For dogs, a trip to Barkside Pets on 2nd Avenue in Fernie, is like walking into canine heaven. The dog enters, tail wagging, taking in a myriad of smells, salivating as he eyes the snacks on display. He takes time to enjoy a visit with owner Maren Esch and waits in earnest for one of those tempting treats.
However, if the same dog were to enter via the side door, he would probably be less exuberant as it usually means a scrub in the self serve dog wash.
Maren, a veterinarian technician, decided to move to Fernie after a visit in 2003. A lack of employment in her field encouraged her to look for another career option where she could still work with animals. She enrolled in the Community Futures program in Fernie, and the idea of a pet store began to take shape.
After learning the business side of animal care, Barkside Pets opened its doors in 2007 and since then has received an overwhelming response from pet owners in the Valley.
Maren said customers are dragged into the store by their dogs when they pass by.
“If owners drive by, they have to come in because if they don’t the dog becomes very upset.”
“I probably work with people more than I do with animals. I share that common interest with my customers who come in with their dogs. Right away we have something to talk about.”
She said a dog named Parker felt so at home he frequented the shop daily without his owner.
“He would come and scratch at the door, we would give him a treat, take him out to the road, he would look both ways and then he would walk home. But we had to cut that off, because he was gaining weight,” she said.
“We’ve had dogs that have run away from home and have come here, which is kind of neat.”
She said while business is good there are definitely concerns with cross border shopping, however the majority of people are trying to shop locally. Maren supplies customers with natural healthy food and accessories and often provides free advice on what dog food works best for certain breeds.
“We have a store policy whereby we try to educate customers on what is in dog food. People really want to do what’s best for their dog and are becoming more conscious of what their dogs are eating, and are beginning to look for healthier choices. There is a really high rate of cancer in dogs, and people are now more aware that there might be a link between diet and diseases.”
Maren is looking forward to the arrival of a new vet in Fernie, Dr David Marion from A Country Animal Hospital in Eureka. She said they have rented a space in town and will begin practicing within the next month.
“Some vets have different philosophies when it comes to food, but I do like the fact that vets are moving towards more natural foods, and not the foods traditionally found in vet clinics. I am excited we have a vet coming so that we can refer people to a service in town.”
She said holistic veterinarian Dr Diane Skoberg who runs a home care veterinary service from Cranbrook played a big role in introducing Dr Marion to local animals and their owners. Dr Skoberg also educated Barkside Pets staff on good nutrition and healthy food choices for animals.
Tessa Knoop works alongside Maren at Barkside and also runs her own business Eco Pet Grooming at the back of the store.
She said she loves working at Barkside, developing relationships not only with the dogs she grooms but also with the owners. “I really like that this is a place where people come for help and advice, but also for the social aspect of meeting other dog owners.”
Maren said Barkside wants to provide high quality products and also help owners make smart decisions for their pets. “If we don’t have the answers for them we will guide them in the right direction. We want to care for people and dogs.”