Customers Rely on Healthy Pet Products for Education, Expertise
Nov 29, 2019 11:39AM
By Vanessa Orr
The walk-in freezer at Healthy Pet Products’ North Hills location. Photo by Dena Koenig Photography
For many of us, our pets are members of the family, so it’s important to make sure that they stay happy and healthy. And one of the best ways to do this is to work with companies that put pets’ health first, standing behind the products and services they sell.
As a locally owned business, Healthy Pet Products not only stocks quality products, but works one-on-one with customers to make sure that the products they buy are the ones their pets require. Unlike big box stores or Internet companies, the staff is focused on more than just making sales, but on providing the knowledge and understanding that pet parents need.
“We are a mission-driven business. Our goal is to educate as many humans as we can about the importance of pet food,” said Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products. “Our mission comes first, and the business comes second. When it comes to feeding their pets, I tell people that they need to question everything.”
Shelaske opened Healthy Pet Products 11 years ago after owning a pet-sitting business for eight years. “I had nearly 100 clients, and over the years, I saw many health issues in customers’ pets that I knew could be helped with the proper food and supplements, as opposed to prescription food and medications,” she explained.
Shelaske is a believer in feeding raw, which she has done with her own dogs for the past 20 years.
“When I first found out about raw feeding, it was an ‘Aha! moment,’ as Oprah would say,” laughed Shelaske. “I walked into a grooming shop and saw the owner handing her dog a raw chicken leg. I’m very outspoken, and I told her that she couldn’t do that, because it might kill him.”
“She said that she’d been feeding them like that for years, and explained how wonderful it was for their health,” Shelaske added. “She recommended some books on the subject and after I read them, it’s like a light bulb went on. It made total sense.”
After switching her dog from Purina One to raw food “cold turkey,” Shelaske said that she never looked back. “Raw food results in shinier coats, cleaner teeth, fresher breath, less gas, and a pet’s stool is half the size and volume,” she explained. “There’s also no yeasty ears or eye goop, and their body mass is much leaner. This also goes for cats.”
While not everyone is ready to hop on the raw food bandwagon, Shelaske says that more and more people are showing interest, in part because of the recent spate of dog food recalls.
“While some people are already feeding their pets a raw food diet, most of our customers are new to it, and they have a million questions,” said Shelaske. “When I started this 11 years ago, people had no idea what it was and looked at me like I had three heads. I made my own food at the time because there was only one brand available and one store that carried it in limited quantities.”
Now, raw feeding is more well-known, and Shelaske is well-regarded for her knowledge in this area.
“My business has grown exponentially, unbelievably,” she said of Healthy Pet Products’ three locations in the North Hills, Cranberry and South Hills, as well as a sister company, Healthy Pet Grooming, in Franklin Park.
“I’ve gone from a single-door, glass-front freezer to six glass-doored, walk-in, back loading freezers, and I still don’t have enough space,” she said, adding that the North Hills’ location also has two double-door stand up freezers, with one dedicated to cats and one to overflow.
The Importance of
In the age of the Internet, convenience may be key, but there are many advantages to shopping locally and supporting neighborhood businesses. Shelaske, who employs 40 people across her four locations, is a huge proponent of knowing her customers personally.
“I have a very loyal customer base that has always been supportive of me; I consider them family members,” she said. “We talk about their pets, and what’s going on with them health-wise; not just from a physical standpoint, but their behavioral issues as well.”
Having a local expert who can answer questions is a big plus, too.
“I carefully source foods and the brands I carry, and it’s the same with treats, body parts, and anything they chew on,” said Shelaske. “For example, before we began carrying CBD products, it took two years of research to decide what brands to carry.
“It’s similar to going to a human doctor with a heart condition,” she added. “They’ll tell you want medications to take, but most times won’t tell you how to change your diet to get your cholesterol down. It’s often the same with vets; they’ll recommend prescription foods and medicine, but do not offer alternatives. There is a time and place for prescription foods, but I don’t believe in using them long-term. It’s the same with medications; you should try natural methods first.”
Shelaske has taken her role as a pet food advocate seriously since buying her first 1,000 sq. ft. space on Perry Highway in McCandless, which she took over from a couple who had learned about the benefits of raw feeding while trying to help their dog with skin allergies.
“They’d taken the traditional route with steroids, antibiotics, and prescription food, and they were getting nowhere,” said Shelaske, adding that the dog was also suffering from medication side effects. “The owner’s dentist told her about a holistic pet food he was using, and they tried it; her dog completely healed just by changing his food.”
When the couple retired, Shelaske bought the business and in six months moved to a new location to double the square footage. Now in addition to her store on McKnight Road (165 Blazier Drive), she has a South Hills location that she opened in 2011, and a third location in Cranberry that opened this past May. She also opened a sister business, Healthy Pet Grooming, in April 2015 as a way to help her customers pets with skin issues. Grooming services are also offered at the Cranberry location.
“We’re a one-stop shop; we have everything from food to toys, leashes, collars, crates, beds, clothes, litter boxes, and a huge selection of USA-made cat furniture. We also carry small animal food and supplies, organic chicken feed and hemp bedding,” said Shelaske. The Cranberry and South Hills locations also have reptile and fish food and supplies and sell live crickets by the dozen.
To learn more about Healthy Pet Products, visit them at www.healthypetproducts.net or call 412-366-0700 (North Hills) of 724-776-5700 (Cranberry). You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram. Healthy Pet Grooming can be reached at 724-759-7567.