The life span of a bird is proportionate to its size (a small one lives eight to 10 years, and the larger birds can live as many as 80).

Parakeets or cockatiels are reasonable choices for a novice. Decide whether you prefer an “interactive” bird (one that talks and likes to be handled) or a more hands-off bird (like a finch or canary, which serenades you with its song but never leaves its cage). Also, consider your noise-tolerance level.

“All birds will make noise,” says Blosser, but some, like conures, are likely to squawk more than others. — Mike May

■ Pretty Birds: 412/822-8082,

For many pets, a trip to the groomer is a no-brainer. After getting a quick bath in warm, sudsy water, followed by a blast from the blow-dryer, they happily head home. But for our youngest and oldest furry friends, Amy Swickline, owner of Animal Elegance, has some valuable advice: For new pets, “start them out with grooming as young as possible,” she says, “to get them used to it.” This can start at home by gently brushing their fur before segueing to grooming appointments for the most basic services — a bath with nail and ear trim.

While hanging out at home, play with your puppy’s feet, Swickline says, massaging the paw pads or rubbing between the toes so your pup won’t be surprised when a groomer touches their feet.

As your pet grows and grooming visits get more familiar, perhaps add extras like a de-shedding treatment. Animal Elegance uses all-natural cleaning products and offers cat and dog grooming services.

Over at A Diamond in the Ruff, you can get your pet freshly cleaned with the help of staffers, who also offer a “scent of the month” to improve the fragrance of your furry friend; some of their other spa services include the ever-popular blueberry facial treatment.

UrbanDog has a soothing Dead Sea mineral mud scrub — and, for those unfortunate wildlife encounters, a “de-skunkifying treatment.”

The Pet Salon, home of the quick “Splash and Dash for Dogs,” offers a flat rate for unlimited monthly dog bathing, shampooing, blow drying and brushing.

■ Animal Elegance: 412/361-1177,
■ A Diamond in the Ruff: 412/381-2200,
■ UrbanDog: 412/782-2200,
■ The Pet Salon: 412/279-5331,

The Creative Cat, Pet Blogger
Seeking information and advice on all things feline? Look no further than the photo-filled blog at Artist and writer Bernadette Kazmarski posts sketches and adorable photos of her ever-growing cat family daily, and shares valuable information on local pet resources, adoptions, fostering and more.


Thinking Outside the Bowl
Dave Enedy, co-owner of Oddball Pets and Aquariums, isn’t crazy about the number of bright betta fish trapped in tiny tanks. The popular pets “need a heater or a really warm house,” he explains. “You can’t really keep them in bowls, like a lot of people think.” Enedy, who runs Oddball Pets with his wife, co-owner Stephanie, instead recommends a planted tank — densely filled with vegetation — for new owners.

“Get lots of plants and lots of nano fish, shrimp and dwarf crayfish," he advises. "There’s not much to it, just water changes every week.” Filling a bigger tank? Check out Oddball’s collection of beautiful African cichlids — or take in the selection at local favorite Elmer’s Aquarium & Pet Center. — Sean Collier

We Do Nails
Grind or clip? Pile on the rhinestones or go colorless? The options for pet manicures are almost as varied as they are for human hands. The experts tell us pet nail polish and rhinestone appliqués aren’t common in Pittsburgh, but they’re available at many area groomers. At A Diamond in the Ruff, “not a lot of customers do it, but we definitely have a group of regular customers who do.” Not every dog is comfortable staying still enough to get their nails done, and some even balk at basic nail care. One option is nail grinding (where nails are shortened and smoothed with a small dremel), which dogs may or may not find less stressful than traditional clipping and filing. But which is better? “It’s kind of just what the dog prefers,” says Animal Elegance owner Amy Swickline. “A lot of dogs are scared to death of the dremel,” but some do prefer it.

While many of Pittsburgh’s doggie day-care and boarding facilities offer obedience classes, some area businesses focus exclusively on training. At Canine Concepts, the training is about you as much as it is about your dog.

“We educate pet owners, and we also train based on the breed of dog,” says owner Thomas Gross. “You have to know what you have at the end of the leash before you can train your dog.”

Gross trains “working dogs” to help senior citizens and to protect homes or businesses; he also sells numerous dog breeds and works with pet caregivers in their homes to improve their furry friends’ behavior. K-9 All Breed Headquarters tackles problem behaviors and aggression issues in addition to teaching tracking and scent work; it serves Allegheny, Beaver and Butler counties.

Rescue Me
While the loving animal shelters of Allegheny County are a safe haven for down-on-their-luck pets, those furry friends would much prefer to be curled up at your feet. And as any rescue pet owner can tell you, all these guys need is love and attention — and they’ll thank you with a lifetime of companionship.

The Animal Rescue League & Wildlife Center is also a low-cost clinic, so you can save on your new friend’s vet needs after you adopt (ARL maintains a wildlife rehabilitation center, too). Animal Friends’ spacious facility is always preparing for a pet-friendly fundraiser, like wintertime pet photo shoots with Santa or owner-and-critter parties (with low-cost rabies shots, to boot).

The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society offers great obedience classes. And Hello Bully doesn’t just shelter unwanted pit bulls — it also rescues and rehabilitates the misunderstood breed (take Bulletproof Sam, for example). Check shelter websites for adoption hours and policies. — Sean Collier

Pet Telepathy
Does your cat suddenly change from cozy kitty to freaked-out feline, shredding your stuff while you’re at work … and you have no idea why? Do you ever look deep into your dog’s eyes and ask yourself, “I wonder what he’s thinking?” Renee Takacs may be able to tell you, because she gets the answer right from the horse’s mouth (or mind, to be exact).

Takacs is an “animal communicator,” practicing pet telepathy to talk with creatures of every size. Dogs and cats are most common, but Takacs says she can also speak with your bunny, iguana … or even your fish. And because the conversations are telepathic, she’ll often conduct them right over the phone from her Mars, Pa., office.

Takacs says pets are “enormously grateful” to have the opportunity to tell their owners what’s on their minds, what foods they might miss, what exercise they most enjoy — or why they’ve been a bit sad or moody lately. Takacs even holds workshops to help people learn how to communicate telepathically with their pets. Great minds, thinking alike. — Jonathan Wander

A romp at a dog park will send most pups into a frenzied bout of wagging joy — but use caution, lest your playful excursion take a not-so-happy turn. If your pet is friendly and not aggressive toward other dogs (or people), a public park visit might be in order; when you arrive, though, make sure that pooches in the area are closely supervised and well-behaved. Be sure that you stay close to Fido, too, just in case an encounter with another canine needs to be quickly diffused.

Local dog lovers favor the off-leash area at Hartwood Acres. Is your pup a little behind on his social skills — or do you just not feel like taking the risk? Animal Friends rents out its off-leash area for private frolicking. Reservations are required, and a $5 donation per dog, per half-hour, is requested.  — Sean Collier

■ Hartwood Acres: 200 Hartwood Acres, Hampton Township
■ Animal Friends: 562 Camp Horne Road, Ohio Township; 412/847-7000,

There’s the Rub  
It’s good for us and it’s good for them: Therapeutic massage is becoming a staple of pet health. You can take your pet for a massage appointment (some groomers and boarding locations offer massage service — Camp Bow Wow has massage baths, and the Fur Butter treatment at Lucky Paws Resort includes a 15-minute Swedish massage). Or you can sign up for a cat massage lesson at Animal Friends, where a certified massage therapist teaches owners to do massages at home (cost: a one-time $20 donation to Animal Friends).

Massage is fun and relaxing for your pet, and stimulates healthy circulation. Another health bonus: Regularly massaging your pet keeps you in tune with their overall well-being, helping you notice small changes in weight, skin texture or fur quality earlier than you might have otherwise.


Holistic Health
Want to pamper your pet in the healthiest way possible? For a special food treat, forget packaged goodies. Dr. Doug Knueven says baby carrots and other fresh veggies delight many dogs, boosting health while satisfying stomachs. Looking to celebrate the end of a long, dry winter?

Spoil your pet with a moisturizing oatmeal bath or a soothing aromatherapy wash with natural lavender soap. Then plan a play date at Animal Friends, where you can rent an outdoor play area by 30-minute increments. Make it a party by inviting a friend (up to 10 canines per party) or hit one of the indoor “canine socials” for just $5 per dog. (We hear the “small dog social” is a particularly hot ticket.)

All owners must show vaccination records, just to ensure that your pet will be playing with healthy pals.

Pet Boutiques
Adorable pet clothes and accessories are available online and at big-box stores. But Pittsburgh’s dedicated pet parents have their favorite local spots for seeking cute costumes and more.

Petagogy has been a hit since it opened, offering natural pet food, pet beds, tons of toys and more. Need a cool collar? Check out Clara’s Collars (724/355-1372) and Woody’s Dog Wash & Pet Boutique, which offers a large selection of leashes, collars and harnesses for hard-to-fit pups. It's not all about canines: Spoil your kitten with some of Petagogy's U.S.-grown catnip, and toys from From the Field and West Paw Design.

Back in junior high, Susan Donley started selling her own pencil drawings of the Monkees (the musical group, that is), and some 40 years later, her focus centers on portraits of real animals: dogs, cats, bunnies, parrots and other birds, horses, goats and chickens.

“No reptiles yet,” she says, “but I’m hoping I might do one someday.” As a pet-portrait artist now for several years — she’s had day jobs that include art and museum education, instructional media and Web design — Donley sees this calling a “business built on love.” Her Pets Pictured business accepts commissions for renderings of animal companions in pencil, oil pastels and scratchboard.

Why are pet portraits especially important?

“We relate to our pets through their faces,” she says. “It’s a face-to-face kind of relationship,” owing to an animal’s inability to relate to us verbally. Donley works from photos at her Oakmont-based studio, which she shares with Rosie, her standard poodle.

Portrait “head studie” are usually life-size, and prices start at $385. She can also assist you in reproducing a finished portrait on note cards, apparel and other merchandise.  — Mike May

■ Pets Pictured: 412/828-8679,
■ Another local pet-portrait artist is Ashley Reid (412/512-2699).
■ Local photographers who specialize in pets include Lisa West (412/720-6368,, Carol Maurin (412/521-2384, and Andrea London (412/687-8444,

Categories: Community Feature, From the Magazine, Hot Reads